Tag Archives: Wader Spectacular

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!

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

21st Sept 2016 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was foggy as we drove across to West Norfolk early this morning, but thankfully we came out into the clear as we dropped down to the Wash coast – relief all round as it might not have been so ‘spectacular’ in the fog.

When we arrived at Snettisham, the tide was already coming in fast. There were lots of waders gathered already – a huge throng of Oystercatchers were walking away from the rising water, shining in the morning light, but the main body of Knot was further up, a huge grey smear across the mud. Behind them, the Curlews were more widely spaced.

We stopped ahead of the tide to scan the exposed mud. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding closer to us in a muddy puddle and while we were watching it a Greenshank walked past just behind. A Knot and a Sanderling both dropped in along the edge of the main channel, giving us nice closer views. There were little groups of smaller waders, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, running around on the mud and we watched a Grey Plover calling plaintively.

img_7017Grey Plover – the first of many today

Small groups of Common Redshanks were already peeling off and flying in, over the bank behind us and onto the pits. We heard the distinctive ‘tchueet’ call of a Spotted Redshank too. As the waders became more and more concentrated on the last section of mudflats left uncovered by the rising tide, the Oystercatchers were the next to break ranks, with wave after wave passing over us.

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6o0a1648Oystercatchers – flying in off the Wash to roost on the pits

However, the real spectacle was the vast flock of Knot. As the tide rose, they would periodically lift in a huge swarm, swirling over the mud, flashing alternately dark grey and silvery white, as they banked and caught the light. They would then settle again, higher up, ahead of the incoming water.

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6o0a1640Knot – about 60-70,000 birds in one huge swirling flock

Finally, the remaining area of open mud was too small to hold them, and the Knot took flight again and started piling overhead in waves, dropping down onto the pits behind.

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6o0a1687Knot – finally heading for the pits to roost

We made our way round to South Hide first, to have a look at the birds on the pit. The bank on one side was covered with roosting Oystercatchers. The islands below us were chock full of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot. The latter were jostling for position. Whenever more arrived, the ones on the edge of the flock were pushed out into the water and even having to swim away.

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6o0a1706Waders – jostling for position to roost on the pits

Looking carefully through the flocks, we could make out a few other waders too. A Curlew Sandpiper appeared below the hide. A juvenile, with scaly back and pale peachy wash across its breast, it was chased off by the increasing number of Common Redshanks.

img_7020Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile dwarfed by a Black-tailed Godwit behind

There were several Bar-tailed Godwits in with the much more numerous Black-tailed Godwits (on here at least). The majority of the Bar-tailed Godwits choose to roost on the fields inland, rather than the pits. However, it was great to see the two species side by side.

img_7051Bar-tailed Godwit – with Black-tailed Godwit behind

A Common Sandpiper flew in calling and worked its way along the shore, bobbing up and down as it walked, before it too was chased away. Further out in the middle of the pit, we could see a small group of Spotted Redshanks roosting on some rocks in the deeper water, five of them, four pale silvery grey and white winter adults and a duskier juvenile, plus a couple of Common Redshanks too for comparison.

The few Dunlin roosting on the pit had been pushed off by the Knot and for a while they flew round and round looking for a place to land. There were some empty islands further up, but with nothing else on them, the Dunlin were loathe at first to land on them. As they flew round, we could make out the distinctive white rump of at least one Curlew Sandpiper in with them. A much smaller bird was in with them too, very hard to pick out in flight, but a Little Stint. When they finally settled again, we made our way round to Shore Hide to get a better look.

At first we couldn’t find the Little Stint in with the Dunlin, but we did manage to find three different juvenile Curlew Sandpipers scattered in with the various groups, all asleep. Eventually, the Little Stint moved from where it had been hiding and we got a look at that too, though it was still mostly asleep. It was clearly very small, even next to the Dunlin, and much whiter below. When it woke briefly we could see its much shorter bill.

img_7064Little Stint – roosting in with the Dunlin

When we made our way back outside, the tide had already started to recede and the mud was already reappearing. A large flock of Knot had already returned to the Wash, presumably flushed from the fields inland. However, as we stood and watched, several more waves of birds flew back from the pits, in long drawn out flocks. Mostly Knot, we could hear the rush of wings as they flew past.

