I recently introduced my guide to watching and photographing the Starling displays at the Avalon Marshes on the Somerset Levels. The marshes is a huge area and the birds may choose to roost anywhere. Key to enjoying your visit is being in the right place at the right time. This post introduces some of their roosting sites. The full guide which includes detailed maps of each site is available as a PDF: Download the guide
Ham Wall Viewing Platforms
Most people view the Starlings from these platforms and, when the birds are roosting at Ham Wall, this is the best place to start. There are two platforms and on arrival it is best to check with the RSPB staff and volunteers which platform is best that evening. The very best views of the Starlings can be had when the birds roost in the reed beds just south of the viewing platforms. A great sight, and great noise!
November provides opportunities to view the flocks while the woods are full of autumn colour.
The birds fly in front of the viewing platform at high speed.
The birds in the reeds next to the viewing platform.
The birds spend some time each year in this area at the far western end of Shapwick Heath. When the birds are here it is best to park at the Avalon Marshes Visitors Centre. Alternatively, if you are lucky, there are spaces for a few cars near the entrance to Shapwick Heath by the bridge.
Clear views of Starlings around Canada Farm are hard to find. Often the best place to stand is on the bridge near the reserve entrance.
You may wish to walk along the main path alongside the canal, as the birds sometimes settle in the fields opposite.
The mound of peat near the bridge, which we know the Shapwick Uluru, offered this person a clear view, but it is not a safe climb!
The Decoy Hide provides excellent views of the Starlings across the open water as many birds approach from the south west. The raised central reserve path also offers excellent views as the birds roost.
The birds may pause in the fields just outside the reserve before moving in to roost.
The Meare Hide is in the centre of the Shapwick heath reserve but is best reached from Ashcott Corner. Stand to the east of the Meare Heath woods to see the birds roost. Don’t forget to return to the Meare Hide the next morning.
A flock crosses the centre of Shapwick Heath before dropping into Meare Heath near the hide.
The birds fly from the west through the reserve then over the central drive into Meare Heath. The path offers good views along most of the reserve.
A huge crowd lines most of the main path through Shapwick Heath.
When the birds are roosting in the north of Ham Wall the flocks are barely visible against the dark winter sky.
The birds may feed in the fields next to the Turnbridge Unit north of the B3151, then lift in a single wave up and over the road into the reserve. This spectacle causes drivers to stop an stare.
The birds gather in the fields along B3151. They roll along, each wave flowing over the next as the flock moves across the fields.
The Starlings sometimes gather around Stileway Farm. They cover the roof of the barn surrounding trees before moving into the reserve.
From the viewing platforms the Starlings can appear distant and grey. Expect to see groups of Starlings crossing the reserve heading towards the water tower.
Starlings gather around Stileway Farm. They cover the roof of the barn and surrounding trees before moving into the reserve to roost.
Westhay, National Nature Reserve
Once this was the best site to watch Starlings. People would line the drove from the car park, some standing on step ladders or even car roofs to get the best view.
The birds would regularly roost near the drove and in the morning they would pour over the spectators heads. All this happened just a few hundred yards from your car.
Today very few Starlings roost at Westhay. It seems the reeds are too old and weak to support the weight of the birds. The water is deep and cutting back the reeds would be very expensive.
Many websites still list Westhay as one of the best Starling sites in the UK. For now I suggest you ignore these and focus on the other reserves.