Category Archives: Wader Tour

22nd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour arranged in North Norfolk to coincide with a Wader Spectacular. It was a lovely bright & sunny day, with blue skies, hitting the heady heights of 25C in the afternoon. With a big high tide this morning, we were heading up to Snettisham to see the flocks waders today.

We could see large flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash already as we made our way out. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still out, which meant we had a bit more time today, so we stopped to scan. A large mass of Oystercatchers and godwits was gathered on the mud up by the sailing club, a mixture of Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwits. Lots of Shelduck were bobbing about on the water just offshore.

More smaller waders were still feeding busily on the mud across the channel. A Curlew Sandpiper flew across, identifiable by its white rump, and when it landed we got it in the scope. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers out here too. We found a Spotted Redshank in a muddy pool – we could see its long, needle-fine bill when it lifted its head from feeding. Two Knot flew and landed close in on the beach just below the bank.

Four Swallows flew past low over the near edge of the mud. They were on their way south, migrants heading off on the long journey to Africa for the winter, a reminder that the seasons are changing.

The tide was coming in fast now, and the waders started peeling off the mud to the north of us, lines of Oystercatchers and godwits flying past, landing again on the mud further up.

Black-tailed Godwits – flying past to land again further up the Wash

We made our way down further and stopped again in front of Rotary Hide. The waders were now spread out like a vast slick on the mud, tens of thousands of Knot (there were 68,000 here at the last count, last week) and thousands of Oystercatchers (over 6,000 last week).

The Oystercatchers were walking away from the rising tide, the ones caught by the water marching through others which were still standing on dry mud, so the whole flock seemed to be moving across the mud like an amorphous blob.

The Knot were very jumpy, and kept flying up, whirling round low over the mud, before resettling. A young Marsh Harrier drifted across from the saltmarsh and out over the flocks, putting everything up. Instant chaos! We watched the Knot twisting and turning in unison, flashing alternately dark and light in the morning sunshine, making different shapes in the sky.

Marsh Harrier – drifted over the flocks and put everything up
Waders – twisting and turning in the morning sun
Waders – the flocks made various shapes as they swirled round

Further back, a Peregrine was putting up all the Knot up in the next bay over too. They looked like clouds of grey smoke in the sky. Most of them flew over and joined the flocks already gathered closer to us.

Continuing down to the grassy bank at the end of the path, the tide was still coming in fast. The waders were all increasingly concentrated in the last remaining corner of mud which was not covered by water.

Waders – increasingly concentrated in the last corner of the mud

As usual, the Oystercatchers gave up first, peeling off in waves and flying in past us. Then suddenly all Knot went up. It was spectacular watching the tens of thousands of birds take to the sky. Some flew in overhead, towards the pit behind us, while others towered up into the sky above.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot took to the sky

There was not much left out on the Wash now, just the Curlews in the corner by the saltmarsh, where they would stay to roost. The Knot were starting to drop down to the pit, so we made our way quickly round to South Hide. Relative few Knot had come in yet. There were some on the bank with the Oystercatchers, shuffling nervously, and the island at the bottom of the bank was full. A Common Sandpiper was feeding in the vegetation on the bank in front of them.

There were no Knot at all on the islands in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ again today!). There were lots of large lenses poking out of the camera windows and it didn’t help that one photographer had his lens out of the top window with his leg sticking out of the lower level one, waving around! But there was also shooting on the fields inland today, which kept spooking all the Greylags and probably didn’t help encourage the waders to settle.

More Knot started to drop in to join the others on the bank. We could see a large flock high over the pit, with a thick wispy line of birds dropping from it like a thread as they seemed to come down in an orderly queue. But many of the Knot already on the bank kept taking off again and flying round, which meant most of the flock never came in. They were just too nervous today and wouldn’t settle properly.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle properly even on the bank today

We looked back out towards the Wash and we could see that most of the Knot were still out there, whirling round over the water. We went back out of the hide, back to the bank to watch.

A small flock of Siskins came across in front of us, low over the saltmarsh, and we heard a Redpoll calling overhead too. More migrants, this time probably arriving here for the winter. A Chiffchaff started calling and came up out of the suaeda. A flock of Meadow Pipits on the grass behind had also probably dropped in on their way south.

Lots of Knot were flying back and forth low out over the Wash, looking for somewhere to resettle. Thousands more were still high in the sky above. There was a small curl of mud or shallow water still just beyond the edge of the saltmarsh, and some of the birds dropped down to land here. They were nervous though, and kept flying up and round, twisting and turning again.

Something disturbed many of the Knot and Oystercatchers from the pit behind us – they all took off and flew back out to the Wash in a thick line. Added to the others, they stirred everything up again, and everything whirled round again.

Waders – Knot and Oystercatchers flushed from the pit
Waders – continued to whirl round out over the Wash

Eventually more of the birds started to settle out on the margin of the Wash, as the tide started to recede and more mud appeared. Lots of the Knot were now further out, round in the next bay. A Peregrine was still stirring them up, putting up huge clouds.

We decided to have a quick look in Shore Hide. As we walked up, we flushed a young Wheatear ahead of us from the path. It landed on the short grass, but was flushed again by someone who walked past in front of us as we were watching it in the scope. It landed again on the open area closer to the hide, close to the path, and proved to be remarkably tame, letting us walk right past it. Another migrant, stopping off on its way south.

Wheatear – feeding on the short grass by the path

There were not many waders on the pit now. Some Dunlin on one of the islands towards the north end, but we couldn’t find anything different in with them, lots of Common Redshanks, and still some Knot and Oystercatchers on the bank to the south. There were several Spotted Redshanks roosting out on the concrete blocks in middle – one was awake and we got a good look at it through the scope.

A young Peregrine came in, low over the pit, flushing everything. All the Common Redshank flew up, and the Peregrine headed straight into the middle of them, right in front of the hide. It stalled, and didn’t seem to know what to do next, which one to go for, at which point it had missed its opportunity.

Peregrine – first had a go at a flock of Common Redshanks on the pit

The Peregrine then flew over to the bank at the southern end of pit. The remaining Knot started to flush in a panic, and the Peregrine disappeared into their midst. Did it land? We couldn’t see exactly what happened in the ensuing melee, but somehow it managed to grab a Knot and came up with it in its talons. It was struggling to carry it – presumably the Knot was still alive because we could see the Peregrine still pecking at it as it flew up and away over the new hide.

That was quite a show! We headed back out to the edge of the Wash, where the waders were settled again now. Another wave of Knot came up from the pit, remarkable there was anything still on there after the Peregrine had been through. They flew in a long line over our heads, and low out across Wash.

Waders – another wave flying back overhead and out to the Wash

There was lots of exposed wet mud now, and the waders were all spread out across the Wash. We scanned through some of the closer flocks, and found lots of pale silvery grey Sanderling with them now. Presumably they had roosted up along the beach again. The flocks would shuffle occasionally, fly up and round, a quick twist and turn, and then resettle closer to the waters edge. But in the absence of another visit from the Peregrine, the best of the show was over. We decided to make our way back.

As we walked along the path towards Rotary Hide, we could see a couple of people pointing their lenses down at something in the vegetation on the beach. We walked over and could see they were looking at a young Knot just a few metres from them. We had seen one with a broken wing on the rising tide out on the mud near here earlier, so we initially presumed this would be the same bird. But as we got closer we could see it looked fit and well, perhaps just a tame bird arrived from Arctic Greenland having never seen a human before.

Knot – this remarkably tame young bird was on the beach

When we got to the main road, we found a massive tailback again, all the way from the Heacham traffic lights – unbelievably busy for a weekday in late September! It was a gloriously sunny day now though. We had to take a diversion inland again, and round to Titchwell. With the numbers of people obviously heading to the beach today, it was perhaps no surprise that the car park at Titchwell, still partly closed as an attempted Covid restriction, was full.

We were waved past, not even allowed to pull up. Apparently the car park had been full since early this morning, probably beachgoers again enjoying the nice weather on the sand and clogging up the restricted parking for the day, meaning people wanting to actually visit the reserve can’t even get in! It is not often you end up hoping for the weather to deteriorate!

We headed back round to Thornham Harbour for lunch. While we ate, we scanned the saltmarsh. We could see a large flock of Golden Plover in the vegetation and a group of Brent Geese on the beach beyond. More importantly we could see several people out at Thornham Point, across the Titchwell side of the harbour, clearly not seeing any Lapland Buntings. They had been on the beach this morning, but had obviously been disturbed. That was one of our main targets for Titchwell this afternoon, so we decided to head elsewhere.

The Brown Shrike had been reported early this morning still at Warham Greens by one person, but not seen by anyone since. We decided to head over that way to see if it might reappear.

We stopped at Wells. There were lots of geese on the big pool east of the track, mainly Greylags and Canadas, but scanning through we found two Barnacle Geese with them. Presumably feral birds from Holkham, where they breed, but nice to see anyway. There were plenty of ducks too, Wigeon and Teal, a few Shoveler, and we picked out a single Pintail.

The pools have been drying up fast in the recent warm weather, and there were not so many waders on here now, a few Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff on the larger pool to the east. The pool on the west side is now dry, but as we walked down the track, we found a single Common Snipe on the mud by the channel on the far edge.

As we walked in through the bushes beyond, they were rather quiet at first, although it was the heat of the afternoon now. In the hawthorns over by the seawall, we found a mixed flock of finches, mainly Goldfinches and Linnets. Several Wall butterflies came up out of the grass, and we watched a pair chasing each other, displaying.

Wall butterfly – we watched this pair chasing each other

From up on the seawall, we had a look at the Western pool but couldn’t see anything of note. Looking out over the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a distant Red Kite and a Marsh Harrier over the dunes out towards the beach beyond.

We followed the coastal path east. As we walked through the small copse, there were lots of Ivy Bees on the flowering ivy in the sunshine. A fairly recent colonist here, they seem to be doing very well not and numbers are steadily increasing. Out of the copse, a flock of Long-tailed Tits came down along the hedge. We watched as they all passed us, but couldn’t see anything unusual with them. A Blackcap called from deep in the brambles. As we moved on, three Swallows flew west along the hedge, more migrants heading off on their long journey.

We walked down to where the Brown Shrike had been for the last few days, but we were told by people leaving as we arrived that it still hadn’t been seen again. We checked round the area where it had been favouring and found a Redstart up along the first hedge, flicking in and out down to the mown margin of the field, looking for insects. We managed to get it in the scope, but we were looking into the sun.

Three Grey Partridge, flew up from the edge of the field and we could see a single Red-legged Partridge much further up. We tried the hedge where we had seen the shrike the other day, but all we found here was another Redstart. The light was behind us now, so it was a better view of this one. We could see the flash of its red tail as it flew in and out ahead of us.

Redstart – one of two in the hedges here this afternoon

It was lovely being out in the sunshine, and very warm now out of the wind, but after an early start this mornign, we decided it was time to head back. We figured we would have another chance tomorrow if the shrike did reappear later, but it was never seen again so it was the right call. There would be lots of other good things to see tomorrow though.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

6th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather gods were still shining on us – it was a cloudy start, but with sunny intervals which increased into the afternoon, slightly chilly early on but warming up nicely.

The tide was not high enough for a full-on Wader Spectacular this morning, but it was almost there. Certainly enough to push all the waders right up against the saltmarsh, which should provide a pretty good spectacle anyway. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the tide. On the drive over, a Red Kite over the road eyeing up some roadkill was a new bird for the tour list.

We could see all the waders swirling around even before we got out to the seawall – something was stirring them up today. When we got out to the edge of the Wash, there was still quite a lot of exposed mud. A large slick of Oystercatchers was still smeared across the shore away to out right, up by the sailing club.

There were lots of smaller waders scattered around the small pools on the mud below us, lots of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a few Knot. One or two silvery-grey Sanderling were with them on the beach a little further along. Scanning through them, we found a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers out on the mud too. We got them in the scope – scaly backed, longer billed and clean white below compared to the nearby Dunlin, with a variable pale peachy wash across the breast.

The tide was coming in fast. The Oystercatchers were peeling off from the mud and flying past us, catching the low morning sun peeking through the clouds behind us. They landed again out on the mud higher up. The water was pushing the small waders up onto the beach in front of us too. Two Curlew Sandpipers dropped in and went straight to sleep in amongst the stones and samphire, with a third following them in shortly after.

Curlew Sandpipers – trying to roost on the beach below us

Eventually the rising tide pushed everything off the beach in front of us, so we made our way further down, towards Rotary Hide. More birds were flying in all the time from around the Wash. While we were watching all the mass of birds gathering on the mud, we noticed something coming in fast and low over the water, a Peregrine.