When there was quite a throng gathered out on the mud, they suddenly took fright and started to fly round, though quickly settling back down again. We looked up to see a Red Kite circling over, and nearby a Marsh Harrier too.

6o0a1713Waders – still nervous, gathering back out on the Wash

We made our way back to the car and headed round to Titchwell for the rest of the day. It was already lunchtime, so we stopped for a bite to eat in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve.

A quick look at the feeders on the way through added Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit to the day’s list. Walking up the main path, the grazing meadow ‘pool’ how has several puddles after the recent rain and high tides, but no birds. The reedbed pool had a few ducks on it – several Gadwall and a single Tufted Duck.

There had been a Pectoral Sandpiper on the reserve earlier in the day, but it had been mobile and elusive. On the walk out, we were told it had been showing recently from the main path, so we hurried along to try to see it. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out it had flown off towards Thornham about 10 minutes earlier. Still, there was a nice Curlew Sandpiper wading in the shallow water just out from the path, so we had a good look at that through the scopes instead.

img_7091Curlew Sandpiper – showing well from the main path

There were plenty of other waders out on the freshmarsh too. Several Ruff were close to the path, including both buff/brown juveniles and white/grey-brown adults. The large numbers of Avocet which were here in late summer have now moved on but there were still four out on the freshmarsh today. Over the back, we could see more Black-tailed Godwits and, beyond them over by the reeds, a couple of Spotted Redshank.

The largest number of waders were Golden Plover – a big flock had dropped in and were standing around out in the middle.Through the scope, we could see their golden-spangled upperparts. Some still had the remains of their black bellies from summer plumage. There were also a few Lapwing, numbers of them too increasing now for the winter.

6o0a1729Lapwing – numbers are now increasing

We could hear Cetti’s Warbler and Reed Warbler calling from the reeds below us, but we couldn’t get more than an in-flight glimpse of both as they darted across the gaps. We decided to head out to the beach and have another look at the freshmarsh on the walk back.

The Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet – a Redshank, a Curlew and a Little Egret fishing in the muddy channel were the water was still flowing off after this morning’s high tide. There were more birds on the tidal pools, with several roosting waders including small numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew and a few Grey Plover, some of which were looking very smart, still mostly in summer plumage. A Little Grebe was lurking under the overhanging vegetation on the edge of the island.

Out at the beach, the tide was out. We could see a couple of flocks flying in over the sea, Wigeon and Brent Geese arriving from the continent for the winter. A quick scan revealed a few ducks out on the water – three Wigeon were more unusual, but it was nice to see a little raft of Common Scoter diving offshore. There were several Great Crested Grebes too, but the best was a single Red-throated Diver close inshore. Through the scope we could see that it still had a mostly deep-red throat patch.

Further out, we could see a dark juvenile Gannet flying past and behind it another dark bird, smaller and rather more gull-shaped. It was an Arctic Skua and it was chasing after a Sandwich Tern. The tern tried to manoeuvre out of the way but the Arctic Skua twisted and turned after it for a second or two before seeming to lose interest.

6o0a1741Bar-tailed Godwit – on the Volunteer Marsh on our way back

It was time to start walking back. At the Volunteer Marsh, a Bar-tailed Godwit had appeared and gave us more good views as we passed by. We stopped again at the freshmarsh, but the birds here were much as they had been on the way out.

Past Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We stood for a while to see if we could see them, but despite being very vocal they remained tucked down in the reeds out of view. When all the waders took off from the freshmarsh, we scanned the sky and eventually picked up a Hobby high to the north. It turned and started flying powerfully in our direction, eventually banking right above us, giving us a good view of its streamlined, rakish outline and swept back wings.

