Thursday, 15 November 2007

Birds On a Bigger Scale

It's Thursday and I'm still tired from the weekend, but what a weekend!
For our autumn getaway I promised my girlfriend we'd go find a true birding spectacle; the great goose and wader flocks of the Wash. The destination was easy enough to pick, it had to be Snettisham RSPB reserve.

From Saturday through Monday we visited the reserve each morning (5:30am starts - ouch!) and twice in the evening, I suppose we just couldn't get enough. We were lucky on several counts, firstly because the Pink-footed Geese came down to their British wintering grounds earlier than is usual this year so the flocks flying from and to their roost were at their probable maximum, around 40,000 birds, perhaps more - you begin to guess with so many birds.
Morning seemed the best time to watch them going over because they leave in good light, whereas it was upto an hour after sunset when they flew into roost on the mudflats. The whole thing lasted over 30 minutes, with numerous skeins leaving almost all the time for the fields inland, mostly to nibble on left over roots of post-harvest sugar beet and potato crops, as apparently farmers are encouraged to leave a little something for them. That's why they gather in Norfolk in numbers you just wouldn't have seen a few mere decades ago.

The other bird that are around Snettisham in big numbers are of course the Knot, with a roost of around 10,000 birds covering the islands and banks of the lagoon behind in the dunes. The mass of greyness almost looks like a large patch of gravel at a distance. They are only in during high-tide so that meant for our visit we missed them gathering but were able to watch them depart at daybreak. Sort of a double spectacle with the geese going over at the same time.
In among the roost were occasional interlopers, a few Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Redshank on the edges of the huddle. Once the Knot went, that was it, whoosh and everything snaked over out onto the mudflats, leaving us with a few Dabchicks and Goldeneye left on the water, as well as a couple of hundred lazy Oystercatchers. It was exciting watching, waiting, for that moment of grand d├ępart.

Other birds of note at Snettisham were a nice Barn Owl hunting in the pre-dawn gloom (ask for your money back if you go to Norfolk and don't see one), a couple of Merlin winged through on the wind, similarly a Great Skua was around, a few flushed Red-legged Patridge, and of the passerines a few Fieldfare battled the gusts, as well as Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and a Stonechat around the car park. On the mudflats, a good typical mixture of Golden Plover flocks, solitary Grey Plovers, lots of Dunlin, Curlew, Turnstone and Sanderling, a handful of Avocet. As well as the Pinkies wildfowl-wise there were also plenty of Greylag, Brent and Canada Geese, Shelduck, surprisingly large numbers of Mallard, and the one Scaup went through too.

On our final morning at the reserve, something rather special occurred, we found Little Auk bobbing in the high tide just off the beach, part of the Great Little Auk Wreck of '07. It began with 4 of them, but that was just the beginning of the story. More about that in another entry though, and the other sites we dotted along the coast last weekend, as well as more videos.

A lot of Knot!

Pinkies in the evening...

...and the morning.

Knot and other waders gathering on the receding tide (note Great Skua top left).

Very distinct white wing flashes, has to be a Bonxie.

Several Little Egret around too.

Panorama of the beach.

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