As the Peregrine got towards the mud, chaos erupted. All the Knot took to the sky at once, thousands of birds in a vast flock. They swirled round, twisting and turning, making different shapes like a fast-changing cloud. Always amazing to watch.

Waders – the Knot all take to the air as the Peregrine appears
Waders – thousands of birds in the flock head out over the water
Waders – the flock starts to twist and turn
Waders – making some amazing shapes, like a huge cloud
Waders – thousands of Knot, flying together in unison

The Peregrine seemed to have moved on, so after a while the Knot settled back down. The Oystercatchers had barely reacted and were now increasingly concentrated on the edge of the rapidly rising tide. We continued on further down, to the grass opposite the last remaining area of mud.

A sizeable flock of Knot was in front of the Oystercatchers, on the far side of the deep channel in front of us. Most were in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but there were still several sporting the remnants of their orange summer attire. There were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too, and some of those were still in breeding plumage as well, the rusty orange colour of their underparts continuing down under their tails. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was standing in the water beyond, looking slightly lost.

We watched as the Knot and godwits were pushed in by the tide, walking up ahead of the rising water, increasingly squashing them into the mass of Oystercatchers behind.

Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

The Oystercatchers were on the move too – the whole flock seemed to be flowing slowly across the mud, away from the approaching water, as those on the edge walked further up, passing through other which were hoping the water wouldn’t reach them. The march of the Oystercatchers – one of the many favourite moments of the whole spectacle.

We thought there were quite a few waders on the mud in front of us, but there were thousands more further round the shore just out of view. All the waders were still jumpy. We could see a few raptors out over the saltmarsh beyond – Common Buzzards and one or two Marsh Harriers – but they were too far back to be causing any trouble.

Presumably the Peregrine was still in the area, because suddenly a vast flock of Knot erupted in the distance, from the next bay, beyond the line of saltmarsh at the back of the mud in front of us. It looked like a huge cloud and again we watched as it twisted and turned before settling back down out of view.

Waders – another vast flock of Knot came up from further round the shore

The waders closer to us kept flying up too, partly out of nervousness, partly as they shifted higher up ahead of the tide. Increasingly, the whole flock was packed into the last corner of remaining mud and then the tide started to slow and go slack. We could see more Sanderlings in with the other waders now, and a good number of Grey Plover, most still sporting their summer black faces and bellies, to a greater or lesser extent.

Waders – concentrated into the last remaining corner of the mud

We waited a short while to see if anything would spook the waders, but they increasingly settled down to roost. While most of the waders would stay out on the mud over high tide today, we had watched a few flying in to the pit, including the Curlew Sandpipers earlier. We decided to have a look in Shore Hide and see what was on there.

When we got into the hide, we immediately noticed a large white bird in with the Greylags just behind the island right in front. Despite it being asleep and not flashing its bill we could see it wasn’t one of the escaped domesticated white geese this time, but a lone Spoonbill. In the absence of any more of its kind it had obviously decided the geese were the next best thing. It did wake up briefly a couple of times, particularly when a Little Egret flew in calling and landed next to it briefly.

Spoonbill – roosting in front of Shore Hide with the Greylags

There were not so many waders on here today, with most of the birds staying out on the Wash. There were a few Oystercatchers which had come in, roosting on the shingle bank to the south of the hide. One of the low islands, furthest from the hide, was fairly full with all of the Black-tailed Godwits which seem to come in regardless and lots of Common Redshanks.

Out in the middle, more Greylags and Cormorants were roosting on the partly submerged lumps of concrete. Half hidden in amongst them we could see six or seven Spotted Redshanks, their usual favoured roosting spot. They were asleep, hiding their long, needle-fine bills, but they were noticeably paler than the Common Redshanks, more silvery grey above and whiter below.

Scanning one of the other low islands, we found another lone Spotted Redshank in with yet more Greylags. It had a noticeably limp, which was perhaps why it wasn’t roosting with the others. Initially it was awake, so this time we could see its distinctive bill, and the well-marked white supercilium extending over the bill and back to the eye, before it went to sleep. Through the scopes, we could also see it still had one or two black summer feathers which had not yet been moulted. A Turnstone and a single Dunlin appeared from between the geese and joined it.

There were several juvenile Common Terns still on the pit. At one point, an adult flew in and landed on the tern island with a large fish in its bill. It’s youngster had obviously gone elsewhere, as the adult perched on the edge calling for it for a while, before it flew off again still carrying the fish. A single eclipse drake Pintail out on the water was the only duck of note. A Common Sandpiper flew round calling, but we couldn’t see it.

It was well past high tide now, so we went back out to the edge of the Wash. The water was already starting to recede and the waders had started to spread out a little. We stood on the shore to watch. There was a trickle of hirundines, Swallows and Martins, making their way south and a single Common Swift, reminding us that it won’t be long now before they have all left us again for the winter.

Waders – starting to spread out as the tide recedes

Rather than walking down the mud to follow the tide, the flocks kept flying up and landing again nearer the edge of the water. It was quite impressive, but in the absence of the local Peregrine now they quickly settled back down again.

A lot of the Oystercatchers landed on the mud in front of where we were standing. Some groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and joined them, giving us a good close look at them through the scopes. One of the godwits was carrying a white leg flag and through the scope we could see it had the letters ‘CX’ on it. There is a very active ringing group on the Wash, and it was one of theirs – but it will be interesting to learn if it has been anywhere since it was ringed.

When the large group of birds in front of us took off and whirled round, it was particularly impressive, looking into a huge mass of Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – looking into the massive flock which took off in front of us

Even though it wasn’t one of the biggest tides today, we had still had a great morning and everyone agreed it was well worth the early start. We were heading for Titchwell next though and speaking to a couple of the volunteers at Snettisham we were told that the car park had filled up early yesterday, with half of it still closed off. We decided to head round now to try to make sure we didn’t get caught out.

When we got to Titchwell, we were glad we had gone early. There weren’t many spaces left and thankfully one of the volunteers was on hand in the car park to help us find somewhere to park. Thanks, Les!

We still had time before lunch, so we decided to head round along Fen Trail first, to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Little Grebe was diving continually in the water just below the screen. A couple of Tufted Ducks and Coot a little further back were new birds for the trip list. But otherwise there wasn’t much on here today.

The Autumn Trail is open at the moment, so we continued on round in that direction. There were lots of Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path (several of which were move to avoid them getting trodden on) and a couple of Common Darters basking on the hard surface. The hedges and Willow Wood were rather quiet, although it was the middle of the day now.

As we got to the end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back corner of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff, and a little group of Dunlin tucked into the far corner, along with a Grey Heron. An adult Spotted Redshank appeared, silver grey and white, before taking off and calling as it flew over the bank towards Brancaster.

Further out, in the middle of the Freshmarsh, we could see a bigger flock of waders – hundreds of godwits, both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed, and smaller numbers of Knot – despite it being well after high tide now. Smaller groups of Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the islands and in with them we found a party of five juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, as well as singles of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. A single Common Snipe was half hidden in the behind the fence on the edge of Avocet Island.

When most of the waders took to the air, we looked across to see a Peregrine stooping at them. It was a young bird, inexperienced, and didn’t seem to know quite what to do. It circled up and then stooped again, but each time seemed to fail to find a possible target. When it circled up higher, we noticed a second falcon, much higher and more distant in the sky beyond and through the scopes we could see it was a Hobby.

Peregrine – repeatedly buzzing the waders on the Freshmarsh

The Peregrine had another swoop at the waders on the Freshmarsh, before drifting off west. As we followed it, it was joined by a second Peregrine, another juvenile and we watched the two of them head off towards Thornham. We turned our attention back to the Freshmarsh, but it wasn’t long before one of the Peregrines was back again and stirring things up again.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the watchpoint, but they didn’t show themselves. We decided to head back for lunch now, and looked up to see another Common Swift flew off west low over the reeds.

We had lunch back in the picnic area in the sunshine, with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies and Common Darters basking on the benches. Checking the news, we could see that the first Pink-footed Geese of the winter had returned this morning – small flocks had been seen over Titchwell earlier and further east to Holkham. It would prove to be a feature of the afternoon, with the first flock we saw coming over the car park as we packed away our lunch things.

Next, we headed back out along the main West Bank path. A stop at the Reedbed Pool added a couple of Common Pochard to the trip list. As we walked on towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling but despite it not being too windy the best we had were a couple of brief views as they flicked across between patches of reeds. A couple of Sedge Warblers were more obliging – one flyatching from the top of the reeds, the other way working its way round the edge of one of the pools.

As it was sunny, and the recent SW winds had dried out the mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further along. The big flock of godwits was still out in the middle and a quick count of the Bar-tailed Godwits suggested at least 450, a very good number for here. There were still a few Avocets out here too, in the deeper water further back. Two Golden Plover flew over high calling and dropped down to join the throng.

Waders – a large flock of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits was on the Freshmarsh

Numbers of smaller waders appeared to have declined since earlier – perhaps not a surprise after the repeated attentions of the Peregrine. There was still a small group of Dunlin on the edge of the island in front of the godwits, but only two Curlew Sandpipers with them now. There had been a Little Stint here yesterday but there was no sign of it now, so we decided to continue out towards the beach.

Volunteer Marsh was quiet, apart from a couple of Curlews and some Redshanks on the banks of the channel at the far side, and there were more of the same, plus a Little Egret on the Tidal Pool. We continued on to the beach. There were quite a lot of people out here again today, and quite a few prams! With older children mostly heading back to school, the staycationer mix has shifted to families with younger offspring.

Despite the people, there were a few waders down on the mussel beds, Oystercatchers, a few Knot and Turnstones. As we stood and scanned, the godwits finally seemed to decide to come out from the Freshmarsh to feed and we watched groups of both species flying out across the beach. One of the Curlew Sandpipers flew out too, flashing its distinctive white rump.

Looking out to sea, we picked up a very distant group of Common Scoter flying across and when they landed on the sea in front of the wind turnbines we could see a line of several hundred already out there. Already returned from further north, they will now spend the winter off here or round to the mouth of the Wash. Otherwise, there were two or three Great Crested Grebes on the water closer in and one or two Gannets flying round right out on the horizon.

When we heard the distinctive yelping calls of Pink-footed Geese in the distance, we looked out to sea to see several flying in towards us, fresh arrivals here for the winter, fresh in from their breeding grounds in Iceland or possibly having stopped over night in Scotland on their way here. They were in several small groups rather than one skein, but we counted 45 in total.

It was time to start heading back – after an early start, we would have a slightly earlier finish today. We stopped again to scan the Freshmarsh, and the five Curlew Sandpipers had reappeared with more Dunlin. Two Little Ringed Plovers were now down on the mud on the edge of the reeds near Parrinder Hide. Further back, we could see a Spotted Redshank but not the pale silvery grey adult we had seen earlier – this time a dusky grey fresh juvenile.

Scanning the reeds over the other side, we found three Bearded Tits working their way along the edge just above the mud. We got them in the scopes for a closer look. A small party of Swallows and House Martins came across the Freshmarsh, a couple of the Swallows pausing just long enough to take a drink before continuing on their way west.

More yelping calls alerted us to another small skein of Pink-footed Geese coming in behind us over the saltmarsh. We watched as they flew high overhead and continued on east, presumably heading for their traditional roost site at Holkham.

Pink-footed Geese – one of several skeins we watched arriving

It was a nice way to end the tour – watching autumn migration in action, with birds arriving here, the changing of the seasons.

23rd Aug 2020 – Back to Work, Wader Spectacular

After over 5 months of no tours due to Covid, it was good to get out with a small group again today – socially distanced and with due precautions of course. Tours from now on will operate as scheduled, but with reduced group sizes for the time being, so if you do want to come out with us in the coming months, please do get in touch.

A Wader Spectacular today, it was an early start to get up to the Wash ahead of the rising tide. We were blessed with good weather, a bit breezy first thing, but dry and bright with some sunny intervals, especially early afternoon.

The journey over to Snettisham out out to the edge of the Wash was uneventful. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was just coming in and a big expanse of mud still stretched off into the distance ahead of us. There was a large gathering of waders up to the north of us still, a big black slick of Oystercatchers, surrounded by Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A selection of smaller waders was down on the near edge of the mud below us, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Turnstones. A colour-ringed Curlew appeared with them, but flew again before we could read the code.

Oystercatchers 1

Oystercatchers – flying past, away from the rising tide

The water was coming in fast across the flats, and as it reached them the Oystercatchers and other waders started to take off, flying past us in long lines low. They headed out over the water before landing again in the middle of the still exposed mud to the south. Further out, a large flock of smaller waders whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light, and we looked up to see another mass of waders high overhead. Thousands of Golden Plovers, unlike the others, they feed in the fields and just go out onto the mud of the Wash as a safe place to roost.