6o0a1761Hobby – swept in past us after buzzing the freshmarsh

It looked like the Bearded Tits wouldn’t show themselves, so we gave up and started walking again. We were almost past them, when we heard more Bearded Tits calling on the other side of the path, over the bank on the edge of the grazing meadow. We looked over the bank and this time we could see the Bearded Tits feeding in the tops of the reeds – a cracking male, with powder blue head and black moustache, and a browner female both perched up nicely.

6o0a1769Bearded Tit – a smart male finally showed very well for us

That was a great way to end the day, so we headed for home well pleased.

21st August 2016 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular tour today. We were lucky with the weather, with rain overnight clearing through, the odd shower – and rainbow – still while we were on our way to Snettisham, but then dry during the whole day. The sun even came out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather blustery.

6O0A9140Rainbow over Snettisham

The tide was already coming in fast when we arrived. We stopped on the seawall to scan through the smaller waders on the mud along the near shore. There were lots of Ringed Plovers gathered and a single Grey Plover already in winter plumage with them. A moulting Sanderling was turning silvery grey above but still with lots of much darker blackish feathers mixed in, and little groups of Dunlin were running around taking advantage of the last chance to feed before high tide.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to two Curlew Sandpipers flying in along the shoreline. Unfortunately they didn’t land, but whipped up and over the bank towards the pits. We would look for them later, once all the waders were off the Wash.

We walked quickly along the path, following the tide in. The flocks of waders were getting pushed further and further up on the mud, the groups seeming to flow away from the rising water. More birds were flying in all the time, having been pushed off the beach further up along the coast. The Oystercatchers were gathering on the mud closest to us, shining bright in the morning sunlight. A great sight.

6O0A9148Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud nearest to us

A little further over, we could see lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too. The mass of Knot were further over, towards the back of the bay. In amongst them all, we could see smaller numbers of other species, including Dunlin and Curlew. As the tide rose, they were all getting increasingly concentrated into a smaller and smaller area of remaining mud.

6O0A9161Waders – the flocks are concentrated into a small area of remaining mud

After a while, the birds had no option but to start to come off the mud. The Oystercatchers gave up the fight first, peeling away in smaller flocks, lines of birds making for the safety of the pits behind us.

Eventually the Knot took flight too, bringing most of the other waders up too. The sight of such an enormous number of birds whirling around in the sky is what the Wader Spectacular is all about and today was a good one. There were vast numbers of birds in the sky – perhaps 40,000 Knot alone. They wheeled around overhead, nervous, uncertain over whether to try to remain out on the Wash for a bit longer or try to find safety on the pits or fields beyond. When they flew higher, they looked just like huge grey clouds; when they came lower overhead, we could hear the whirring of thousands of wings above the wind. Stunning!

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6O0A9194Waders – 10,000s of birds coming off the Wash

We stood and watched in awe as the flocks whirled overhead. Eventually, with the mud disappearing, the Wash was mostly cleared of birds and we set off to the hides to look through the hordes. As we did so, a Wheatear flicked up from the path and landed on a fence post just behind us.

6O0A9200Wheatear – on the way to the hide

Round at South Hide, there were loads of Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers gathered on the islands, but not so many smaller waders as in recent weeks. What was lacking in numbers here was more than made up for in variety and made the task of searching through the smaller ones much easier.

The first to appear was a Little Stint, running along the gravel shore just in front of the hide. By the end of our search, we found at least four of them here. It was great to see them side by side with Dunlin, noting their smaller size, shorter bill and brighter white face and belly.

IMG_5915Little Stint – one of at least four here today

The Curlew Sandpipers appeared next, probably the same two we had seen coming off the mud earlier. Smart juveniles, with peachy orange breasts and neatly scaled upperparts. Notably larger than the Dunlin, with a longer more evenly downcurved bill. We were treated to great views as they fed along the edge of the water down below the hide. At one point we even had Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Dunlin all in the same view – a great opportunity for comparison.

