Regular readers will know that I've not had much in the way of birding outings this spring. As I think I've mentioned, it's been a combination of work, my VLW being unwell and there not being anything twitchable within range to consider. Now that we're into the insect season this has been less of an issue and my mind was mostly on when to try to see the Heath Fritillary this week though the unsettled weather wasn't making things easy. I'd booked Thursday off and was all set to head off for them the next day when on Wednesday news broke of a Great Knot at Titchwell in Norfolk. Now, had I enjoyed a full spring of twitching success I might have let this one pass but I was hungry for some birding action and given that the weather was a bit iffy for butterflies I decided that I'd take a punt on the Knot instead. However, for starters it was some three hours drive away, beyond my normal twitching comfort zone and what's more it was by no means a nailed-down certainty. The previous day it had come in to roost on the Freshwater Marsh at the high tide in the afternoon so there was a good chance that it would do that again. What's more it was reported as being present still first thing that morning on the beach. Was it worth the risk - what to do?
I had to take my son to school first anyway so the earliest I could leave would be 9 a.m. and I decided in the end that I would just have to gamble on an afternoon showing on the Freshwater Marsh in which case there wasn't much need to leave before 10 a.m.. I was fully prepared to go all the way and to dip horribly as this did to me seem to be a bit of a punt but it would at least be a nice day out at Titchwell which, amazingly enough, I'd never visited before. So in the end this is what I did. I set off at 10 a.m. and the journey was uneventful. It's interesting how the lush fresh green scenery of May has given way to the more mature darker green June landscape with now-flowering grasses, and the Cow Parsley and May Flower now being replaced by Rough Chervil and Ox-eye Daisies. Still, with Radio 4 to keep me company the journey passed pleasantly enough. There was a problem with the alerts on my RBA app so I didn't have any news on the Knot en route apart from occasionally when I stopped at a traffic light when I'd quickly have to load up the news to see what was occurring. Miraculously it seemed to be being reported steadily throughout the morning on the beach and then as I neared Kings Lynn lo and behold apparently it was back on the Freshwater Marsh. I'd deliberately been keeping my expectations low but I started to think that I might actually have a chance of seeing this bird!
The Titchwell car park was predictably full but I found a space just outside the visitor centre and got tooled up only to be told that that was the staff car park and I had to move. Eventually I was parked up, tooled up and yomping off along the path, passing a steady stream of contented birders all coming the other way. It's always rather disconcerting when this happens and you can't help wondering if they're all leaving because it's flown off. After a relatively short distance I arrived at the twitch line and breathlessly asked if it was still present. It was indeed and after a comical few minutes of trying to see it in someone else's scope but not being able to pick it out at all eventually I got it and could relax. I then set about setting up my own scope and then spent the next five minutes trying to get a rather elderly gentlemen to see it in my scope as he'd forgotten all his birding gear. He was finding it rather difficult and in the end gave up. Sadly, suddenly the mist started coming in and it became very difficult to pick out the bird.
|Spot the Great Knot - the red and black "Turnstone" back was the main pointer for picking it out|
The mist seemed to be getting noticeably worse and I thanked the stars that I'd arrived when I had as fifteen minute later the flock was almost impossible to scope and most other birders who'd seen it well already had decided to leave.
|Misty - you can only just see the flock!|
I bumped into fellow Oxon birders Ewan and Clackers, coming back along the path. They'd arrived earlier on that morning and had had good views of the bird on the beach and were now on their way back home. We had a little chat and then went our separate ways.
|Ewan & Clackers, Great Knot in the bag and done for the day|
Suddenly the flock flew up and after swirling around for a bit settled nearer the north end of the Freshwater Marsh. I decided to head along the path to see if I could get a better view though before I could get my scope on them the flock was up once more and heading off towards the sea. Having had only relatively brief views so far I decided to head off to the beach along with the few other late comers to see if we could find it again. As I wandered along the path I snapped away at any interesting plants I could find.
|There was quite a few Alexanders around, now long gone over though with quite distinctive seed heads.|
|Shrubby Seablite - the "suaeda" that birders talk of|
|Sea Beet - it has very waxy leaves to cope with the harsh coastal conditions|
At least this was giving me a chance to explore the reserve a bit better I thought as I wandered past the Volunteer Marsh and then the Tidal Marsh down to the dunes. There we had a scan along the shore and soon spotted the flock some five hundred yards away to the east. We all hurried over and started grilling the flock.
After a surprisingly short amount of time someone found it and we all soon got on it. It was actually pretty easy to pick out, partly as it red and black "Turnstone" back and larger size stood out and partly because it was mostly on the edge of the flock and to start with was actually the nearest bird to us. After the rather tucked-up views on the Freshwater Marsh it was great to see it close up. The birds would try and roost for a few minutes before either the incoming tide or something else would spook them and they'd all start running around everywhere. The Great Knot was easiest to pick out when they were all moving and it was a great opportunity to get a real sense of the bird though of course as they were moving about it was hard to get any decent photos so my only shots were during the boring periods when they were all still. It did indeed look a bit like a Turnstone at least as far as its colouring was concerned though of course it had the more speckled black breast band and a longer finer bill than that species.
|It would very often be at the edge of the flock|
|A close-up though in a rather un-helpful resting pose|
After a while the flock took to the air and moved another four hundred yards down the beach so we all followed them.
|The flock in the air|
Once again we managed to re-find the bird and enjoyed great albeit rather misty views. I silently thanked the stars that I'd chosen to come and see this Great Knot rather than the by all accounts very distant "Great Dot" of a couple of years ago. Sadly, I never got a decent photo of the bird - the misty conditions and the fact that they were often on the move made it all too difficult. Still at least I'd got to see it well. After a while I decided that I'd had my fill and conscious of the long journey back ahead of me I started to head back the way I'd come, stopping for the occasional plant pap.
|Frosted Orache on the beach|
|Marram Grass - a classic sandy beach plant|
By now the rain was starting to fall and as I wandered back along the path I gave my VLW a call to see how she was and to let her know when I was likely to be back. I stopped to watch the Swifts swooping low over the Freshwater Marsh and to take a quick snap of an Avocet. It seemed to be a great reserve though it would be nice to see it in better weather conditions.
I headed back to the car park and finished my packed lunch whilst I listened to the football on the radio - England and Wales were one all in the Euro 2016 championship. Then I fired up the Gnome mobile and started the long journey back, trying to make out what was going on in the match but with the very poor reception I could hardly hear what they were saying and only just made out that England scored the winner in injury time. On Radio four news was breaking of an MP who'd been shot and later died - by all accounts she was one of the good ones and it was all rather depressing. In the end I turned it off and contemplated my day instead. Unlike my previous major twitch this year (see Durham Debacle), this time my roll of the dice had paid off and I'd managed to see a real top draw UK Mega and what's more to get nice views of it in the end. Feeling content I negotiated the increasing rush-hour traffic and arrived back at Casa Gnome at around 6:30 p.m. for my usual celebratory cup of tea and a chance to catch up with the rest of the family on how their day had been. It had been a grand day out.
|What it looks like in the sunshine, courtesy of David Carr (c)|