I haven’t blogged for a while, and it’s been even longer since I’ve spent a whole day birding, a situation that needs remedying on both counts. I should explain that the main reason for this lapse has been due to an awful lot of time being expended on writing my book, (click this link or the box in the side panel for more detail on that), as well as producing text for other publications and websites.
The catalyst for this return to the blogging fold has been involvement in Global Bird Day, part of Global Birdwatch Weekend. As the name suggests, this is a worldwide event with the aim of encouraging people to get out birdwatching and to raise funds via BirdLife International for protection of wetlands, so essential for migratory and breeding birds. My mate Allan Archer and me formed part of the Wader Quest team, with our chosen venue for the day being the splendid RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh on the Norfolk coast. The reserve was busy on this mild, sunny Saturday, with a steady trail of birdwatchers, dog walkers, and families complete with bucket and spade enjoying the autumn sunshine. It was also full of birds.
We made our way along the public footpath bounding the western side of the marsh, constantly entertained by various goodies. Bearded Tits ‘pinged’ amongst the reeds, occasionally showing themselves to the admiring watchers, Curlews trilled over the saltmarsh where the stark forms of Little Egrets stalked small fish. But it was the newly landscaped fresh marsh that held the real attractions. Here, we encountered massed ranks of birds, feeding, preening, squabbling and sleeping. A thousand strong crowd of Golden Plover lived up to their name, coating the muds with their spangled mantles, tolerating humans to a much closer distance than I’ve ever witnessed. They were not the only ones making use of the reprofiled scrapes. Lapwing, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet and Dunlin probed, poked and scythed their way around the edge of the islands, while Shoveller and Wigeon dabbled in the shallow water.
We made our way to the beach area, where a receding tide began to expose the mussel beds beloved by so many birds. Oystercatchers piped their way along the shore, the warming sun highlighting their bright red bills and boldly pied plumage. Small parties of Knot and Sanderling joined the throng, the latter scurrying around the strand line like so many clockwork toys. The forms of Great-crested Grebes, Guillemots and a loan juvenile Gannet dotted the becalmed sea, while overhead the occasional notes of immigrating Skylarks reached our ears. This shoreline is a hubbub of activity and always atmospheric, made so by the echoing cries of waders and seabirds washing across the expansive sands.
We retreated to the visitor centre to have our fill of lunch, and then tracked towards the eastern edge of the reserve in search of more delights. Parties of Long-tailed Tits accompanied us along the way, acrobatically searching for tiny morsels amongst the stunted trees of the wet woodland. Pools held various ducks and waterbirds which we could add to our tally, but it was to the freshwater marsh we returned, lured by the sheer numbers and close proximity of such an array of beautiful birds. We sat on a bench overlooking the scrapes, mere spectators to the pageant being played out in front of us.
I can seldom remember when two hours passed so quickly. We perched, warmed by an October sun, simply watching wild creatures go about their business. It was quite magical. The Golden Plover glowed, Lapwings, fooled into thinking spring had arrived, embarked on their frantic display flights, zig zagging over the flats, plunging headfirst towards ground before tacking skywards at the last moment, all the time emitting their bubbling courtship cries.
This unseasonal performance spilled over into territorial displays, aggressive males rushing with raised wings at any perceived adversary. A marauding Sparrowhawk occasionally spooked the flocks that whirled and twisted white and gold across an azure sky. We became so engrossed in watching the antics of the birds, that upon reluctantly turning to leave we were startled to encounter a crowd of maybe a hundred people that had silently gathered behind and to either side of us, themselves there to witness the spectacle.
We ended the day scanning the sloping fields a mile inland. As the sun crept towards the western horizon, Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and a gorgeous Red Kite skimmed across our line of vision, the latter representing the 82nd species for our list. A fitting end to a truly memorable day.
As an indication of how our efforts ranked, the following statistics may be of interest:
The event attracted 32,670 people to take part across the globe, representing 195 countries
An amazing 7269 species were seen worldwide in just that one day
The Wader Quest team recorded a total of 520 species, coming 8th in the overall rankings
For more information about the event and the work of Wader Quest click here.