IMG_5933Curlew Sandpiper – two smart juveniles

There are a good number of Greenshank here at the moment too, and we were treated to great close up views of several of them from the hide. A Spotted Redshank appeared with them, in winter plumage now, silvery grey above and white below but still with that distinctive long, needle-fine bill. A little further out, in the deeper water, we found some more Spotted Redshanks, include one much duskier grey-brown juvenile.

IMG_5858Greenshank – great views from the hide

Once we had exhausted the possibilities here, we walked back round to Shore Hide. The bigger numbers of waders were roosting up this end of the pit today, with the vast flocks of Knot packed tightly onto the islands, spilling over into the water. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits here and lurking down in amongst the throng were several Dunlin and a few Turnstone.

IMG_5995Knot – many still sporting the remnants of orange summer plumage

The waders are always nervous when they are roosting on the pit, perhaps more vulnerable to a rapidly approaching predator here compared to the vast open mud out on the Wash. When the flocks of Knot on the islands to our left suddenly burst into the air, we noticed why a couple of seconds later as a juvenile Peregrine through shot across the water in front of the hide, leaving bedlam in its wake.

As the tide started to go back out, and the mud reappeared, we made our way out to the shore of the Wash again. The Oystercatchers started to appear quite quickly, drifting back out in lines and gathering on the wet mud, but the other waders were slower to return today. A couple of large flocks of Knot came off the pit, streaming low over the bank and out across the mud. A Little Stint appeared on the edge of the mud in front of us.

We made our way back to the car, then drove round to Titchwell. After a very welcome break for an early lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. The grazing meadow ‘pool’ was flooded with shallow puddles today, but still not as much water as there should be here. There were several Lapwing dozing on the drier ground and a single juvenile Ruff asleep next to one of the pools. We stopped to admire a Stock Dove which was walking around on the mud.

As we walked on along the path, we could hear Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ behind us. We turned to look, but it seemed too windy for them to be perching up today. We got as far as the reedbed pool, and stopped to scan through the ducks. A Great Crested Grebe was swimming across the back with its fully grown but still stripey faced juvenile. We could hear more pinging behind us and turned just in time to see one fly across the reeds on the corner of the saltmarsh. Then a pair of Bearded Tits appeared and perched up in the top of the reeds for a few seconds, before dropping down out of view. More pinging followed and all three flew across the main path behind us and dropped down into the main reedbed.

There didn’t seem to be as many waders on the Freshmarsh as in recent weeks, fewer Avocets and Black-tailed Godwit, but still a good variety. We stopped to scan from Island Hide and found the two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers over in the corner. A Lapwing on the mud in front of the hide looked irridescent in the afternoon sunshine.

6O0A9243Lapwing – looking irridescent in the sunshine

There are still good numbers of Ruff here too, lots of pale winter plumage adults, grey brown above and white below, plus a few much browner juveniles. We had better views of these and the Curlew Sandpipers from up on the main path.

6O0A9253  Ruff – a mostly winter plumaged male

There were plenty of gulls and terns roosting on the islands. From Island Hide, we had picked out a couple of Sandwich Terns among the Common Terns, one of which woke up long enough to flash its yellow-tipped black bill. From up on the bank, we found a Mediterranean Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls, an adult in winter plumage with white wing tips and black bandit mask. Round at Parrinder Hide, we could see a Yellow-legged Gull asleep with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

6O0A9260Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into winter plumage

A scan around the islands from Parrinder Hide located the Little Stint, on its own along the muddy shore of one of them, our fifth of the day. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits here, but fewer than recently roosting on the island in front of the hide. A quick look at Volunteer Marsh produced a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover, with black face and belly.

