Tag Archives: Bar-tailed Godwit

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!

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16th August 2015 – Waders Galore!

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. It was an early start, as we were heading up to Snettisham for the Wader Spectacular on the Wash. It was well worth getting up for!

Driving along the roads on the way there early morning, we flushed lots of birds from the edges of the tarmac – lots of Woodpigeons are to be expected at that time of the morning, a couple of Stock Doves were nice to see, and the ubiquitous Red-legged Partridges. More of a surprise were a single Guineafowl and a Peacock – both presumably having wandered out of someone’s garden! As we got to Snettisham, we stopped to look at a Turtle Dove preening on the wires.

As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see a big flock of waders flying round, several thousand strong, before dropping back down onto the mud. Scanning through the massed hordes we could see the wide variety of birds gathering on the Wash. The biggest numbers were Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits, with smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits as well. There were also very large flocks of Oystercatchers and Curlew.

With the tide coming in fast, it was amazing to watch the movement of the flocks. Birds would try to stand still, but eventually get moved by the rising water. As they did so, the whole flock would shift, the birds from the edge walking up onto drier ground. From a distance, it was like watching a pool of fluid – it seemed to flow across the mud.

P1070784The vast hordes of waders gathering on the mud as the tide rose

Closer in, there were flocks of smaller waders – Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. They were still feeding actively ahead of the rising tide, running around on the mud or along the water’s edge. As the water filled the muddy creeks, several Common Sandpipers flew round calling.

However, the real highlight was the stunning display when they all flew. Today, it was a young Marsh Harrier quartering the vegetation at the edge of the mud which kept spooking them. All the waders would erupt into the air and swirl round in vast flocks, constantly changing shape as they did so. An awesome sight!

P1070724 P1070732 P1070744 P1070747 P1070757 P1070761 P1070766 P1070774 P1070777 P1070787 P1070811 Wader Spectacular – 60,000+ waders put on a great display this morning

As well as the waders, we picked out a couple of other highlights out on the mud. A single Pink-footed Goose looked rather out of place. There are huge flocks of geese here in the winter but the vast majority leave to breed in Iceland. Only the occasional bird, generally sick or injured, remains for the summer. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull flew in and landed amongst the Black-headed Gulls as the water rose.

IMG_8140Mediterranean Gull – a scaly brown juvenile

A lot of the waders remained out on the mud today, clustered tightly into a small bay of mud which had not quite been covered by the tide. This was despite the best efforts of the Marsh Harrier to flush them off. There were still several large flocks on the pits and a good opportunity to see some of the different species up close.

There were lots of Common Redshank roosting around the edges and amongst them a good number of Spotted Redshank. There were at least 20 today, in a variety of plumages. Most were now well advanced on their way to winter – silvery grey above and bright white below – but a couple were still much blacker. A single Green Sandpiper flew in to the shore of the shingle bank behind them.

IMG_8153Spotted Redshank – some still sporting remnants of black summer plumage

On one of the islands, roosting in amongst a large flock of Dunlin and Redshank, a large white bird looked slightly out of place. It was a lone Spoonbill! Eventually it decided it was in the wrong place and flew up to join the roosting Little Egrets on the top of the bank. A Bar-headed Goose was also out of place on the pits amongst the Egyptian Geese and Greylags – an escape from captivity somewhere.

IMG_8148Spoonbill – roosting with the waders at first, looking slightly out of place

There are lots of Common Terns breeding on the islands on the pit, and they still have juveniles yet to fledge. Several were flying in and out all morning. A small group were roosting on one of the shingle islands with the waders and a look through revealed a moulting adult Black Tern in amongst them – noticeably smaller, with the remnants of smoky black on its belly.

IMG_8185Black Tern – this moulting adult was amongst the waders and Common Terns

With reports of a Curlew Sandpiper in the roost at the end of the pit, we walked round to South Hide. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it amongst all the Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin – it had either walked round onto the far side of one of the islands out of view or flown back out to the Wash by the time we got there. Still, we had great views of a Common Sandpiper feeding in amongst the Turnstones in front of the hide.

IMG_8198Common Sandpiper – feeding on the pits at over high tide

About an hour after high tide, we headed back out to look at the flocks still out on the Wash. The tide was going out rapidly and the birds were starting to spread out again, and chase the falling water. A microlight aircraft appeared from the north and flew along the coast while we were there. This was enough to spark pandemonium amongst the roosting flocks and we were treated to another display as they all took to the air and flew round.

P1070827Wader Spectacular – spooked by a microlight as the tide fell again

There were a few more birds to see as we walked back. Little groups of Meadow Pipits were feeding in the short grass, with a few Pied Wagtails amongst them. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and dropped down out into the vegetation of the Wash. Scanning the flocks small waders feeding on the freshly exposed mud, we picked up a single Whimbrel.

We headed round to Titchwell next. Chatting to the volunteers in the shop when we arrived, we learnt that there had been a Wetland Bird Survey count at Snettisham that morning with a total of at least 63,500 birds!

P1070842Wall – feeding on thistles along the main footpath

As we walked out along the main path, a Wall butterfly was feeding on the thistles and a couple of Common Darter dragonflies flew around amongst the vegetation. We stopped to look at the reedbed pool on the way. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out amongst the gathering of ducks.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are higher than they were in the week, and there were noticeably fewer waders as a result. It was well after high tide by this stage, but there was still a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on the freshmarsh, with a few Knot amongst them. There were also several Turnstones on the island nearby. As we scanned the freshmarsh, we could see small groups of them wake up and fly off towards the beach, until eventually they had all gone.

