Snettisham and Dersingham, 13 September 2021

We arrived at Snettisham an hour before high tide and parked up on the sea bank overlooking The Wash. The tide was coming in quickly  The Wash has the greatest tidal range of any east coast estuary at 6.5m during spring tides  and there was a constant movement of wading birds in front of us as the mudflats were covered by the incoming tide.

Swirling waders, Snettisham.
There was a large flock of oystercatchers out on the mudflats and several small groups of redshanks flew over our heads to roost on the islands in the lagoons - the flooded remains of old gravel workings. Although the high tide wasn’t high enough to fully cover the the mudflats, we still enjoyed the spectacle of swirling flocks of knots. 
Swirling waders, again.

More swirling waders.
There were also some large mixed flocks of waders closer to us on the mudflats and we were able to pick out dunlin, sanderling, knot, ringed plover, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit. A mixed flock of common and Sandwich terns sat out on the mudflats along with an adult Mediterranean gull in winter plumage.

Mixed wader flock, Snettisham.
It wasn’t just birds we could see. Scanning along the horizon we could pick out the grain silo in King's Lynn, the chimneys of Sutton Bridge Power Station and the tower of St Botolph’s Church in Boston, otherwise known as the Boston Stump. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite clear enough to see the Big Wheel at Skegness Pleasure Beach. We could also see the Outer Trial Bank, a remnant of a 1970s feasibility study into building a barrage across The Wash to store fresh water.

We briefly crossed the causeway across one of the pits to look for a special plant. Red hemp-nettle was formerly a common arable wild flower in southern Britain but is now critically endangered. In Norfolk, it is only found at Snettisham growing in areas of disturbed shingle. We were fortunate to find several plants still in flower, along with some very stunted wild carrot.

Red hemp-nettle.

We then walked down the footpath to Shore Hide where there were seven spotted redshanks on an island in the lagoon along with several cormorants, little egret and a singe female pintail. On the approach to the hide there was a single common blue butterfly.

After Snettisham we drove the short distance to Dersingham Bog and ate our picnic lunches in the sunshine on the grass next to the car park. 

View over Dersingham Bog.

After a short walk through the fringing pine and birch woodland where a chiffchaff was singing, we stopped at the John Denver Memorial Bench for a quick blast of Annie’s Song. It was a bit of a mystery why there is a bench celebrating the life of John Denver at Dersingham as there is no record of him ever having visited the site! However I’m sure he would have approved as it gives a spectacular view across Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve, the largest intact lowland acid bog in East Anglia. Although part of the Sandringham Estate, the reserve is managed by Natural England.

Our target species here was the black darter dragonfly, a specialist of acid bog habitats. Black darter is a common species in northern upland moors and peat bogs but very restricted in Norfolk where it is only found at a handful of sites.

Cranberry, Dersingham.
Autumnal bog asphodel, Dersingham.

We walked out into the bog on the boardwalk where we saw the orangey-brown fruiting stems of bog asphodel, the red berries of cranberry and round-leaved sundew. Black darter was however conspicuous by its absence until we had almost completed our loop of the boardwalk when Ann spotted two dragonflies on the boardwalk in front of her. One was a male common darter but the other was our prize - a male black darter! It gave good views to everyone before flying off and was lost to view.
Black darter.

Common lizard, Dersingham.

Birds were very much the supporting cast at Dersingham. A family of buzzards called over some adjacent woodland and on the bog itself were kestrel, green woodpecker and three stonechats. 
Hoof fungus, Dersingham, a species featured in Norfolk's Wonderful 150.

As we carried on around the heathland loop we saw a small copper butterfly nectaring on heather, hoof fungus growing on a birch tree and several knopper oak galls on acorns.

Rob Lucking 

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