After an early start and spending most of the morning at Snettisham, it was just a brief visit to Titchwell this afternoon. Having failed to find any Spoonbills on the freshmarsh, we decided to head back quickly to the Autumn Trail. Patsy’s Reedbed was rather quiet, apart from a selection of moulting ducks and a few Sand Martins and House Martins hawking over the water. Out on the saltmarsh from the Autumn Trail extension we found what we had been looking for – three Spoonbills doing what they like to do best, sleeping!

Then it was time to make our way back. There was a good selection of insects out today, and several dragonflies in the more sheltered areas – Migrant and Brown Hawkers, and lots of Common Darters. We had to be careful not to tread on any of the Bloody-nosed Beetles, several of which were walking across the paths and boardwalks oblivious of the feet passing overhead.

6O0A9271Bloody-nosed Beetle – we had to avoid lots on the paths today

The walk back along Fen Trail to the Visitor Centre produced a couple of Reed Warblers sheltering from the wind in the sallows. A passing tit flock had a couple of Chiffchaffs in with the Long-tailed Tits. Then it was a welcome opportunity to put our feet up when we got back to the car for the drive home.

25th July 2016 – Spectacular Waders

While they can be seen throughout the winter, late Summer and early Autumn is the best time of year to witness the huge flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. Only on a few days each month on the highest tides are the waders forced off the mudflats and onto the neighbouring RSPB reserve, when the spectacle reached its peak

Today, the tide was not quite at its highest, which meant that not all the waders came off the Wash. But still we were treated to quite a spectacle, with at least two Peregrines stirring up the waders as they gathered in huge flocks, tens of thousands strong, ahead of the rising tide. Stunning!

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6O0A6785Huge flocks of waders swirl over the Wash

While the largest numbers of waders are Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, a wide variety of different species use the Wash, big flocks of Oystercatcher and smaller number of Avocets, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey, Golden and Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone. At this time of the year, many of the waders are still in smart summer plumage, as they gather on the Wash to moult at the end of the breeding season.

It is possible to see other things on the rising tide too. Lots of gulls and terns gather on the edge of the Wash and we saw two different Black Terns today in with them, a moulting adult and a juvenile. A Woodlark flying along the shoreline was even more of a surprise!

IMG_5422Black Tern – this one a moulting adult

When the waders gather on the pits, there is a good opportunity to see them up close. They can be packed tight in flocks of hundred and thousands around the small islands.

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IMG_5435The waders pack tight onto islands on the pits over high tide

Searching through them, it is possible to find other species here which can be trickier to pick out among the vast throngs out on the Wash. Today, we had 10 Spotted Redshanks on the pits and two Greenshank flew in too. A Little Stint on the shoreline was dwarfed by the neighbouring Dunlin, and a careful scan through the vast masses of the latter revealed at least 6 Curlew Sandpipers, all adults still sporting the remains of their rusty summer plumage, on their way south from Siberia.

IMG_5430Curlew Sandpipers – two moulting adults hiding in the roost

The real bird of the day managed to conceal itself in with the Dunlin for over an hour, sitting down hidden in the throng. Eventually it gave itself away – a White-rumped Sandpiper from North America.

IMG_5458White-rumped Sandpiper – in with the Dunlin

When the White-rumped Sandpiper finally woke up, it was possible to see its white belly, lacking the black patch shown by the summer plumaged Dunlin all around it. It also had a shorter, finer bill, only slightly downcurved. Its flanks were finely streaked with a couple of black chevrons and its upperparts were a little greyer, with brighter rusty edges to the upper scapulars. When it preened, you could see the distinctive white rump, lacking the broad black stripe through the middle shown by most other small waders – you can see it best in the video below. A smart bird and a nice way to round off another exciting morning.

If you would like to join us to enjoy the Snettisham Wader Spectacular this year, current dates for the diary when the tide is at its highest are:

  • Sunday 21st August
  • Wednesday 21st September

More dates may be possible, subject to tides and demand. Please contact us for more information. We look forward to seeing you here.