Leader: Chris Stone
Reporter: Cath Robinson
Bird List: David Gibbons
Seven intrepid members braved the temperatures of the second heatwave of the year to begin a long birding session with the afternoon walking along the Snettisham beach scrub area looking out over the lagoons of Wild Ken Hill and then with others joining them, they went on to a celebrated wader spectacular at high tide viewed from the RSPB reserve at Snettisham.
But the afternoon first: In fact, there was a wonderful sea breeze and it wasn’t that hot....
We started walking along the inner sea bank northwards towards Heacham. Turning to our left we saw the ravaged landscape left by the fire that raged through the scrub on July 19th in the startlingly high temperatures of the first heatwave. Now, not quite four weeks later, there was substantial new (bright) green regrowth of new young reeds and grasses in amongst the charred cinders of trees and scrub. It was a welcoming sight of new life re-emerging from a devastated land. Turning to our right we looked out over the wetlands of Ken Hill although not really that wet anymore. The creeks still had water and there were small patches of standing water but very much diminished and it was hard to imagine the vast wet expanses in the autumn and winter. The vegetation looked very dry and parched and privately my heart sank a bit at reduced chances of good birding. But there you go. It wasn’t long before we saw raptors circling over Ken Hill woods and then we spotted a Buzzard conveniently perched on a post giving good telescope views. A bit further along we spotted a big white blob which after discussion we decided was a Spoonbill with bill typically tucked under its wing (later revealed indeed to be spoon shaped). It was standing on an edge of a small patch of water which also held Teal, Canada Goose and the first of many (5 or 6) Green Sandpipers, all seen flying off and sometimes calling, giving Chris his identifying comment of the day: “green sand!”. We spotted three juvenile Marsh Harriers hanging out together and a few waders (Black-tailed Godwits) and Common Terns flying over. We descended down into the burnt scrub and immediately it heated up: it must have been like crossing the plains of Mordor. But not for very long.
Up to the sea wall again and we got great views out over the Wash and our first views of swirling clouds of Knot as a promise of things to come. Otherwise, several Curlew but other waders were hard to locate in the heat haze.
Walking back towards Snettisham looking down on the burnt bush area, we had good views of a large mixed flock of finches showing really well in the burnt branches of the scrub: Linnets, Goldfinches and Greenfinches.
A Stonechat family showed well. Just past them in a sandier scrub area we spotted Northern Wheatear, one then two then either 3 or 4. So well camouflaged. And then two Yellow Wagtails calling then showing well, one
perched in the high branches of a tree. Very satisfied (apart from missing out on Turtle Dove) we returned to the car park via the fish and chip shop where Alan could watch swirling waders while eating his chips and we added Common Gull and Collared Dove to our list.
Steve joined us there while many other members had already made their way down the pathway tothe reserve and the edge of the Wash.
Many of you will have been to Snettisham to see the wader spectacle as it is well named. This was the first time I had been in an evening and also the first time I had been in the summer (autumn in birding terms). So, my memories are associated with bitter cold, often with a driving cold wind and
wearing several layers, hat and gloves. I didn’t even take a jumper this time. There were hardened birdwatchers with their Big Kit but also others, birdwatchers and tourists, just along to enjoy a free nature event. And there was a wide variety of different clothing not usually on view: when did you last see a pair of Union Jack shorts? Is there really scope for this in the WVBS clothing cupboard? (Ed: I am onto this!) Chris had selected this date as high tide coincided with the sunset and it was well worth it for the birding bonanza and the glorious sunset.
Each time I’ve been it has been slightly different: this time there were fewer swirling clouds of Knot out over the Wash. They were flying over in smaller groups, some surprisingly early and the space was filling up over the course of a couple of hours. I think we probably saw bigger clouds from the
sea defence wall in the afternoon.
*****So now I can only tell you what I saw as the party was variously split up enjoying the sights.
The bird list hopefully includes everyone’s sightings over the day.
We were really pleased to see a Whinchat obligingly perched for photos on a bush on the path down and then a Common Sandpiper along with some Moorhen chicks in the first lagoon. We added Wood Sandpiper to our sandpiper list at the bar across the lagoons half way down looking wonderfully spangly and elegant. And already on the edges of the gravel pit the birds were squashing in. There were some areas that seemed to be allocated for certain species: the Oystercatchers preferred a different site to others and there were several Spoonbills on the far bank. But in other places there were many species all mingling together: Knot, Ruff, Turnstone, Dunlin in amongst the Godwit which were present in both summer and winter plumage.
And every now and then another wave of Knot/Godwit/Dunlin would fly over our heads with the wonderful sound of their wing beats. Just after a small group of Dunlin flew over, there was a commotion and we saw a Peregrine with a bird in its talons flying past. I don’t know if anyone saw
All in all, it was a wonderful experience; a lovely mild evening and a glorious sunset.
Many thanks to Chris Stone for leading the afternoon and trying to coordinate the group in the evening. It was a truly memorable day.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great White Egret
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly outdoor meetings.