Saturday 12 August 2017

Another great wader day in Norfolk.

Wader Quest business took Elis and I to Norfolk and we decided to make the most of it.

Rising at 04:00hrs and driving to Snettisham to catch the morning high tide. It was not an especially high tide on paper but a wind was driving the water into the cul-de-sac of the wash and pushing the water higher than it might otherwise have been. This of course was good for us as several thousand Red Knot and a few thousand Bar-tailed Godwits and Eurasian Oystercatchers and many Pied Avocets, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover got pushed together into the blunt end of the Wash.

The wind drove the water into the cul-de-sac of the wash.

The light was just right with the sun rising behind us and the usual Inspirations of the waders kept us mesmerised.

The massed ranks of an Inspiration of Waders.

At this time of year the experience is slightly different to the dead of winter as many of the Godwits and Knots are in summer plumage to a greater or lesser extent. This gave the whole crowd a soft orange tint in the morning sun as they dashed about the sky as though trying to decide what to do next.

A soft orange tint.

Some decided that the pools behind us were where they should be and Dunlins skimmed over our heads in that direction while endless procession of Oystercatchers did the same and occasionally a flight of Knots would break off from the throng and head over us to the same destination, their russet bellies shining against the deep blue sky.

Dunlins skimming over our heads to the backdrop of Red Knots and blue skies.

We enjoyed this spectacle for as long as we dare before heading off to Titchwell. Once we had concluded our necessary appointments we headed up the reserve path to see what we could find. There were several Ruffs dotted about the place and many Black-tailed Godwits and a few Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on the freshmarsh along with a few Northern Lapwings, the odd Eurasian Golden and Grey Plover and of course a few Common Redshanks.

A Ruff at Titchwell.

We also learned that on the beach a Purple Sandpiper had been seen. This was an opportunity not to be missed and we headed in that direction. Once on the beach it was obvious the bird was not on the ruined building as we had expected but was working its way along the highest strand-line in dry sand, the clue being a number of admirers.

Patience pays off for those who sit and wait

I won't say that this bird was approachable, more that it approached people. We could see that those watching and photographing it were in close proximity to it. Noting its direction of travel, we set ourselves up and waited. Sure enough it came closer ...

and closer... 

and closer still. Needless to say some amazing shots were taken by Elis.

We enjoyed this close encounter for some time.

At one point it walked right up to a prone photographer then sauntered off past a watching lady admirer. A chap to my right commented on its apparent lack of fear of humans. I pointed out that we may be the very first humans it had encountered and, without its parents to warn it, it has no reason to suspect we are a potential threat. The reason for suggesting this was that the bird was clearly a juvenile, note the small, neat feathering on the scapulars and coverts. In addition, when it got really close it was possible to discern what appeared to be remnant downy feathering around the back of the head and chin betraying its very young age. It was clear it had had some self preservation training as when a large gull flew over it ducked down and froze, just as it would have done while it was an unfledged chick, but huge bipeds had obviously not come within its short sphere of experience.

The bird sauntered past the standing lady within a foot or so and then past the two sunbathers behind completely unconcerned by their presence.

Elis and I then spent a very enjoyable half hour strolling along the shoreline, 

watching the splendid Ruddy Turnstones...

and some lovely rufous Bar-tailed Godwits...

with Eurasian Curlews...


 and Oystercatchers.

Once we had managed to tear ourselves away from this irresistible sight we noted that the Purple Sandpiper was now alone with no admirers so we returned. Elis placed herself prone on the sand in order to get some low level shots that are so effective with waders. I sat slightly higher up the beach to enjoy the bird to the sound of the mewing gulls, piping Oystercatchers and the crashing of the waves; quite a moment, one of my favourite pastimes.

But this moment was eclipsed entirely when the sandpiper made a bee line for Elis and walked right up to her, 

so close in fact she could no longer focus her lens.

One amusing moment happened when it was just centimetres from the camera lens it must have caught sight of its own reflection in the glass and gave itself a fright, seeming to quite jump out of its skin! It then calmly walked behind Elis, 

along side where she lay, and emerged next to her boot the other end.

At this point we left the bird to its own devices and discussed how such an engaging little mite had flown so far just to end up on the beach where we happened to be, making our day as complete as it could be for people who admire these long distance travellers as we do. We bade it bon voyage and hoped that it would survive to give others the immense sense of privilege that we had felt by being honoured with its trusting presence.

We were never going to be able to top such an experience, but the Whimbrel on the walk back was a good addition to the day's list and as we drove homeward we stopped at a school field with many gulls and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits, one of which had some colour rings on its legs, of which we hope to find the origins and inform the relevant researchers of our sighting.

GN-WR but from whence had it travelled?

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