Sunday 10 September 2023

Snettisham event, 31 August 2023

Today's outing took a slightly different format in that it was an evening outing especially timed to see the high tide wader roost at the RSPB's Snettisham nature reserve on the Norfolk side of The Wash. Because it was a big group Rob was joined by Steve Cale, an experienced guide and accomplished artist. 

Half of the group met mid-afternoon for a walk from the RSPB car park to Snettisham Coastal Park. The first surprise of the day was a juvenile little tern we saw feeding in a freshwater pool alongside the entrance road to the car park. Large flocks of hirundines were feeding over the trees, a mix of swallows and house martins and at least eight buzzards circled on the thermals.

We started out along the inner sea bank at Snettisham Coastal Park and saw a young whitethroat in a hedge with a group of house sparrows. Daphne spotted a speciality of the area - a turtle dove sitting on the overhead wires. In the distance we could see the first flocks of waders swirling in the distance and 13 spoonbills flew over.

Massed waders at Snettisham.

We headed slowly back to the car park to meet up with the rest of the group. The car park had filled considerably since we arrived, and RSPB staff were on hand to manage the situation.

We had special permission to drive onto the reserve, saving a long walk, and we all piled into four cars to drive from the car park through the chalet park and onto the sea bank overlooking the Wash.

The group overlooks The Wash.

The waders were already starting to gather. A big flock of oystercatchers gathered on the mudflats, constantly moving as the tide touched their feet. Flocks of bar-tailed godwits and golden plovers flew inland to roost on farmland. We could hear several common sandpipers calling and both common and Sandwich terns flew overhead. Best though were the great swirling flocks of knots, constantly changing direction and shape. 

On the distant horizon we picked out Boston 'Stump' - the local name given to St Botolph's church in Boston, reputedly the tallest parish church in England and the Outer Trial Bank, an artificial island built as part of a feasibility study in the 1970s to see whether it would be possible to build a barrage across part of The Wash to store fresh water.

The forecast rain started a bit early, so we moved into one of the hides overlooking the old gravel pits that form part of the reserve. We could see the tightly packed roosting flock of knots on the shingle banks with black-tailed godwits in front in the water. There were at least 20 spoonbills on the far bank and five spotted redshanks in among the commoner redshanks.

By now the rain had eased and we headed back to look over The Wash. Among the huge flock of gulls we found a good number of Mediterranean gulls with the adults' white wing tips and heavier bills being best features to distinguish them. As the tide started to drop, we were treated to the 'reverse' spectacle of knot leaving the high tide roost. This time the flypast was fast and low as they flew over our heads from the pits back out onto The Wash.

Botanising by torch light (Tim Hunt).

We wandered back to the cars but before departing had a quick look (by torchlight!) for a Snettisham speciality plant, red hemp-nettle, at its only Norfolk site. It is a species that requires disturbed ground and unfortunately the area that had been very good for it in previous years was no longer suitable.

Rob Lucking

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