In early Autumn a high pressure weather system settled over much of England producing some crystal clear skies. This combined with an exceptionally high tide provided us with ideal conditions to witness one of the UK’s must see Wildlife spectacles. It is one of the highlights of the Norfolk birding calendar. Along the coast of the Wash, at Snettisham, there is an opportunity to see the Wader Spectacular.

 

The Snettisham Spectacular, or Wader Spectacular

Very high tides in the Wash are always good for watching waders at any time of year. As the tide covers their normal feeding grounds they are forced to find somewhere to roost, where they wait until the to tide retreats. During the autumn, with huge numbers of wintering birds arriving to over winter on the Wash, the numbers are mind boggling. 

Early morning dew crystallises on the webs


Early morning dew crystallises on the webs

As parking space when these events occur is at a premium, and with Monday’s high tide just before 9:30am it meant an early start to the day. We had to ensure that we arrived at the RSPB Snettisham car park by 7.15. Despite the forecast of  an unusually warm day, the lack of cloud cover over night had given rise to a  misty if somewhat chilly sunrise. After parking the car in one of the few spaces left we walked  to the reserve’s wader watch point on the beach. This involves walking well over a mile, along a well trodden path  accompanied by a steady line of others barely visible in the mist. After taking up a place among the other watchers the wait was on. 

Ruins of the jetty at Snettisham


Ruins of the jetty used to load the shingle on to boats

 

 

 

 

 

 

View over the Wash as the tide begins to rise. 

Despite the heavy mist and the chill  the sun was warming our backs and burning it off over the sea. Everyone was straining their eyes to see if the waders and the tide were on the move. Not being able to see the usual band of birds being pushed toward the shore, all you could hear today was the whirling whoosh as 1000’s of waders took to the air.  Moving from one area of the mudflats to another they tried to avoid the incoming tide.

Flock of Oystercatcher


Flocks of Oystercatcher moving from the mud flats of the Wash

Finally as the mist cleared dark shadows began to appear in the sky as the tide continued to flush up the wading birds. As the water reached the top of the shore hundreds of thousands of waders finally left the mudflats and passed overhead to the lagoons that form the major part of the RSPB reserve . The first wave was made up of Oystercatchers, followed today by a small number of Godwits, then finally mind-numbing numbers of Knot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rising tide forces more birds towards the pits

Once the tide was fully in, the groups of swirling wading birds headed over the to the old quarry to rest around the edges of the pits and on of the small islands in the lagoon.  We then walked around to the newly opened hide, from where we enjoyed close views of huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher, as well as good numbers of Dunlin and Redshank. Also roosting on the pits were a number of Little Egrets plus a small number of Godwits.    

Knot gathering in the lagoon at RSPB Snettisham


Thousands of Knot gathering on the banks of the lagoon

A new storm proof hide gives both the casual visitor and the keen watcher great views of the flocks. It even provides specially designed viewing for the growing number of photographers. There are places to get some low angle shots of the birds as they move from the islands..

Wader Spectacular at RSPB Snettisham


Just Knot

Knot Spectacular at RSPB Snettisham


Knot Spectacular at RSPB Snettisham

Knot swimming at RSPB Snettisham


Groups of Knot swimming across the Lagoon

Close up of group of Knot


Close up of some of the Knot that gather in the Lagoon

Bar-tailed Godwits at the Wader Spectacular


Bar-tailed Godwits gathering at the edge of the Knot

Oystercatchers roosting in the Pits


Oystercatchers roosting in the Pits

Oystercatcher and Knot at RSPB Snettisham


Oystercatcher and Knot

After spending a short time in the hide we continued around the lagoon back to the shore line. Here there were more groups of mixed waders including  Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling. They had gathered to sit out the high tide. We managed to photograph some of the small flocks of Oystercatchers  flying along the shore line, before heading back to the car. As we walked, overhead noisy skeins of Greylag Geese were heading back to the mudflats.

Sanderling


Sanderling

Juvenile Ringed Plover


Juvenile Ringed Plover

Juvenile Dunlin


Juvenile Dunlin

Female Northern Wheatear


Female Northern Wheatear

Oystercatcher in flight


Oystercatcher in flight at RSPB Snettisham

 

Mixed Flock of Dunlin and Sanderling


Mixed Flock of Dunlin and Sanderling

Dunlin and Sanderling in Flight


Dunlin and Sanderling in Flight

Little Egret at RSPB Snettisham


Little Egret

Part of a skein of Greylag Geese


Part of a skein of Greylag Geese