I hope some of you will be inspired to head down to the beach and enjoy the sight of thousands of waders after reading the piece in the 'Wild about' pages of Birds Autumn 2012 on page 13.
I’ve been lucky enough to see such sights lots of times during my regular visits to the Norfolk Coast and there’s no better place to witness it than at RSPB Snettisham nature reserve. This is where my parents have their holiday caravan so it was a short walk for me to get down to the beach and in position for the action to begin.
At low tide, estuaries are quiet and serene places. As you walk alongside one, you can almost feel you are in wilderness with nobody in sight for miles around. It can be hard to spot any birds at first because they are all spread over miles of glistening mud. Once the tide turns and starts to come in though, slowly spilling into the creeks and then, when they are full, out onto the mudflats. At first, only the furthest birds take short flights to the next available patch of mud, but once the tide starts to race, they fly more regularly and are joined by more and more birds in the air until it is one huge flock that can stretch for hundreds of metres.
Funny story for you - I was once on the beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk watching knots (above and below). A curious lady came up to me and asked, "Are they oystercatchers?". "They're knot", I replied. "What are they then?" she replied. True story!
How many waders does it take to fill an island? I don't know - but you're probably looking at well into four figures of knots (grey birds in the foreground) and oystercatchers (black in the background). The most knots I ever saw was 120,000 on The Wash one October. How do you count that many birds you ask? Well, it's all about breaking the resting flock up into blocks of 100, then counting ten of those blocks and so on. Give it a try next time you see a flock of birds. The more you do it, the more accurate your counts will start to become. Why not try it on the birds above? Click on the photograph to make it larger.
See it yourself
You don’t need binoculars to see the spectacle because the vast ‘smoke clouds’ can be seen from quite some way away due to the flat nature of the landscape, but take some if you have some so you can pick out the long-billed godwits and curlews and the dumpy, lightening fast knots and dunlins that twist and turn as one.
If it’s a nice day, why not take a picnic and have it on the beach as you watch the action?
As I wrote in the magazine, it’s essential to check a tide table to make sure you know when the tide will peak – and make sure you are in position a good two hours or so before the high tide so you can watch the incoming to force the birds into the air.
Visit www.rspb.org.uk/reserves and use the ‘estuaries’ tag at the bottom of the page for some sites where you could see the action for yourself. Good luck!