A www.blueeyedbirder.com weekend away...
The Snettisham winter super tide was happening not too long
after dawn which required a horribly early start and cross country route from
Wymondham in the driving drizzle and rain squalls. I arrived early at 6.15 to find the car park
already almost full with some abysmal parking making it even trickier. The masses were already donning wet gear and
heading off in the rain and gloom but I was quite pleased to have to wait for
the rest of the day’s crew to arrive and for the weather to improve somewhat.
Even I put my waterproof trousers on as the breeze was
somewhat biting as we headed off through the pits towards the seawall with the
sound of Med Gulls above us calling amongst the Black-heads and Commons coming
off the Wash while flocks of Pink-feet could be heard heading inland for the day.
The tide was already well on the way in and the next couple
of hours were a blur of shape and sound as tens of thousands of Knot,
Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin cut shapes across the sky and sea with mesmerising
murmurations of twisting snakes, lozenges and balls. At this stage no predators were seen and the
birds just seemed to be organising themselves before descending into the roots
site on the pits.
The Oystercatchers started off on the beach with a carpet of
grey around them but four birders walked straight at them from the other side sending
them once again into frenetic motion.
These bird flew in direct lines past us before scooting over our heads
with a whooshing of wings.
|The light may have been grim but the spectacle was everything I could have hoped for hence the number of images above.
As the tide crept in further the Avocets started to get
together too and could not seem to decide whether to stay on the sea in a raft
like they do on the Thames or to come onto the pits with the other waders and
we were treated to some close overhead whiffling.
Turnstones, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks,
Ringed Plover and Curlews were present in far smaller numbers.
|Bar-tailed Godwits heading towards the pits
The rain returned so we made our way into the closest hide
where we could see the massed Knot and Barwits with their Oik buddies all
huddled up together. A good catch up with Toby Collett from Frampton and a
spectacular display from a male Peregrine chasing Dunlin kept things
interesting before we started the slow walk back.
|A tapestry of waders
The rain started once again and so the Rotary Hide was our
next escape point. Almost immediately I
picked up a large raptor drifting across the farmland beyond the pit. It was a young female Goshawk and soon
attracted the attention of a male Peregrine that repeatedly dive bombed
it. I have never seen any bird take on a
Gos before. She cruised into the first copse sending Woodpigeons in all directions. A brief but exciting encounter.
The rain intensified (‘no rain after 7am’ the weather
forecast said!) so we stayed put adding two fly by Spoonbills going south, a
pair of Goldeneye and the female Peregrine that spooked all the Oystercatchers and
gave us a great fly past. Even the
female Goshawk reappeared preceded by erupting pigeons. She was enjoying the breeze and cruised about
with little effort. Amazingly a female Kestrel decided that it would be a good
idea to have a poke at the intruder. Such foolhardy bravery and she was lucky
not to get taken out by her adversary.
|Oystercatchers in a flap
|Goshawk - back for seconds
The tide was quickly dropping and the first waves of Oiks, Avocets and smaller waders were returning to the all important task of feeding and with our own bellies rumbling we decided to push on back which was perfectly timed with the next wave of bitterly cold icy rain that painfully numbed our faces.
Blue skies were
appearing ahead so we extricated ourselves from the car park and moved north to
Titchwell where the car park always makes you think it is calmer that it really
The walk started over very nicely with two Spoonbills coming
up out of the channels on the salt marsh with one of these adults alighting on
a fairly close pool left over from the high tide where it posed for a few
minutes before returning to where its now invisible companion had landed. Water
and Rock Pipits were seen and a Water Rail squealed from the reeds but there
was no repeat of the Bittern performance this time.
A large skein of Brent Geese landed on the closest bit of
water and were illuminated by the sun behind us. They are such dinky and yet
characterful little geese with subtleties of plumage that that require good
light to see. Even the eyes seem to be
deep ruby-chestnut close up and it was great to watch the carefully grooming
each feather after a vigorous bathing session.
|Dark-bellied Brent Geese
A full adult Med Gull loafed on the island with the Avocets
and a handful of Golden Plover and three bobbly headed Ruff fed along the
island edge. There were a lot more Pochard on this visit but fewer dabbling
ducks although the Pintail were as exquisite as ever. Marsh Harriers drifted over the reedbed with
Red Kites and Buzzard further back over the farmland. The two Spoonbills chose to fly right over us
at this point and settled down on an island for a snooze with crests blowing
out behind them.
|Lapwing, Avocet, Shelduck, Black-headed and Common Gulls
The tide was now well out down at the beach and the breeze was not helping us find much but it was good to be joined by Chris Corrigan (my now retired-ish ex regional RSPB Director and all round good egg). I left him talking about Burnley Town FC with Roger and kept scanning but could only muster up a Red-throated Diver and a pair of Merganser.
Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Turnstones and Oystercatchers all fed in their own ways along the tideline and were suddenly disrupted by a streaking torpedo that became an adult male Merlin jinking in all directions after a snack. I could not get anyone else on it as it was moving so quick but soon picked it back up perched on a strandline branch. It was a long way off but was soon on the wing again before plonking itself down on the beach even further away. There was quite a bit of ‘honest guv’ from me at this point.
The walk back produced some Linnets (especially for Karen
who was suffering from Linnet Blindness that day…) and a male Stonechat and a
Curlew gave the most outstanding views as it extricated worms from the mud with
a sidewise twist of that outstanding bill.
|Curlew - it took it's prey to the channel to wash it
|Anyone care to have a go at the worm species?
The Spoonbills had moved on but about 400 Golden Plover were
now on their usual long island and more were drifting in while we watched with
each new group causing the whole flock to become alert and start calling in
unison. The light was once again making
the experience even more memorable. A Great White Egret dropped into the distant reeds and disturbed a Grey Heron.
|The Brents were chilling as we walked back
|There were bathing Goldfinches but no Water Rail in the ditch
|Blackthorn flowering in the car park
It was now mid-afternoon and I had a hankering for a return
to Burnham Overy and the walk out towards (but not to) the dunes but an emergency stop was required first just beyond the Titchwell entrance for a juvenile Whooper Swan in the opposite field with two Mute Swans!
|Whooper & Mute Swans
A short while later we were all in the layby and scanning
the marshes below before heading out. I
could see Russian White-fronts with the Brent Geese and the Barnacle Geese in a
distant field and a Great White Egret was predictably flying around. The Barn Owl was soon spotted and as we got
past the first gate it appeared over the fence at just a few yards range,
glanced up and realised how close we were and veered off around the hedge. Joan had only seen her first Barn Owl the
previous day and was especially pleased.
Brown Hares glowed golden across the fields and seemed quite at ease with their goosy companions and both Chinese Water and Muntjac Deer were already out feeding. There were a few more heavily barred Russian White-fronts amongst the Brents and Pink-feet began moving back inland from the marsh presumably for a last feed.
|Russian White-fronts, Dark-bellied Brents, Canada Geese & Lapwings
The White-fronts joined them and from nowhere
two additional flocks totalling 93 (making 101 seen) headed in the same direction.
I have always liked visiting here at the end of the day if the sun is behind
you as everything is delightfully illuminated.
A single Pink-foot was at the side of the closest ditch
although I could see nothing wrong with it and flocks of Linnets, Skylarks and
Pied Wagtails were feeding on the bare soil around the new rills in the
adjacent field. Two Water Pipits dropped
in and disappeared and several Meadow Pipits did likewise.
The Great White Egret reappeared and a second Barn Owl was
found hunting further back while phalanxes of Cormorants arrived from the west
to their roost in the skeletal trees. In
the distance Kites could be seen circling Holkham Park and behind us thousands
of gulls were gathering on the channels as a pre-root before heading out to
sea. Common Gulls were present in huge
numbers. The usual mud loving waders
were in the creeks and were creating a wondrous backdrop of sound with the
|Great White Egret
|Curlews heading out to feed
The sun started to dip below a distant cloud bank and so we
ambled back to the cars adding Sparrowhawk and two pair of Red-legged but no
Grey Partridges and more late evening Hares.
We disbanded the crew and went our separate ways and as I wended my way
back to Wymondham I had three magical Barn Owl encounters along with a calling
Little Owl, several vergeside Muntjac, and Pheasants flying up to roost in the
trees just inside Holkham Park grounds that made me think back to Roald Dahl’s
Danny, Champion of the World which I still have on my book shelf at home.