In no time at all, all the mud in front of us had disappeared. We made our way further down along the seawall, passing several Sanderlings on the shingle below the bank on the way. The water had caught up with the mass of Oystercatchers again, and we watched for a while as they walked slowly across the mud, away from the rising tide. From a distance, it looked like the whole mass was a flowing liquid. Then we had to move further up still to keep ahead of the rapidly rising tide.

Oystercatchers 2

Oystercatchers – walking up the mud ahead of the tide

The Oystercatchers started to peel off, flying in past us in long lines, calling noisily, heading for the pit behind us to roost. There was still a bit of mud left uncovered and we could see lots of Curlews in the far corner, gathered on the dry mud on the edge of the saltmarsh. There was still no sign of the vast flocks of Knot gathering here, but we could see some smaller groups flying up occasionally further out, round the edge of the Wash – we figured the vast hordes were still gathered further out along the shore, out of sight.

We were still watching the Oystercatchers when a huge cloud appeared out in the distance. It looked like smoke at first, but as it came a little closer we could see it was tens of thousands of birds, mainly the Knot that we had been waiting for. Rather than landing on the remaining arc of mud closer to us, the birds decided to make an early beeline for the pits today and we stood in awe as they came overhead in waves, thousands, tens of thousands at time.

Waders 1

Waders – thousands of Knot coming in off the Wash

Waders 2

Waders – thousands of birds coming right overhead

We turned and watched the birds swirling over the pit behind us, the skies now chock full of birds. They were nervous – some started to drop down to roost, while others towered back up and turned into the wind, heading back out towards the Wash. More Knot were still flying in above us, coming in underneath the flocks which had turned back and were now high in the sky, layers of thousands of birds moving in different directions. We could hear the beating of thousands of pairs of wings over the wind – mesmerising!

Waders 3

Waders – thousands of Knot swirling over the pit

Some of the Knot landed back out on the Wash on the remaining mud, huddled in the last corner. We stood and waited and it wasn’t long before the rising tide eventually forced them off too, wave after wave, in overhead and down onto the pit. Then we turned and headed down to South Hide.

Waders 4

Waders – another wave, taking off from the Wash

Waders 5

Waders – thousands more, making their way in over our heads

The small temporary hide was rather busy today, so we waited outside. Thankfully it didn’t take long before enough people had left and we could get in (socially distanced, and wearing the required face coverings, of course). There was an impressive gathering of Knot on the islands in front of the hide, packed in tight shoulder to shoulder, still jostling nervously. Some still wearing the remains of their orange breeding plumage, but others already moulted into grey winter dress.

Knot

Knot – packed in shoulder to shoulder on the islands

Lots of Dunlin were gathered along the front of the hordes, in front of the Knot, many still sporting their black belly patches. Scanning through carefully, tucked in amongst them, we could see one which looked different, slightly larger, longer-billed, more neatly scaled on the back, and peachy buff on the breast, with a clean white belly. It was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, on its way from the breeding grounds way up in Central Siberia to spend the winter in Africa. Travelling on its own, its parents having left several weeks before, an impressive feat of hard-wired navigation. It was busy preening, and when it opened its wings we could see its distinctive white rump. When the crowd shuffled, it disappeared back into the throng.

Curlew Sandpiper 1

Curlew Sandpiper – showing its white rump, as it preened

The pit was covered in birds. The flatter islands were covered in Knot and Dunlin and the gravelly banks on the sides of the pit were covered in Oystercatchers, with Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks packed in along the shore below. There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here at this time of year, and we eventually found them out in the middle, roosting in the rocks in amongst the Cormorants and geese, rather distant from this end. A Moorhen with a brood of five small chicks worked its way round the edge of the pool below the hide and a Brown Hare ran across the grassy bank beyond.

Shore Hide looked emptier now, so we made our way back round. As we walked out beyond the boardwalk, a Common Swift flew past, heading south along the edge of the Wash. Many have left already, heading back to Africa after the breeding season, and just a few stragglers remain. A reminder that summer is almost over. A couple of Yellow Wagtails called and there were a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the grass as we passed.

There were a few terns on the small island in front of Shore Hide, mainly Common Terns, a mixture of adults and juveniles waiting for their parents to come back in from fishing out on the Wash, to be fed. Just a single Little Tern was in with them at first, smaller, yellow-billed and with a distinctive triangular white forehead patch. As we watched, more appeared, and by the time we left there were six Little Terns, including two juveniles. We later heard there had been quite a movement of Little Terns along the coast today.

Terns

Little Terns – in with the Common Terns in front of Shore Hide

There were a few waders at the back of the island, Black-tailed Godwits, plus Common Redshanks and a handful of Knot in with them. We had a better view of the Spotted Redshanks from here too, out in the middle, already in their silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. Mostly asleep, occasionally one would wake up briefly and flash its long needle-tipped bill. A scan with the scope of the mass of Knot and Dunlin gathered on the islands further out produced a brief view of a Little Stint, but unfortunately it disappeared back into the masses as quickly as it appeared, before anyone could get a look at it. A Common Sandpiper flew past calling.

The waders were already starting to shift nervously now, so we made our way back out to the edge of the Wash. Even as we walked out of the hide, a large flock of Knot took off behind us and headed low over the bank and back out over the water. Even though it was almost an hour after high tide, there was still no exposed mud though – possibly the rather fresh west wind was holding up the tide this morning. The Knot turned round and headed back into the pit, presumably telling the others there was still time to wait yet.

Scanning out across the water, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards and Kestrels on the posts out on the saltmarsh in the distance. Gradually the mud started to reappear and the Oystercatchers started to fly back out in lines, landing in the shallow water. The Curlews started to reappear from where they had roosted on the saltmarsh, and were joined by a long line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, the latter still with their summer black faces and bellies.

The Knot were slow to leave the pit today but eventually the first wave erupted, coming up low over the bank, over our heads and out low over the water. Presumably because that wave didn’t return, after a while another mass then came up from the south end of the pit, the ones we had been watching from South Hide earlier, a long line of thousands and thousands of birds. A third wave came up from behind us and back out low over our heads, to the sound of thousands of pairs of wings beating – very impressive again.

Waders 6

Knot – thousands of birds heading back out to the Wash

Waders 7

Knot – an amazing spectacle, as they fly back out low overhead

As more mud appeared, some terns and gulls appeared out on the Wash – including a Sandwich Tern and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. There was still one island full of Knot left on the pit behind us, despite the vast numbers we had already watched fly back out to the Wash, but they were showing no signs of shifting. We decided to start making our ways back and it want until we were back past Rotary Hide that they flew back out behind us.

We made our way round to Titchwell next, but struggled to find anywhere to park at first. Half the car park is still closed off, as part of Covid measures, but with much higher numbers of staycationing visitors here this year, with correspondingly more beachgoers and dogwalkers wanting to park, it is resulting in a major squeeze in parking spaces. Hopefully at some point soon, the rest of the car park will be opened. While the group went off to the picnic area for lunch, eventually a space was secured.

We ate our lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. Several Common Darters and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies were basking on the benches in the sun. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling in the sallows. After a break, we headed out to the reserve, past the Visitor Centre and out along the main West Bank path.

As we got out of the trees, we could feel the wind had dropped and it was very pleasant out on the path now. A Marsh Harrier flew in over the saltmarsh from the direction of Thornham, flushing a few Curlew and Lapwing. Two bright white Little Egrets stood out in the vegetation.

We stopped to look at the reedbed pool, which held a few Gadwall, Mallard and Coot. A pair of Mute Swans were in the channel just beyond. We had started to walk on, when we looked back to see a Great White Egret dropping into the reeds at the back.

Out at the Freshmarsh, we stayed out in the sunshine and scanned from the bank. After the blustery westerly winds of the last few days, the water had been blown back and the mud closest to us was getting rather dry. Still, there were a few Ruff feeding below us along the edge of the reeds, a tawny brown juvenile and a very different-looking adult, paler, white below and grey above.

Ruff

Ruff – a grey and white adult feeding on the mud below the bank

There were several little groups of Dunlin scattered around the edges of the islands and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper loosely associating with one of them, although it seemed to prefer to feed on its own on the mud closer to the path.

Curlew Sandpiper 2

Curlew Sandpiper – our second juvenile of the day, feeding on the Freshmarsh

Five large white shapes on one of the islands further back were Spoonbills, and doing what they like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally one would wake up briefly, just long enough to flash its long spoon-shaped bill – we could see a mixture of juveniles, with fleshy bills and at least one adult, with a yellow-tipped black bill. A few Golden Plover were in with the moulting ducks nearby. There were still plenty of Avocets scattered around too.

The Great White Egret appeared above the reeds before dropping back down again. Then the next time it flew up it came out and landed in the open on the mud. It didn’t stay long though, and flew straight back towards the reedbed pool. We could easily have spent the whole afternoon here, but we didn’t have much time so we decided to walk on towards the beach.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh – a few Redshank and Curlew in the channel at the far end and a Little Egret fishing in the water on the corner, occasionally lifting its yellow feet out so we could see them. The Tidal Pools were still rather full, despite the tide being out now – they don’t seem to be draining freely again.

We were looking out over the water when one of the group spotted a Wheatear on a post behind us. It dropped down to feed on the dead vegetation washed in by the tide, before flying back up to the post flashing its white rump and then posing nicely for us. A migrant on its way south, just stopping off here. A flock of Linnets perched in the top of the suaeda nearby.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a fresh migrant, feeding on the saltmarsh by the Tidal Pools

It was time to head back. As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but they remained tucked down out of sight in the reeds, presumably working their way along the the muddy edge right at the bottom. A Reed Bunting was more obliging and perched up in the tops. Back at the reedbed pool, the Great White Egret was just visible, standing stock still, fishing, just behind the reeds at the front. We had a better view of its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing in the Reedbed Pool, close to the main path

It had been a great day – the amazing spectacle of the waders on the Wash and a very pleasant couple of hours at Titchwell afterwards. A perfect way to restart the Autumn Tours.

 

4th Sept 2019 – The Wash & the Coast

A Private Tour today, in NW Norfolk. The plan was to spend the morning up on the Wash, watching the Wader Spectacular, and then the afternoon at Titchwell afterwards. It was cloudy first thing, before starting to brighten up as expected. But we were caught out by a band of heavy rain mid morning which wasn’t in the forecast. At least the sun then cam out in the afternoon and we managed to dry out and enjoy the rest of the day.

As we made our way in to Snettisham, we stopped to look at the gulls on the sailing pit. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, along with one or two Common Gulls, but we did manage to find a Mediterranean Gull in with them. It was an adult, with pure white wing tips and bright orange-red bill, moulting out of breeding plumage and losing its black hood.

Up on the seawall, there was still lots of exposed mud – we were in good time to watch the waders gathering. A large flock of Oystercatchers was already roosting away to our right along the shore by the sailing club. They wouldn’t be able to stay there long, as it would soon be under water. In front of them, there were lots of Golden Plover and Knot, the former surprisingly hard to see on the mud until we got them in the scope. There were lots of Sandwich Terns gathered on the mud nearby today too.

Waders 1

Oystercatchers & Sandwich Terns – gathering on the mud already when we arrived

Along the edge of the water, were lots of Black-tailed Godwits. We got them in the scope next and found a single Bar-tailed Godwit in with them, smaller and shorter-legged, still moulting out of breeding plumage with its patchy rusty underparts extending down under the tail. There were lots more Bar-tailed Godwits across the channel, along with more Knot.

We could hear the ‘pooee’ calls of the little groups of Ringed Plover, as they flew in and dropped down onto the mud close to us, in front of the channel. In with them were a few Dunlin and Turnstone, one of the latter still in bright chestnut and pied breeding plumage, as well as one or two Sanderling.

A Curlew Sandpiper appeared down on one of the small pools in front of too – a juvenile, with scaly back, peachy-buff wash across its breast and clean white underparts, as well as a noticeably longer bill than the Dunlin. It disappeared into a channel and we initially thought it was the same bird which then appeared much closer to us. In fact it was a second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, as the first reappeared back where we had seen it shortly after.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – one of two juveniles pushed in by the rising tide

Birds were dropping down on the mud and moving on ahead of the tide all the time. A Spotted Redshank appeared briefly in front of us, staying just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope. A single Grey Plover appeared on the mud just across the channel, still sporting the black face and belly of breeding plumage. A Common Sandpiper picked its way past us along the edge of the channel. Three Common Snipe flew past.

It was still rather cloudy at first and little groups of Swallows were passing through, hawking for insects low over the beach. A mixed group of Swallows and House Martins paused for a few minutes in front of us, looking for food around the seawall before moving on. They are on their way south now, heading off to Africa for the winter. We had seen a large gathering of hirundines on the wires as we arrived this morning, presumably having roosted there overnight, so perhaps these same birds were now continuing their journey south.

