Tag Archives: Wash

13th Sept 2018 – Spectacular Waders

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

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

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

1 Oystercatchers

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

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

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

2 Knot

Knot – several flocks flew in past us onto the pits

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

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

3 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – started peeling off in waves

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

4 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – the flocks came in right over our heads!

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

5 Waders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenshank

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

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

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

6 Knot

Knot – hiding in with the Black-tailed Godwits

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

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

7 Knot

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

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

8 Knot

Knot – the swirling flocks made various shapes in the sky

11 Knot

More Knot – more shapes!

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

10 Knot

Knot – thousands flying over our heads

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

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

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the muddy pools after the tide receded

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

12 Knot

Knot – the last wave gave us a final display

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

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

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

Ruff

Ruff – an adult, in non-breeding plumage

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

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

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – the second one we saw from Parrinder Hide

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

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

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

Turtle Doves

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

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

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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.