From Island Hide there were plenty of Ruff, including a very obliging bird feeding right in front of the hide. Most of the birds were adults and mostly now in winter plumage – with scaly grey upperparts and white underparts. The odd bird was still wearing the remnants of summer plumage.

P1070895Ruff – a very obliging winter adult from Island Hide

With the higher water levels, the number of Dunlin was well down on recent weeks. There were still a few feeding around the edges of the islands and the remaining mud by the reeds. Most were juveniles, with black spotted bellies, but amongst them we could still find a few adults with the solid black belly patches of summer plumage.

P1070896Dunlin – most were juveniles today, with spotted black bellies

Number of Avocet also appear to be down, although that is compared to the record number of recent weeks. There was still no shortage of them!

P1070861Avocet – fewer than the recent record numbers today

From round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper today which has been here in recent weeks. A Common Sandpiper was feeding around the island at the back. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was down on the edge of the water with the Pied Wagtails, though it appeared not to be welcome and one of the Pieds chased it away. We could also see the Spoonbills from here, sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh, behind the vegetation on the largest island. There were ten of them here today.

IMG_8206Spoonbills – 10 sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh

There were more waders on the Volunteer Marsh today. Several summer plumage Grey Plovers were particularly smart, still sporting their black faces and bellies. We paused to admire a Curlew, feeding out on the mud. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel right next to the path, giving us great views.

P1070908Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the channel by the path on Volunteer Marsh

Out at the beach, we could see a drake Common Scoter standing on the rocks preening, so we headed down for a closer look. We got a great view, able to see clearly the yellow top to the bill.

IMG_8240Common Scoter – this drake was preening on the rocks on the beach

There was also a good selection of waders now down on the beach. We got great views of the Bar-tailed Godwits in particular, with Oystercatchers, Curlews, Knot and Turnstone also picking around amongst the rock pools. A single Sanderling ran along the beach. A few Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore.

It had certainly been an action-packed morning and it was still only lunchtime! We headed back to the car to get something to eat. Suitably refreshed, we headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed in the afternoon. Apart from lots of moulting Mallard and a family party of Gadwall, there were not as many different ducks here today. A single Common Pochard was the only one of note. There were also at least 5 Little Grebes.

We had thought there might be a few waders here, given the water on the freshmarsh, but at first glance we could only see 3 Ruff. However, a careful scan of the islands revealed a single Common Snipe hiding amongst the vegetation – a nice addition to the day’s wader count.

Along the East Trail, the highlights were mainly insects. There were several Gatekeepers and a single, very faded Meadow Brown. Plus a few Common Darters and Common Blue Damselflies along the path.

P1070914Common Darter – along East Trail this afternoon

From round at the end of the Autumn Trail, we scanned the freshmarsh from the other side. Unfortunately the Spoonbills had disappeared – we had hoped for a closer view from here. However, we did find three Spotted Redshanks, one of them still mostly in black summer plumage, together with two Greenshanks, around the back of the island where they were not visible from Parrinder Hide.

A Bearded Tit called and we glimpsed a quick flight view as it flew up from the reeds before dropping straight back in. Despite hearing it call again, unfortunately it did not reappear.

There were no waders on the mud by the reeds in front of us when we arrived, but three juvenile Ruff flew in while we were there. We were just admiring them, when a darker shape appeared out of the reeds behind them – a Water Rail. It walked in and out of the edge of the reeds a couple of times before walking out into the water in the middle of the bay. An odd sight in the middle of a very warm, sunny afternoon! It looked around for a while, nervously, before finally working up the courage to fly across the water to the reeds further along the bank below us.

That seemed a great way to end such an eventful day, so we turned and headed back.

3rd August 2015 – Spectacular!

It may seem like summer to us, at least when it’s not cold and raining, but to many birds autumn is here already. Waders in particular start to head south again early – the arctic breeding season is very short. Large numbers are gathering along the coast now. This is one of the best times of year to go up to the Wash to watch the waders gathering at high tide.

The Wader Spectacular is well-named. It is a sight to behold to watch tens of thousands of waders peeling off from the rapidly disappearing mud as the tide comes in, flying overhead to roost on the old gravel pits at Snettisham. Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Sanderling and Dunlin, plus Redshanks and Oystercatchers. Smaller numbers of Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks and sandpipers join them. There, they huddle together in massed ranks to sleep off the high tide. About an hour after high water, they start to get restless and eventually head back to the mud again as it reappears.

Today was a big tide, so a good day to go and watch the waders. At a rough estimate, there were well over 20,000 birds, probably more – an amazing sight. A few photos from today’s spectacle are below. There are more dates over the next month or so where the conditions are suitable. If you are interested in joining us, please get in touch.

P1060994The waders start to gather in vast flocks as the mud disappears under the tide

P1070059P1070021The mud gradually disappears under the rising water

P1070027The waders start to take flight, heading for the pits

P1070110P1070115P1070121Vast clouds of waders take to the air and pass low overhead

P1070033P1070047Flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit predominate

P1070136The waders huddle together on the old gravel pits, these are mainly Dunlin

P1070177…and these are mainly Knot, many still in summer plumage

IMG_7587IMG_7655Amongst the throng, a few surprises – here two adult Curlew Sandpipers

P1070163The waders may be spooked from the roost and whirl round in tight flocks

P1070172Then, finally, they start to make their way back to the mud as the tide recedes

IMG_7637A juvenile Wheatear today was unexpected – where did it come from?