As the water covered the remaining mud in front of us, the last of the Oystercatchers took off and flew low over the water, across to where the mud was still exposed. We made our way further down that way too. It was finally starting to brighten up now, we could even see some strips of blue sky out over the Wash, coming our way, just as had been forecast.

Down at the corner, opposite the edge of the saltmarsh, we watched as the waders were all pushed up ahead of the tide. The Oystercatchers walked ahead of the rising water, flowing almost like the tide themselves. There were already quite a lot of Knot gathered on the mud, but not the 65,000+ of recent days. That was because a lot of them were still further round the edge of the Wash and gradually they were forced round closer to us, into the last corner of mud which would remain exposed.

Waders 2

Knot – more large flocks flew in from further out around the Wash as the tide rose

At this point it started to cloud over again and even spit with light drizzle. The forecast had mentioned the chance of a shower, so we were not too worried and continued to enjoy the spectacle. Lots of Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were gathering in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the other waders became increasingly concentrated the Osytercatchers started to give up and peel away in lines, flying past us and dropping down onto the pit behind to roost, piping noisily.

Waders 3

Massed Waders – Oystercatchers, Knot and Godwits packed into the last corner of mud

Waders 4

Oystercatchers – starting to peel off and head in past us to the pit

As the Knot became increasingly tightly packed in the corner where the mud was rapidly disappearing, it started to rain more heavily. Just at the wrong moment – this wasn’t in the weather forecast! Most of the other people gathered to watch the spectacle gave up and went into the hides, but with the Knot surely about to take off, we decided to persevere for the finale. But the Knot didn’t leave. It was past the point they would normally take off and they were pressed tight up against the saltmarsh, up to their bellies. They were clearly reluctant to take off given the weather and that seemed to outweigh their normal fear of being so close to or in the vegetation.

The visibility deteriorated as the rain started to fall harder and the wind picked up so, with the Knot refusing to leave, we gave in and walked over to Shore Hide. The hide was fairly busy but at least we were out of the rain. Despite the fact that the Knot were not filling the islands, there were things to see here. A Spoonbill was asleep out in the middle with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. It did wake up at one point and have a quick preen, when the rain stopped briefly, so we could see its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – roosting out in the middle with the Greylags and Cormorants

Also in with the geese and Cormorants, we found a small group of Spotted Redshanks. They were much more active today, preening busily when the rain eased off for a time. We counted at least seven today, but there could have been more, hidden in between the geese.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – there were at least seven today roosting on the pit

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Dunlin on the island in front of the hide. The next nearest island out to the left held many more Dunlin today, presumably taking advantage of the absence of many Knot. Looking through them carefully, we found one juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, presumably one of the two we had seen out on the mud earlier.

When the rain eased off, the Knot obviously decided to finally leave the Wash. Large flocks spiralled down onto the islands until they were largely filled, the birds packed in tightly shoulder to shoulder.

Waders 5

Knot – finally came in to the pit to roost

We had hoped to see out the rain in the hide, as we could see from the rainfall radar that it was just a narrow band of cloud passing over us, but it started to rain more heavily again. There seemed to be a series of squalls, easing off and then starting up again, but having got wet people were now starting to get cold and there was a request to head back to the minibus to warm up. We walked back in driving drizzle, getting wet through again, and sure enough we could now see the cloud breaking and a band of blue sky appearing away to the west, heading our way. If only we had been able to hang on another 10 minutes!

We drove round to Titchwell with the heater on full blast which at least started to dry us out. It was dry when we got there and it was already starting to brighten up considerably, but we still stopped for a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. The sun was out by the time we had finished – it felt like a completely different day. We had a bit of time before lunch still, so we decided to walk round to Patsy’s Reedbed and the Autumn Trail.

There were Chiffchaffs calling in the sallows and when we got round to the Tank Road we could see lots of birds in the hedge on the back of the car park. Several of them were coming down to bathe in a small puddle just beyond the gate, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Linnets, so we edged over for a closer look.

We looked up in the taller trees to see two Turtle Doves. They were busy preening, presumably come out into the sunshine to dry off. We had a great view of them through the scope, admiring their rusty edged back feathers and black and white striped neck patches.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – two were preening in the tall trees when the sun came out

With the UK population having declined by over 90%, it is always a privilege to see Turtle Doves. They will soon be on their way south to Africa for the winter, when  they will have to run the gauntlet of shooters in France and Spain, where they are still bizarrely allowed to be shot. Let us hope they can survive the journey and return here next year.

We turned our attention back to the puddle where the birds were bathing, and the bushes beyond. Lots of birds were hoping around on the ground, on the concrete track, including one or two Chiffchaffs and a male Blackcap, as well as the aforementioned finches and several Dunnocks.

There was lots of activity in the hedge the other side too, as a tit flock was working its way through the brambles. As well as the tits, there were a few warblers with them. First a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles – we could see its bright rusty-edged wing feathers – then a much greyer bird flew in too, a Lesser Whitethroat. We watched the Lesser Whitethroat feeding on the blackberries in full view for several minutes, great views of this often rather secretive species.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – fantastic views as it fed on blackberries

From the screen at Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see lots of ducks out on the water – Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard, a couple of Teal and a single eclipse drake Wigeon. There were several Little Grebes too, and a pair of Mute Swans with their four well-grown cygnets.

A good number of hirundines were hawking for insects over the pool, mainly Swallows and House Martins, but we found a couple of brown-backed Sand Martins in with them. There were four Swifts zooming back and forth over the reeds beyond too. Most of our Swifts have already left, their brief summer visit here to breed over and these ones were probably passing through, pushed down lower to feed by this morning’s rain with the hirundines.

The Autumn Trail is open new, so we walked on round to the back corner of the Freshmarsh. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came up out of the reedbed and across the path towards Willow Wood as we passed. It was a bit breezy now, so perhaps not surprisingly we did not come across any Bearded Tits here today. There were a few Teal and Ruff on the mud in the corner. More notably, we could see a little group of waders roosting over by the fence on the back of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see they were five Spotted Redshanks with two Black-tailed Godwits.

Then it was back for a late lunch. We found a table in the picnic area in the sun and it was lovely and warm out of the breeze. There were lots of dragonflies buzzing round now – several Migrant Hawkers and a Southern Hawker, and a line of Common Darters sunning themselves on the bench.

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was a bit breezy as we walked out past the reedbed today. There were a few ducks on the Reedbed Pool, but we headed on out to Island Hide. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in exactly the same place we had seen it yesterday, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers still, but there was no sign of the Lapwing which has been right next to the hide in recent days. There were more Ruff over on the edge of the water, but two juveniles gave great views as they fed right outside the windows.

Ruff

Ruff – one of two juveniles right outside Island Hide today

A good sized flock of Dunlin were feeding in the shallow water between here and Parrinder Hide and looking through them we quickly located a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. A second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was much further back too.

Scanning along the edge of the reeds, we had a quick view of one juvenile Bearded Tit out on the edge of the mud briefly, but the wind was catching the reeds and they were keeping mostly hidden today. A Water Rail appeared and walked quickly along the edge too before disappearing back in. There were a few Ruff feeding over here as well today, along with a single Knot, possibly the same bird which had been right outside the hide yesterday.

From up on the main path, it didn’t look like there was anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we continued out towards the beach. There was just a single Common Redshank on the near edge of Volunteer Marsh, but scanning down the channel at the far end we found a Curlew, two Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover and a Little Egret. The non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up with water after the recent big high tides, and there was nothing on the one remaining island today.

All the waders were feeding out on the beach, with the tide now out and the mussel beds exposed. There were lots of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Turnstones. A couple of small groups of Grey Plover flew in from behind us.

Looking out to sea, we could see a good number of Great Crested Grebes on the water today. Two Fulmars flew in from the west and circled just offshore. But the surprise of the afternoon was a Grey Heron, which we watched working its way in over the sea, well offshore initially. It was probably coming in from Scandinavia for the winter, migration in action!

There were a few gulls on the freshmarsh on our way back, but no sign of the Golden Plover now which had apparently dropped in while we out at the beach. We did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull, next to a much darker-backed Lesser Black-backed Gull, and we could even see its yellow legs before it sat down and went to sleep.

It was time to make our way back now. On the journey home, we stopped to watch a male Marsh Harrier hanging in the wind over a stubble field beside the road, being mobbed by  a Carrion Crow. And two Stock Doves in a field were the last addition to the day’s list.

It was a shame about the rain this morning – it had only lasted less than an hour, but just at the wrong moment! Despite that, we had still enjoyed a great day out and seen lots of good birds.

3rd Sept 2019 – Autumn Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular today, up on the Wash. It was a rather cloudy start, but brightened up nicely from mid-morning. It was warm in the afternoon, particularly out of the brisk SW breeze.

It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time to watch the waders gathering ahead of the big high tide today. As we met in Wells first thing, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling high overhead. They have just started to return in the last couple of days, early this year, coming back from Iceland to spend the winter here. A reminder that Autumn is upon us!

When we got up onto the seawall, we were in good time and there was still lots of exposed mud but the tide coming in fast. We trained the scope on the small groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits already gathering on the edge of the rising water. A large roost of Oystercatcher asleep away to our right, on the shore, would soon have to move, as the mud would shortly be under water.

Small groups of Ringed Plover were flying in along the near shore, stopping to feed on the still exposed mud. Several Turnstones and one or two Dunlin were in with them. A colour-ringed Curlew dropped in too, but was probably ringed locally and by the looks of its shiny leg flag, quite recently!

It was not long before the mud in front of us was covered with water, so we moved further down towards the hides. All the Oystercatchers were flying further up, from where they had been trying to roost earlier, and had gathered again in a vast slick spread out across the mud out in the middle. A large flock of Knot gathered nearby looked like a patch of darker grey mud at a distance, until you looked more closely and could see it was actually a mass of birds packed tightly together.

Waders 1

Oystercatchers – gathering out on the Wash, ahead of the rising tide

The official WeBS count of the Knot here had been conducted just a couple of days ago – 67,000! We were not up to this number yet, with many birds still on the mud further round on the Wash. As the tide continued to rise, they started to get restless, flying up and swirling round in huge flocks, before spiralling in to join the birds already gathered down closer to us.

Waders 2

Knot – more clouds of birds flying in to join those already gathered here

As we got down to the corner, opposite the saltmarsh, the water was still coming in fast. Those birds on the shore were getting pushed ever higher, walking away from the rising tide. It looked like the flock was flowing too, Oystercatchers, Knot and Godwits.

As the mass of birds became increasingly concentrated into the top corner, where the last remaining exposed mud was to be found, the Oystercatchers started peeling off first, heading past us in lines into the pits, piping noisily. The Knot waited longer, reluctant to leave the safety of the mud, until they were packed tightly into the last remaining arc of mud, right up against the saltmarsh. Finally they took off, tens of thousands of them rising together. Amazing to watch.

Waders 3

Knot – the moment tens of thousands took off together

Some large groups of Knot flew in past us, thousands at a time, low overhead. We watched them circling round and dropping down onto the pit behind us. Thousands more climbed higher and higher into the sky. There was nowhere left to roost out on the Wash now, with the tide in, and it seemed likely that the islands on the pit may have been already full, so they didn’t know where to go to roost. They spent ages flying backwards and forwards, getting ever higher.

Waders 4

Knot – flocks of thousands gained height out over the Wash

There were still tens of thousands of Knot in the sky. It was very impressive to watch, and we stood and marvelled at them. The flocks were stacked, some higher, some lower, crissing and crossing backwards and forwards over and above each other. We stood and watched them for a while, mesmerised.

Waders 5

Knot – thousands stacked in the sky over the Wash in vast flocks

The Knot showed no signs of coming down, although some seemed to drift away out over the Wash. We decided to head round to South Hide, to see what we could find on the roosting on the pit. One or two Yellow Wagtails flew back and forth over the grass calling shrilly, and a couple of Common Sandpipers flew past over the edge of the wash, with their distinctive bowed wings and flicking wingbeats.

There were lots of waders on the pits. The Oystercatchers were mostly on the banks either side. Quite a few Knot were packed onto some of the closer islands, though we could see thousands more further down the pit. Some Knot were roosting in the water towards the front, where we could get a closer look at them in the scope. A little group of  sleeping Dunlin on the nearest bank included a couple of adults with black belly patches and several juveniles with spotted bellies.

There were more Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the pit than we had seen out on the Wash, mostly now in drab grey-brown non-breeding plumage. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was standing on the bank in front of the Oystercatchers and it gave us a nice opportunity to compare the two species in the scope. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits seemed to be roosting out on the saltmarsh with all the Curlew.

Three Spoonbills were scattered separately around the shore of the pit, one roosting with the Little Egrets but the others roosting with the waders. One was awake when we first arrived, but typically they all spent most of the time asleep. That is what Spoonbills seem to do most of the time!

Heading back round to Shore Hide, there were lots of Linnets and Reed Buntings in the suaeda bushes, pushed up off the shore by the tide. We could still see a couple of flocks of Knot flying high over the Wash. The islands at the other end of the pit were already packed tight with Knot, standing shoulder to shoulder, and it looked like there was no room for any more. Apart from on the edge of one of the nearest islands, closest to the bank, which the Knot seemed to shun and was occupied by more Dunlin instead.

Waders 6

Knot – packed tight on the islands on the pit

There were lots of Common Redshanks roosting along the far shore of the pit, opposite the hide. The rocks in the middle seemed to have been commandeered by Cormorants and Greylag Geese. However, looking carefully in amongst the geese, we found several Spotted Redshanks. They were fast asleep, head on to us, but we could still pick them out, slightly paler, whiter fronted than the Common Redshanks. One Spotted Redshank woke up and started preening while we had the scope on it, flashing its distinctive longer, needle-fine-tipped bill.

The Knot were now starting to get restless. We walked back over to the edge of the Wash, but on such a big tide as it was today the mud was still only just starting to reappear. Small lines of Knot started streaming off from the pit, over the Bank next to us. They came over a few hundred at a time at first, but there was nowhere for them to go, and they whirled around low out over the Wash. The Oystercatchers started to gather in the corner first, with their longer legs. But the tide was going out fast now and gradually more and more was mud exposed.

Then huge waves of Knot started to come up off the pit, streaming back out to the Wash. The flew low over the bank, and skimmed the surface of the water as they headed back out to where the mud was now appearing again.

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Knot – streaming back out from the pit to the Wash

One large flock of Knot, probably a thousand or more strong, came right over our heads. They were so low, all we could hear was the beating of a thousand pairs of wings. Amazing!

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Knot – some of them came low over our heads

We turned our attention back out to the growing throngs gathering out on the mud. A small group of Grey Plover flew in from elsewhere, possibly having roosted on the saltmarsh, and landed in front of the flocks. Through the scope we could see their black faces and bellies, still in breeding plumage. Nine Sanderling dropped in too, and started feeding busily on the wet mud.

The pit had largely emptied of waders now, so we decided to move on and walked back to the minibus. A small roost of gulls had gathered on one of the other pits, mostly Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls, but stopping to look through them briefly we found three Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. Two adults preening on the shore, white winged and with a brighter red bill and black bandit mask.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – an adult moulting to winter plumage

After a quick break for coffee, we headed round the coast to Titchwell. After our early  start this morning, we decided to break for an early lunch by the Visitor Centre. Then after lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we walked up along the main West Bank path beside the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It was quite breezy now and the reeds were swaying in the wind, but despite that, two appeared up in the reeds in a sheltered spot. We had a good view of a male and a female together, before they dropped down out of view.

We would have been happy with that, but we hadn’t gone much further, when we heard more Bearded Tits calling on the other side of the bank. We poked our heads over and spotted two cracking males perched nicely in the tops of the reeds there, with powder blue heads and black droopy moustaches. When they eventually flew, more birds came up from hidden in the reeds and they all zipped across the path and dropped back down into the edge of the main reedbed. They spent several minutes feeding around the small pools on that side, low round the edge of the water or climbing up into the tops calling, before they eventually flew further back and disappeared.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – showed very well today

The Reedbed Pool held just a few ducks, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. So we continued on to Island Hide to have a look at the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of waders scattered out over the mud here too. Lots of Ruff and a good number of Avocets still. A smart Lapwing was feeding close to the hide, its iridescent plumage shining green, bronze and purple in the afternoon sunshine. A couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were in with the Dunlin, larger, longer billed and cleaner white below. A single juvenile Little Ringed Plover was running round with several Ringed Plovers over by the reeds. Through the scope, we could see the ghosting of the eye ring which is brighter golden yellow on breeding adults.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – showing a ghosting of the adult’s yellow eye-ring

A Spoonbill flew in from the direction of the sea, but there were no others on the Freshmarsh this afternoon, so after a quick look it carried on through. A Water Rail appeared on the edge of the reeds. It disappeared quickly back in, but thankfully reappeared again a short while later and this time spent some time preening out in the open on the mud. A couple more Bearded Tits, tawny brown juveniles, appeared on the mud in front of the reeds too and a single Common Snipe was feeding nearby.

A lone Knot, odd to see on its own after the flocks of thousands this morning, was rather distant at first. But then it flew straight in to the hide and started feeding in the cut reeds just below the window, giving us stunning close views. It was a juvenile, most likely here from Greenland or Canada where it had been raised over the summer, and had probably never seen people before so didn’t know to be afraid.

Knot

Knot – stunning close views of this juvenile from Island Hide

Back out on the main path, we couldn’t see anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we carried straight on towards the beach for a quick look at the sea. The tide was out, and their were lots of waders down on the mussel beds, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Redshanks and Turnstones. A Sandwich Tern flew past offshore and we spotted two or three Great Crested Grebes out on the sea.

Unfortunately, it was time to head back now – after an early start, we had an early finish this afternoon. Two Greenshanks calling out over the saltmarsh as we walked back, flew in over the path behind us. A nice last addition to our wader list for the day, and a good point to finish on.

13th Sept 2018 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular today, up on the Wash watching the whirling flocks of birds. It was a lovely bright sunny start to the day, if a little chilly first thing! It did cloud over a little but there were still some bright intervals in the afternoon.

It was an early start, which saw us heading up to Snettisham to get there well ahead of the rising tide, so we could watch the waders gathering. As we made our way down towards the seawall we could already see some huge flocks of birds swirling high in the sky – something had obviously spooked them.

When we got up onto the seawall, so we could see out across the Wash, there was still a huge flock of Golden Plover twisting and turning out over the mud. They looked stunning as they caught the morning sun, alternating golden brown and bright white. After a few minutes, they disappeared off inland, presumably heading off to roost in the fields. The Oystercatchers had all landed back down on the mud, but we couldn’t see many Knot out here. At first, we weren’t sure where they had gone.

1 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – flying in to join the throng in the morning sun

More Oystercatchers flew in from further up the Wash across in front of us, and again the morning light meant they positively shone. They flew out and joined the throng massed on the mud. There were lots of Ringed Plover down on the mud just in front of us and we had a good look at a single Bar-tailed Godwit down there too. Further out, on the other side of the channel, four Spoonbills marched across the mud ahead of the rising water.

A large group of Dunlin flew in and zoomed nervously backwards and forwards over the channel in front of us, before settling on the mud further out. More Knot started to appear too, in several flocks of various sizes, but they flew in over us and seemed to be heading in to the pits to roost already. Normally they are just about the last to leave the mud!

2 Knot

Knot – several flocks flew in past us onto the pits

The tide was rising fast now. A couple of bright silvery-grey and white Sanderling and a Turnstone joined the other small waders down at the front but flew off with the Ringed Plover as the water started to come in. A lone Avocet was about the last to leave the mud there, waiting until the water was almost up to its belly before taking off.

The huge flock of Oystercatchers was on the edge of the water now. They didn’t seem to be too concerned and on closer inspection we could see why – they were walking up the mud ahead of the tide, like a vast flowing liquid. We made our way further up too. As we walked past the pits, we peaked over the bank and could see that there were already lots of Knot on the islands there. They had obviously flown in to roost already, even before we got there.

3 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – started peeling off in waves

Some of the Oystercatchers then started to give up and head for the pits, peeling off in waves. We stationed ourselves at a suitable spot on the path where they were coming in right over our heads. Amazing to watch!

4 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – the flocks came in right over our heads!

More birds were flying in all the time, from further around the Wash. The remaining Oystercatchers were getting ever more concentrated into the last corner of the remaining exposed mud. Beyond them, we could see lots of Sanderling and Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Grey Plover, as well as still quite a few Knot.

5 Waders

Waders – became ever more concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud

More of the waders started to throw in the towel and head off to roost, realising it was futile to resist the tide rising ever higher. The Sanderling headed off back up the Wash to roost somewhere else and the Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits stood their ground, but we stood and watched as the others headed in past us in waves, landing behind on the pits.

A Marsh Harrier quartering the saltmarsh just beyond managed to get most of the remaining birds in the air. Even the Curlews took off but landed again in the vegetation further back.

Once the majority of the birds had left the Wash, we headed off to have a look at the Pits. As we walked along the boardwalk, a couple of Spoonbills flew in and dropped down onto the pits. It was unbelievably busy at Snettisham today, and when we got to the temporary screen/hide at the south end, we found we couldn’t get in, so we decided to continue on round and scan from the far side.

The light was much better on the east side. We stopped on the boardwalk where we could see across onto part of the pit. The far bank was coated in Oystercatchers, shifting nervously. Below them, on the water’s edge, we could see a few Black-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was with them, much more obviously patterned on the upperparts, giving a great side by side comparison.

There were three Spoonbills on one of the islands, doing what they like to do best – sleeping! They did wake up from time to time and show us their bills, two juveniles and a single adult, the latter with a yellow tip to its black bill. There were a couple of Pintail with the Mallards on the water nearby too.

Carrying on round on the path, we passed a few Egyptian Geese on the grass with the Greylags. From up on the inner seawall, we could see part of the islands at the northern part of the pit and they were full of waders. From a distance they looked just like stones, but on closer inspection one was covered in tightly packed Knot. Another held a more varied mix – Turnstones on the edge, Knot mixed with godwits just behind and Dunlin scattered more widely at the back.

There were still a few Common Terns on one of the islands – adults in various stages of moult to non-breeding plumage and several brown-backed juveniles. A Little Grebe was diving on the water in front.

The crowds in the hides seemed to be thinning out a bit, but the benches in the south screen were still largely taken up with a rank of large-lens touting photographers in residence. There was room for us to stand behind them now at least though!

The islands at this end were filled mainly with Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits, but there were some small groups of Common Redshank around the margins and three Greenshank with them down at the front. A moulting juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep nearby looked very like the Common Redshanks until it woke up and flashed its longer, needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – with the Redshank and Dunlin in front of the south screen

There were a few Dunlin and Knot down at this end too, but most of the smaller waders were on the islands at the other end of the pit, so we made our way round to Shore Hide next for a closer look.

The island right in front of Shore Hide was packed with birds. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits but hiding in amongst them were lots of Knot. Most of them are in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but several were still wearing the remains of their orange summer underparts. The next island over seemed to be wall-to-wall Knot!

6 Knot

Knot – hiding in with the Black-tailed Godwits

There were more Spotted Redshanks out in the middle here, roosting with Black-tailed Godwits in amongst the rocks where the Cormorants were loafing. There were a few Common Redshanks too and we possibly couldn’t see all of them, but we counted at least 11 Spotted Redshanks here, mostly adults in non-breeding plumage now.

We hadn’t been in the hide long before the Knot started to shuffle nervously. It was already an hour or so after high tide, and the sea would be receding now. A few took off from the edge of one of the islands and as they flew round over the pit, more and more Knot took off to join them before they started to head off over the bank.

7 Knot

Knot – the packed flocks on the islands started to take off

We decided to go outside, back to the edge of the Wash. Perfect timing, as we got out to find a huge swirling flock of Knot out over the mud. They twisted and turned, making various shapes in the sky, breaking into separate flocks before flying back across each other and then coalescing again. Finally – a proper spectacular display from the Knot!

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Knot – the swirling flocks made various shapes in the sky

11 Knot

More Knot – more shapes!

The Knot were clearly still unsure at first as to whether to head back out onto the Wash or not. The flock turned and came back in, over our heads. The sky above us was filled with thousands of birds and all we could hear was the beating of thousands of wings. Breathtaking!

10 Knot

Knot – thousands flying over our heads

They circled over the pits again for a minute or two before deciding they didn’t like the look of those either, then headed back out over the Wash and disappeared away into the distance. We stood on the edge of the Wash for a while. The Oystercatchers started to filter back out from the pits in lines, before landing in big groups back out on the newly exposed mud.

Eventually, it looked like that might be the end of it for today, so we started to walk back along the path. As we did so, we scanned the mud. A Spoonbill appeared and began to feed in the small pools, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the water, head down. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past, flashing its all-white wings and a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed on the edge of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the muddy pools after the tide receded

Looking over the bank, we could see there were still quite a few Knot packed tight on one of the islands on the pit. They didn’t seem like they were too inclined to move, but as we walked further on something spooked all the birds behind us and another wave of Knot flew over the bank and out low across the Wash. They swirled around for a couple of minutes – giving us one last display – before settling down on the mud.

12 Knot

Knot – the last wave gave us a final display

It had been a great morning at Snettisham, and we headed off to Titchwell next. It was midday when we arrived there, and after our early start it was time for lunch! After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve – we didn’t have as long as usual here today, but we would see what we could find.

The reedbed pool was quiet, save for three Coot and a single Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were well out in the reeds and there was a fresher breeze now, so they were keeping tucked down. We continued on to Island Hide.

There were plenty of Ruff on the mud in front of the hide. They can be the most confusing wader to identify and we looked at two which were very close – a winter adult male and a much smaller juvenile female. They almost looked like two different species!

Ruff

Ruff – an adult, in non-breeding plumage

There was a nice selection of other waders. A huddle of Black-tailed Godwits around the islands. A flock of Golden Plover on one of the strips of mud, with a few black-bellied birds still sporting the remnants of their breeding plumage. A couple of Dunlin on the mud in front of the reeds, juvenile birds with spotted bellies. Two Ringed Plover were running around the edge of one of the islands.

Numbers have dropped substantially from late summer, when the local population was boosted by birds coming to moult, but there are still quite a few Avocet here. One was feeding quite close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the shallow water. It was quite brown-backed, a juvenile.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

We could hear Bearded Tits calling at one point, but despite scanning back and forth along the edge of the reeds periodically, we couldn’t find any here today.

The two Pink-footed Geese with mangled wings, which have been here all summer, were on one of the islands, over towards Parrinder Hide. There were plenty of ducks too – Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler mainly – all in their rather drab eclipse plumage. Several Shelduck were all juveniles, with the bulk of the adults having gone off to the continent to moult.

Continuing on along the main path, we scanned the margins and the edges of the islands hoping for a Common Snipe, but we couldn’t find one today. There were plenty of Linnets in the vegetation on the islands, and a few Pied Wagtails around the muddy edges.

Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet, apart from a Curlew and a Redshank, until we got to the channel at the far end. A Black-tailed Godwit was probing its long bill in the mud just below the path and a Little Egret was fishing in the narrows. Scanning the muddy banks either side of the channel on the north side, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshank, and a single Grey Plover.

After the recent big tides, the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up again. As a consequence, there was nothing on here today – very few of the islands are now visible above the water. So we continued on to the beach.

With the tide out now, there were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach. We could see good numbers of Curlew, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Turnstones and Knot. However, we were hoping we might find a Whimbrel but there was no sign of one. The sea was pretty quiet too. There had been a Red-necked Grebe offshore earlier, before the tide went out, but all we could find now was a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

On our way back, we called in at Parrinder Hide. At first it looked like there was nothing different to see from here. Several Linnets, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were feeding in the tall vegetation on the islands. We were hoping at least to find a Common Snipe here, but just after we had announced we couldn’t find one, a Common Snipe walked out onto the edge of the island to the left of the hide. Typical!

A wader dropped in onto the spit at the end of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see it was a Common Sandpiper. It stopped to bathe and then walked up onto the shore to preen, before running off round the back. Just a few seconds later, another Common Sandpiper appeared on the mud just to the left of the hide. We could tell it was a different bird to the one we had just seen, as this second one had a gammy leg and a noticeable limp.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – the second one we saw from Parrinder Hide

As we scanned the edge of the reeds over the far side of the Freshmarsh, all we found at first were more Common Snipe. Suddenly they seemed to be everywhere! Then we spotted a Bearded Tit working its way low along the reed edge on the back of the mud. It was distant, but we could see it was a smart male, with a powder blue head and black moustache. A couple of minutes later we found two juveniles a little further over, feeding on the open mud. Then a Water Rail appeared nearby too, coming out of the reeds for a quick bathe before walking in and out of the vegetation along the back edge.

It had been well worth the diversion into Parrinder Hide. As we walked back towards the visitor centre we finally got our Whimbrel. We heard one calling, and looked across the saltmarsh towards the beach to see two Whimbrel flying past in the distance.

We thought that was it. It had been a quick visit to Titchwell this afternoon, but we were due back. We were packed up, in the car and driving out of the car park when we saw several people looking intently up into the trees. We opened the window and asked what they had seen and the reply came ‘Turtle Dove‘.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – these two were in the trees at the back of the car park

Everyone disembarked again and we had a great view of the two Turtle Doves perched in the trees at the back of the car park, preening and dozing in the afternoon sun. It was a perfect way to end the day.

16th July 2018 – Summer Waders

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day, hot but with a nice light breeze just to take the edge off it along the coast. It was the first big tide of the ‘autumn’ season, so with an early start, we headed over to the Wash to look at the waders.

The tide was already starting to come in when we first arrived up on the seawall, but there was still a lot of exposed mud, so we stopped for a scan. Several Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers were feeding down just below the bank and they were joined by a Dunlin. Some larger flocks of Dunlin were still feeding feverishly out on the other side of the channel, but started to fly further up as the tide began to rise.

One or two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the near edge of the channel too, while further out we could see large stains across the mud, big flocks of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. Gradually all the waders started to move higher up the mud, and a couple of Turnstone flew in past us.

The gulls and terns were gathered away to our right still, but flew in and landed on the mud out in front of us. Amongst the Black-headed Gulls, we could see one or two white-winged Mediterranean Gulls. We got nice views of Sandwich and Little Tern with them too, along with the Common Terns which were flying in and out of the pits behind us carrying food.

Snettisham

The Wash – there was still lost of exposed mud when we first arrived

It wasn’t long before the mud in front of us was covered by the rising water, so we carried on along the seawall to Rotary Hide, where we stopped to scan again. The Oystercatchers appeared to flow across the mud like a large slick of liquid as they walked up away from the tide, whereas the Knot and the godwits flew across and landed again further from the approaching water.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – walking up ahead of the rising tide

There were lots of Curlew too, gathering on the edge of the vegetation at the back. The Dunlin gave up early today, flying up in a succession of flocks and in over the seawall, flashing their black belly patches, before dropping down onto the pits behind us.

Dunlin

Dunlin – flying in off the Wash to roost on the pits

The Oystercatchers were next to start heading in. Rather than flying in one big group, they took off in small flocks and lines, coming in over our heads. There were little groups of Avocets too, passing overhead. We gradually made our way down to the corner, as the tide progressively covered the open mud and the remaining birds were pushed further and further in.

The Knot and the Bar-tailed Godwits resisted longest. Then a Marsh Harrier flew in across the saltmarsh just behind, close enough to spook them. The waders erupted and several large flocks of Knot headed in. All we could hear was the whirring of hundreds of wings as they passed by. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off by a zealous Avocet.

Many of the Bar-tailed Godwits landed again and tried to settle in with the Curlews, which were looking to roost out on in the shorter vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh. Gradually, the rising tide pushed them out again, and we had great views of several large flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits as they flew in overhead. Most were still in bright breeding plumage, with their rusty underparts extending right down under their tails.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwits – flying in off the Wash to roost

Two Common Sandpipers were disturbed by the rising tide from the near edge of the saltmarsh, just below us, and flew off over the water with flicking wingbeats and bowed wings. A seal surfaced just offshore, presumably looking for fish in the now flooded channels out in the mud. Something spooked all the waders from the pits behind us and they whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light as they twisted and turned. It seemed to be a false alarm though, and they quickly settled back down again.

With most of the waders now pushed in by the tide, we made our way round to the temporary hide round at the south end of the pits to see what we could find there. As we looked out, the islands close to us were covered in waders. Scanning through them, we could see they were predominantly Dunlin, mainly adult birds still in breeding plumage, with black bellies.

Waders

Waders – Dunlin, Knot & Redshank gathered on the islands on the pits

In with them, we found several Knot, again mostly in their bright rusty breeding plumage, and Common Redshank. The number of Knot today seemed to be down on what we would normally expect at this time of year – they seem to be slightly late returning from Greenland this year. Still, there was plenty to look at.

The Oystercatchers were all roosting on the shingle bank down along the left. Opposite, on the bank on the other side of the water, were all the Black-tailed Godwits and in with them lots more of the Knot. A Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on its own on an unoccupied area along the gravel edge of the pit, bobbing up and down as it did so.

As we scanned carefully through, we spotted several Spotted Redshanks on the edge of the water below the godwits and Knot. They were already well advanced in their moult, their black breeding plumage already liberally patterned with silvery grey and white feathers, to a greater or lesser degree. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, longer and thinner than the Common Redshanks nearby.

We couldn’t find anything else in with all the waders at this end today, so we made our way round to Shore Hide to have a look from there. There were fewer waders from here, but there were some nice terns on the island right in front of the hide. Several of the Sandwich Terns had scaly-backed juveniles in tow, begging to be fed, and there appeared to be some squabbles between the families. We had a nice view of Common Tern and Sandwich Tern side by side, for comparison.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – several adults had juveniles with them

The tide was slowly starting to recede now, but we decided to move on. We made our way back to the car and round to Titchwell. It was hot now and the trees around the car park were quite quiet. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing and there were some Goldfinches in the bushes. There wasn’t much happening at the feeders by the Visitor Centre so, after a quick look in the sightings book, we headed out onto the reserve.

A Reed Bunting was singing out in the reeds as we walked out. We stopped to scan and found a juvenile Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the small sallows towards the back of the reedbed. Through the scope, we could see it was very dark chocolate brown with a rather gingery orange head. Across the Thornham Grazing Marsh the other side, a Common Buzzard was perched on a post in the distance.

The Thornham Grazing Marsh pool had been bone dry in recent weeks, but has filled up with saltwater after the high tides. This is not part of the reserve and used to be a lovely deep freshwater pool up until a couple of years ago when it was allowed to drain for no apparent reason – it is a complete travesty the way it is being mismanaged by the landowner. There were a few Lapwing, a Curlew and a Grey Heron on here today.

There were lots of ducks out on the reedbed pool, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and one or two Common Pochard too. They are all looking rather drab now, in eclipse plumage. A smart adult Great Crested Grebe sailed out into the middle and a Little Grebe appeared in the channel just beyond. A Common Snipe was busy feeding in the near corner of the Freshmarsh.

We heard Bearded Tits calling, but all we got were several brief flight views as they zipped across over the tops of the reeds before crashing back in out of view. A Reed Warbler was still singing out in the reedbed and we managed to get a look at another which clambered up into the tops of the reeds. The Bearded Tits are often easier to see from Island Hide, so we carried on up to there.

While we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds, we scanned the freshmarsh to see what we could find. There were good numbers of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits here. A couple of Ruff were feeding on the mud in front of the reeds – we saw lots here today, all moulting males which have moulted out their ornate ruff feathers and are in a bewildering array of colours and patterns.

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male, still sporting some colourful breeding plumage

A Little Gull was swimming out on the water here too, circling round and picking at the water’s surface. Despite the lack of any other gulls immediately around, it was noticeably very small, a young bird, a first summer with black feathers still in the wings and a winter-pattern to the head.

There were some Spoonbills on the small island over towards the back of the Freshmarsh too. At first there was only one, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, sleeping. Then, when we looked again more had appeared, presumably from round the back of the island. They started to preen and we could see their spoon-shaped bills.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and kept looking back at the edge of the reeds. Eventually we managed to get a look at one or two, creeping along low down at the back of the mud. We got a bit of a surprise when we heard ‘pinging’ from right in front of the hide, but the Bearded Tits down here knew just how to keep tantalisingly out of view!

Looking out of the flaps on the other side of Island Hide, we noticed another Ruff on the mud close to us. A second wader walked out next to it and we did a double-take – a Lesser Yellowlegs! This is a rare visitor here from North America, which had been on the reserve three days ago but had not been seen since. As a measure of its rarity here, it was apparently the first ever to have been seen at Titchwell. Where it had been hiding since then nobody knows, but it was a nice surprise to find that it had returned for us!

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – a rare visitor from North America

After letting various people know that the Lesser Yellowlegs had reappeared, we set about having a good look at it. It was smaller than the Ruff, with a medium-short, fine bill and long yellow legs (appropriately enough!).

A Common Redshank appeared on the mud nearby and decided to try to chase it off, which gave us a nice chance to see the two species side by side – Lesser Yellowlegs is in many ways the North American equivalent of the Redshank. Again, the Lesser Yellowlegs was noticeably smaller and daintier, as well as their legs being a different colour.

We had a closer look at the Lesser Yellowlegs from up on the main path. Then, as a small crowd started to gather, we decided to move on. Another stop and scan and we noticed a Little Ringed Plover out in the middle of the freshmarsh, but by the time we got the scope on it, it had been disturbed by a couple of Ruff. They can often be found from Parrinder Hide, so we decided to have a look for it from there.

It has been an amazing year for breeding Mediterranean Gulls at Titchwell this year, and there were loads of recently fledged juveniles with scaly backs scattered around the islands in front of Parrinder Hide today. There were plenty of adults loafing here too, and we had a good look at them.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gull – an adult and juvenile in front of Parrinder Hide

The Little Ringed Plover was feeding on the edge of the mud out of one side of the hide. The bird we first got the scope on was a fairly conventional one – buff-brown, with black and white striped face and golden yellow eye ring. But when we looked back, a much whiter bird had appeared in its place. It was a leucistic Little Ringed Plover, ectensively patterned with pale off white feathers, a rather odd looking washed-out thing. The first Little Ringed Plover then appeared from behind the reeds, just to convince us we hadn’t imagined it!

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the islands in front of the hide, and two Pink-footed Geese walked out to join them. They are both injured birds, most likely shooting casualties, which have been unable to make the journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season, so they have remained here all summer.

Continuing on, out towards the beach, we looked up to see a couple of Wigeon flying over. There was one male which appeared to be over-summering earlier in the year, but it was possible that these two were the first birds we have seen returning from their breeding grounds in Russia. Autumn is definitely upon us, in terms of birds at least! A young Marsh Harrier was quartering back and forth over the Volunteer Marsh, flushing everything.

We stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings feeding on the edge of the muddy channel just below the path. Even though they are moulting and have largely lost their crests, they are still stunning birds. We watched as their glossy green upperparts flashed bronze and purple as they turned in the sunlight.

Lapwing

Lapwing – glowing green, bronze and purple in the sunlight

There had apparently been some Greenshank roosting at the back of the Tidal Pools earlier, but they had now disappeared, probably heading off to feed with the tide falling. There were still at least five Spoonbills out here though, as well as 15 Little Egrets. Some of the Spoonbills were asleep, but the two that were awake had rather short bills – juvenile ‘Teaspoonbills’.

The tide had not yet gone out very far when we got to the beach and with several people out enjoying the sand and sea, there were few waders here beyond a group of roosting Oystercatchers with all the Herring Gulls over towards Brancaster. Out to sea, we could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we set off to walk back. When we got to the reedbed, we looked across to see four Marsh Harriers circling, three dark chocolate juveniles and a grey-winged male. We had just missed a food-pass, the male having brought in from food for the young. We had a great view of the male as it flew towards us and crossed over the path just behind.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us, having just brought in some food for its young

We made our way back to the car and headed off to get some lunch. It was an early finish today, but we had enjoyed a great morning out in the sunshine, action-packed!

25th Aug 2017 – Summer Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was a lovely sunny summer’s day, warm with light winds – perfect weather. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in good time before the tide came in, but it was worth it!

As we arrived up on the seawall, there was still plenty of exposed mud out on the Wash. It was quite a vista – a vast slick of birds was spread across the surface, shining bright in the morning sun.

6O0A6529The Wash – with a vast slick of waders in the morning sun

We stopped to watch the birds for a while. The tide was coming in very quickly, and periodically large groups of Knot would fly up ahead of the rising water and land again further up the mud. Just beyond them, the Oystercatchers were walking more methodically away from the tide.

Down at the front, on the nearside of the channel, flocks of smaller waders kept flying in and landing briefly, while others were trying to sleep, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone. A lone Knot, a juvenile, was feeding down on the edge of the mud just below the path, giving us a great opportunity to look at one up close, rather than being mesmerised by the thousands further out on the mud.

6O0A6553Ringed Plover & Dunlin – trying to sleep ahead of the rising tide

Very quickly, the mud in front of where we were standing was covered by the tide, so we made our way further along the seawall. Here we stopped again to take a closer look at the vast flocks of waders. Through the scope, we could see that the Knot were a mixture of colours, many in grey non-breeding or juvenile plumage but a few still in orange breeding plumage.

There were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too, some of those in rusty summer plumage still, with the red colour extending right down under the tail. A single Black-tailed Godwit down at the front was already in grey winter plumage. A lone Grey Plover appeared, also already in grey non-breeding plumage. There were birds other than waders too. A small group of terns had gathered on the mud ahead of the rising tide, a mixture of Common and Sandwich Terns. A raft of Shelduck was bobbing around on the water.

Then something spooked the Knot and they all took off, thousands upon thousands of them in the air at once. They swirled round, flashing white and dark as they twisted and turned, like a huge wave. It was mesmerising to watch.

6O0A6568

6O0A6570

6O0A6572

6O0A6574Knot – thousands twisting and turning

Eventually the Knot calmed down and started to land again, back down on the mud. As the birds above hung in the air waiting for a landing slot, the sky went dark with a thick cloud of birds.

6O0A6578Knot – the vast flock landing again on the mud

Some of the waders leave the Wash early, not waiting for the tide to come right in. The Common Redshanks started to fly past us in small groups. A sharpt ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank which came in off the mud and past us in with them. Some small flocks of Dunlin also flew in over the seawall and dropped down to the pit beyond.

We walked further along, down to the corner where the waders were starting to gather in the last mud to be covered by the tide. On the way, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over our heads, calling.

6O0A6598Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

As the water continued to rise quickly, the area of exposed mud progressively shrank and the waders were increasingly concentrated into the last corner. The Oystercatchers started to give up the fight against the tide and peeled off in lines, flying past us piping before circling round and dropping down to the banks of the pit behind us.

We could see that many of the Oystercatchers were moulting, with gaps in their wings visible as they flew over our heads. Many waders come to the Wash to moult at this time of year, feeling safer out on a vast muddy estuary in big flocks, and with plenty of food to fuel the growth of the new feathers.

6O0A6588Oystercatchers – the first to leave as the tide covered the remaining mud

Finally the Knot started to take off too. They came in several waves today, each tens of thousands of birds strong. As each wave flew in and over our heads, all we could hear was the simultaneous beating of thousands of pairs of wings. An amazing experience.

We watched as the Knot circled over the pits behind us. They couldn’t all land at once, so they split into smaller groups, some swirling high overhead, others flying back out towards the Wash.

6O0A6600

6O0A6606Knot – finally taking off in vast waves & flying in to roost

Once most of the Knot had left the mud, we turned to walk to Shore Hide. A Common Sandpiper flew past over the water, calling, flicking its bowed wings, and disappeared up along the channel higher into the saltmarsh.

In the hide, the birds were very nervous. The waders normally don’t like the island directly in front of the hide, but the next one over is normally packed with Knot. There were fewer waders on here today. A large group of Knot and Dunlin were shuffling around on one half of it but they were very jumpy, repeatedly taking off and flying round before landing again. Some bigger groups of Knot were packed tightly into a couple of islands further over.

6O0A6633Knot, Dunlin & Redshank – shuffling nervously on one of the islands

Pretty soon, we realised why the birds were so nervous. Suddenly all the waders erupted from the islands and started to swirl backwards and forwards over the pit. A young Peregrine appeared amongst them. It took a couple of half-hearted stoops at a wader separated from the flock, a Dunlin managed to evade it by swooping down low over the water and the Peregrine pulled up sharply.

The Peregrine was inexperienced and had lost the element of surprise. A Common Tern started to chase after it. So the Peregrine flew straight towards us and over the hide, disappearing behind and back out to the Wash to try its luck out there. The waders settled down again, but were still noticeably nervous.

Many of the terns  had settled back on the island right in front of the hide. They were mostly Common Terns, probably birds which have bred here, and there were several juveniles still. A couple of adults flew in with fish, but they didn’t always find the youngster they presumably planned to give it to. In with the Common Terns was a much smaller juvenile Little Tern. On the next island over, there were more Little Terns here too, several juveniles a yellow-billed adult.

6O0A6644Little Tern – a juvenile in with the Common Terns

The Common Redshank were mainly over on the far bank. A smaller group of about twenty or so birds was asleep in the middle of the pit, with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. Through the scope, we could see they were a mixture of duller, greyer Common Redshanks and paler Spotted Redshanks.

We made our way round to the viewing screen at the southern end of the pit next. On our way there, we could see lots of Knot still circling out over the Wash, possibly disturbed by the Peregrine. The tide was still high and there was no exposed mud, but perhaps some of them had chosen to try to roost with some of the larger waders out on the saltmarsh today.

From down at the viewing screen, we could see there were fewer smaller waders at this end of the pit today. There were lots of Oystercatchers, with a single Avocet in with them, plus quite a few Black-tailed Godwits roosting here. Some geese flew in over the bank and landed on the water, with several Canada Geese amongst the Greylags. A couple of Egyptian Geese were sleeping on the bank. A family of Moorhen walked around the gravel bank along the edge to one side of the hide.

6O0A6646Oystercatchers – roosting at the southern end of the pit

By now, it was already a good time after high tide, so we walked back out to look at the Wash again. The water was already receding, and there was lots of exposed mud. Quite a few waders were already out there, but they were still very jumpy. When they all flew up, we could see a Peregrine flying across behind them, carrying something in talons. It had clearly been more successful out here then over the pit earlier. A young Marsh Harrier set off after it, clearly with one eye on its prey, but the Peregrine seemed unperturbed and continued away across the saltmarsh.

It was a lovely warm morning and there was quite a bit of raptor activity here today. A Common Buzzard circled up over the mud, chased by a Kestrel. Over across the other side of the saltmarsh, by the seawall, a Marsh Harrier was tussling with a Red Kite, the latter circling lazily and avoiding the Marsh Harrier effortlessly.

A Common Sandpiper flew past again, along the channel in front of us, and a Greenshank flew the other way, calling. The rest of the waders were very slow coming off the pits today. As we stood here for a few minutes, several lines of Oystercatchers flew past and landed back out on the mud, and a few small groups of Dunlin flew out to join them. Time was getting on now, so we decided to make our way back to the car.

We headed round to Titchwell next. The overflow car park was busy today, perhaps not a great surprise given the lovely weather. After our early start, it was time for an early lunch. As we sat eating in the picnic area, a Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows. A couple of Common Darters were basking on one of the benches and several Migrants Hawkers and Speckled Woods were flying around in the sunshine.

6O0A6656Common Darter – basking on a bench in the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre, which held a nice selection of finches and tits. Out along the main path, a Blackcap was calling in the bushes down in the ditch.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh, we heard a Bearded Tit calling in the reeds, but despite waiting for a minute or so, it didn’t show itself. The reedbed pool was quiet, but as we scanned over the reeds, we spotted a group of Spoonbills flying up from the back of the freshmarsh beyond. We could see their long outstretched necks as they flew, their bills held straight out in front. They flew towards us, eight of them, before three peeled off and headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Harbour and the other five circled round and dropped back onto the freshmarsh.

6O0A6673Spoonbills – five of the eight which flew up from the freshmarsh

There were plenty of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. Several Ruff were feeding on the mud right in front of the hide, a mixture of tawny-brown juveniles and grey/white adults now in non-breeding plumage. A juvenile female (traditionally called a Reeve) was much smaller than the juvenile males around it. Further over we could see lots of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwits, some of the latter still sporting the remnants of their rusty orange summer plumage.

6O0A6727Ruff – a tawny brown juvenile

Looking more carefully around the islands, we found a Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the mud, running along, bobbing up and down. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the same island, close by. Over towards the main bank, a smaller juvenile Little Ringed Plover was bathing. A Common Snipe was feeding on the edge of the reeds, probing its long bill deep into the wet mud.

When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to see it flying in over the main bank. It flew towards us and dropped in on the edge of the mud in front of the hide briefly. It helpfully stayed just long enough for us to have a good look at it, then flew off again calling.

6O0A6687Greenshank – dropped down on the edge of the mud briefly

The ducks are all in dull brown eclipse plumage at the moment. There are quite a few Teal back here now and we did see a couple of Shoveler too.

Bearded Tit was a particular request for the day, but at first all we had was the occasional ‘pinging’ call coming from the reeds. Each time we heard them, we looked over and eventually found a single Bearded Tit working its way low down along the edge of the reeds. We got it in the scope, but it was a little distant. Then two more Bearded Tits called from the reeds just across from the hide and we managed to get good views of these in the scope as they hopped around just beyond the edge of the mud.

With the Bearded Tits in the bag, we made our way round to Parrinder Hide. There had been a male Grey-headed Wagtail here for the last couple of days, the northern Scandinavian race of Yellow Wagtail, but we were told it could be elusive. There were lots of wagtails out on the islands, plenty of Pied Wagtails and at least four regular Yellow Wagtails, but no sign of the one we were looking for.

We decided to continue out to the beach. As we walked along the path beside the Volunteer Marsh, a Black-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the channel below us, giving great views. We stopped briefly to scan the channel at the far end and found a couple of Grey Plover feeding on the mud, looking stunning still in breeding plumage, with jet black faces and bellies.

6O0A6738Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh by the main path

The beach was very busy today. Several people were out on the mussel beds and two dogs were running around on there too, so there were comparatively fewer waders than usual. There were still plenty of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew, plus a couple of little groups of Turnstone.

There was not much to see out to sea today either. A quick scan produced two Great Crested Grebes out on the water. So we decided to start walking back.

When we got back to the freshmarsh, we stopped for another scan. Looking over at the island in front of Parrinder Hide, we could still see loads of wagtails in the vegetation. As we scanned across a dark slate-grey head appeared in the leaves, followed by a bright yellow throat and breast – the Grey-headed Wagtail!

It was hard to see, as it was running around and kept disappearing into the low vegetation on the island, but eventually everyone got a really good look at the Grey-headed Wagtail. A striking bird. The Little Ringed Plover we had seen earlier was also showing very well now, on the mud just below the path..

6O0A6740Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile, feeding on the mud below the main path

It was hot and sunny now, so it was nice to get back to the shade of the trees. Unfortunately, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, after our busy morning up on the Wash, but we had seen a few nice birds. It had been a stunning spectacle today, a morning well spent and well worth the early start!

26th July 2017 – Wader Wonderland

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was cloudy most of the day, but we didn’t really get the rain we had been forecast earlier in the week, just a few spits and spots late morning or early afternoon, barely enough to notice.

After an early start, we made our way across towards the Wash in good time to catch the rising tide. On our way, a Red Kite circled over beside the road and a couple of Red-legged Partridges seemed to be hell bent on destruction, playing chicken in the road.

Making our way down to the edge of the Wash, we stopped first as soon as we got up on the seawall. The tide was coming in but there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were gathering, but they were still quite spread out, a large black slick of Oystercatchers and, much further out, an enormous mass of Knot and others.

On the tip of the mud on the far side of the channel, we could see a gathering of terns, large Sandwich Terns with a yellow-tipped black bill, medium-sized Common Terns with a black-tipped orange-red bill and a few much smaller Little Terns, with a black-tipped yellow-bill and white forehead. But the tide was coming in fast and they couldn’t really settle, being continually pushed  in by the rising water. Several Shelducks were feeding in the shallow water, just off the mud and two or three Little Egrets were already pushed off by the rising tide and flew over the seawall to the pits.

Little Stint 1Spot the Little Stint – with Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin

A steady stream of smaller waders were taking advantage of the last of the mud to feed along the near edge below the seawall. There were lots of black-bellied Dunlin, together with a selection of Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. A Grey Plover put in a brief appearance with them too. A tiny Little Stint appeared with them, lingering on the mud just long enough for us to get the scope on it and everyone to get a good look. A moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its rusty red underparts now spotted with white, dropped in briefly on the other side of the channel.

The tide was coming in fast now, pushing all the waders ahead of it, so we moved further up along the seawall and stopped for another scan. The large mass of waders further out on the mud was being pushed further and further in too. The Oystercatchers were walking, like an amorphous blob flowing across the mud, but some of the Knot would periodically fly up and round, before landing again further in.

Wader Spectacular 1Knot – whirling round before landed on the mud further up

The Redshank gave up the battle early, flying off the Wash and onto the pits to roost. They streamed past in groups and a loud ‘tchweet’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank flying in with them. A large number of the Dunlin flew in to the pits too. There were lots of godwits further out on the mud but a lone Bar-tailed Godwit appeared on the near edge, stopping to bathe in a small pool, and a Black-tailed Godwit was nearby on the edge of the main channel.

Wader Spectacular 2Waders – progressively concentrated onto the remaining corner of mud

The Oystercatchers, Knot, godwits and Curlews were progressively concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud, tens of thousands of waders packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Oystercatchers threw in the towel first, peeling off in lines and flying in past us, calling noisily.

Wader Spectacular 3Knot – erupting from the Wash as the last mud is covered with water

The Knot waited until the last moment, until it almost seemed like they wouldn’t come in at all, but we could see they were up to their bellies in the water. There was no exposed mud left for them. Finally they erupted into thick clouds and flew towards us in waves. As the first wave came in, as we could hear the beating of thousands upon thousands of wings coming over us, a mobile phone started to ring noisily nearby and drowned out the sound, annoying. Thankfully a second wave came in shortly after and we got to appreciate the full experience, looking up at all the birds as they flew low overhead, listening to the whirring of wings.

Wader Spectacular 4Knot – thousands came flying in over our heads in vast flocks

We turned to watch the flocks of Knot starting to drop down into the pits behind us. While lines of them streamed down, thousands circled over nervously, waiting their turn. There didn’t seem to be enough room for all of them today, as a couple of large flocks circled back out over the Wash.

As the sky cleared of birds, we made our way over to Shore Hide. The water level on the pits is rather high at moment, so the islands are smaller than they often are. A couple of them were completely coated in waders, mainly Knot, the ones around the edge pushed into the edge of the water. A lot of the Knot are still in their bright orange summer plumage at the moment, but others are already in grey winter plumage.

KnotKnot – packed in tightly onto the islands on the pits

Looking more closely, it was possible to see other birds in with them. A single Avocet and one Oystercatcher stood above the hordes but looked trapped, surrounded. There were several Common Terns in there too, surprisingly hard to see in the throng. The black bellies of the smaller Dunlin stood out, particularly as they gathered around the edges.

As the mass of waders on the island shuffled and shifted, a Curlew Sandpiper appeared close to the edge briefly, with the Dunlin. We had a good look at it in the scope before in shuffled back into the throng of Knot behind. A Little Stint was playing hard to spot until a Moorhen spooked the waders on the island and several of them flew round. The Little Stint appeared right on the front of the island, but was still hard to see, running in and out of the legs of the roosting Knot.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – spot the odd one out, in with the Knot and Dunlin

The waders tend to largely sort themselves by species or relatives on the pits when they roost. The Oystercatchers were gathered mostly to the south of us on the bank of the pit. There were not so many godwits on here today – they had possibly gone on to the fields to roost instead.

There were some large groups of Redshank over by the far bank and other out in the middle. We took a closer look at the latter and found it was actually a mixture of Common and Spotted Redshanks. There were at least 17 Spotted Redshanks in the flock, mostly asleep. They were all adults and had to a greater or lesser degree moulted out of summer plumage – some had their black underparts extensively flecked with white now, but others were already predominantly in silvery grey winter plumage.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – four of the seventeen, with three Common Redshanks

There were lots of geese around the far bank, Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Looking across, we could see two smaller birds running around on the grass between them, two Common Sandpipers. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out in the middle of the water.

Round at the viewing screen at the south ends of the pit, we found yet more small waders packed tightly onto the islands, more Dunlin here and slightly fewer Knot. There were just a few Dunlin sleeping along the water’s edge to the left of the hide, and another Little Stint was with them. Out in the open, we got great views of it through the scope as it ran up and down, feeding actively.

Little StintLittle Stint – great views from at the south end of the pits

We turned our attention to the Dunlin and we were just checking through them to see if there was something more interesting hiding in with them when they started to shuffle and then all started to take off. A Moorhen ran right across the middle of the island, and spooked all the waders. Everything flew off. A few started to drift back in, landing on some of the other islands or the edge of the pit further back, but most headed back out towards the Wash.

The Knot back in front of Shore Hide were showing no signs of shifting, but we headed back out to the edge Wash anyway. The tide was already retreating fast and quite a bit of mud had been exposed. There were already quite a few Knot and other waders out on the Wash, but they were already quite distant. A couple of seals zipped past in the muddy channel at the front, carried out by the fast flowing water. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of gulls and terns out on the mud too. We were just looking through them when a local birder came over and kindly alerted us to a Black Tern which was in with them. We were very thankful he did, as the Black Tern was completely hidden behind a couple of Common Terns at that stage. Eventually it shuffled forwards and we could see it properly – it was a moulting adult, still largely black but with extensive white feathering around the face.

Some small groups of Dunlin started to fly across from the pits and low out across the mud, but there was no sign of the rest of the Knot moving. It started to spit with rain so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, someone pointed out two Little Stints not far out on the mud, which we stopped to look at briefly. Hard to tell whether these were the birds we saw on the pits or different ones. As we walked along the path, several small groups of Common Swift flew low overhead, on their way south already. It felt like Summer was over already.

The rest of the day was to be spent round at Titchwell. We still had an hour or so before lunch when we got there, so we decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. The feeders by the visitor centre added a few common species to the list for the day – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A juvenile Robin was picking around for crumbs under the picnic tables.

At this time of year the male ducks are all in dull eclipse plumage, moulting. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall amongst the Mallard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving out on the water. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the pool and a single stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe too. A Sedge Warbler zipped back and forth low over the water between the clumps of reeds and a Reed Warbler was flycatching from the bottom of the bulrushes down at the front.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed behind, dark chocolate brown with a pale golden head. There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds and swooping low over the water, mainly House Martins but with a few Sand Martins in with them. Then it was lunch time, so we headed back to the picnic area.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a juvenile circled over the reedbed

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was cool and windy now, and spitting with rain. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but all we saw was a quick shape skim over the tops and drop in out of view. We headed for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud in front of the hide. They have returned from their tundra breeding grounds and are already moulting rapidly to winter plumage. Some still have lots of brightly coloured feathers but others have more scattered summer feathers remaining and are getting increasingly grey brown. Needless to say, it is a confusing mix for the unwary, particularly with an increasing number of smaller females coming back too now.

RuffRuff – moulting rapidly to winter plumage now

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide too and more further back in the deeper water. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the freshmarsh – a smart summer male, with deep rusty underparts continuing right down under the tail. With the tide out now, the other Bar-tailed Godwits would be out on the beach.

There is no shortage of Avocets here at the moment, with the breeding birds and brown-backed juveniles joined by more birds which have gathered here to moult. Several were feeding in front of the hide, giving us a chance to watch their distinctive feeding action, sweeping their bills from side to side through the top of the mud.

AvocetAvocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were fewer other waders on here today. Perhaps some were out on the beach too, but it felt like a few had moved on overnight. There were a few Spotted Redshanks and we got a better look at them here compared to at Snettisham. They were feeding actively here, so we could see their distinctive needle-fine bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s. A small group of Golden Plover were on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide, still bearing their black summer bellies.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – showing off its needle-fine bill

There are lots of gulls on here at the moment, mostly Black-headed Gulls, adults and recently fledged juveniles. We could see a couple of Mediterranean Gulls over the far side too, and got an adult in the scope. It had already moulted largely to winter plumage, with a mostly white head with black bandit mask, but still sporting a heavier, brighter red bill than the Black-headed Gulls and pure white wing tips. A Little Gull appeared too, looking very small next to a Black-headed Gull. It was a young one, a first summer – there have been a few hanging around here for several weeks now.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling, we looked across to the reedbed to see a single bird fly in and land in the top of the reeds right on the edge. It dropped down and we could see it working its was along the bottom of the reeds at the start of the open mud. It disappeared deeper in, but the next time we looked over there were five Bearded Tits in the base of the reeds. They were all tawny brown juveniles. At one point they came right out onto the mud, where we could get a really good look at them.

Bearded Tits

Round at Parrinder Hide, the birds were much the same as we had seen from Island Hide, but we got closer views of the gulls in particular. There were several more Mediterranean Gulls visible from this side, adults in different stages of moult, with white-speckled black heads and several juveniles, with scaly grey-brown upperparts. A second Little Gull, also a young 1st summer bird, had appeared on one of the islands, this one with much more obvious black feathers on its wings.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – a scaly-backed juvenile

A lone Knot had dropped in onto the freshmarsh now, still in orange summer plumage. It was a bit of a contrast to see it on its own here, after seeing tens of thousands of Knot in vast flocks at Snettisham earlier. A single Common Snipe was the only addition to the day’s list here, feeding in amongst the vegetated islands out to the left of the hide.

There was some darker cloud some distance away over the ridge, but it was a bit brighter at the moment, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. The tide was out but there were quite a few people walking around over the mussel beds which meant there were not many waders feeding out here today. There were quite a few more Bar-tailed Godwits, as predicted, and Oystercatchers, but nothing else of note. The sea was quite calm and their were lots of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

On the way back from the beach, we could see five large white shapes out on the saltmarsh, in the distance out towards Thornham Harbour. Through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills – not the best view at that range though. One did take off and fly towards us, but only got halfway across the saltmarsh before dropping down again behind the concrete bunker, presumably to feed in one of the muddy channels.

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped to admire a Spotted Redshank which was feeding close to the path now. One of the Little Gulls was also on one of the muddy islands just below the bank. It had stopped to preen but was disturbed by a Moorhen which walked towards it – it seemed to be a bit of a theme today!

Little GullLittle Gull – a 1st summer on the freshmarsh

It had been an early start and it was now time to head back to the car. There were still a few last birds to add to the list for the day though. As we drove round and out of the car park, a Bullfinch flew across in front of us and disappeared into the bushes the other side. A Song Thrush flicked up from the corner and perched in a small elder tree. Then it was time to head for home.