The Right Choice?

On Thursday myself and Matt had decided to go for the Black-browed Albatross that has been gracing the cliff at Bempton for quite a while. It had been showing well all week but on Friday it didn’t put in an appearance and nor did it on Saturday morning. So we made the decision to instead go to Snettisham for the Western Sandpiper and then onto Frampton Marsh for the Pacific Golden Plover. The route to Snettisham is now around seventy-five percent dual carriageway and we arrived in the already busy car park at around a quarter past six. This was a new site for me so I was looking forward to exploring it. I have to say that it was not as I had imagined it to be. We set of on the mile or so trek to the sea with just over an hour to go to high-tide. We got to the sea to find the mud rapidly being covered by the incoming tide and several thousand waders in the air moving ahead of the rising water. A spectacle that I have seen on video which was truly amazing in real life. After watching Common, Little and Sandwich Terns flying about we spent a bit of time scanning through the flocks of Dunlin on the shingle spits but of the WP there was no sign. As the last of the birds flew in from the sea onto the old gravel pits we set up in the Shore Hide to enjoy the birds. The species count mounted but we soon realised that our best opportunity of seeing the target bird was as the waters started to recede. While we were in the hide news of the return of the Albatross came through making us wonder if we had made the right choice of destination.We were the last two people in the hide when one of the RSPB Wardens came in and he gave us an expert tip of where the Sandpiper was likely to be found. We were a bit concerned as we headed North back along the shore as the majority of birders were staying put at the Shore Hide end. Trusting in the advice we kept going passing several birders heading the other way. A Turtle Dove, the first of three, flew past and landed in the line of vegetation along the shore. It seemed a little strange as the only ones we had seen previously were at scrubby inland sites. It was good to see as I had only heard a single bird at Martin Down this year. The sea was receding and as the mud was uncovered the small waders started to fly in. Hundreds of Dunlin and Knot along with a few Ringed Plover were scanned through to no avail. The number of birders grew and finally the bird was found, after an initial panic we all got onto it feeding fairly close in on the mud. It had a really strange head down feeding action and with its short tail looked quite comical. The rufous tones on the head and the breastband were easy to pick out as it moved around in front of us. By now the number of birders had swelled considerably as we were joined by many of those who had been watching from the “wrong place”. The RSPB guy had turned up and I wandered over to thank him for his advice. The bird slowly moved away from us and after twenty minutes or so we decided to head back to the car to be towards the front of the line of birders that we had heard would be heading, as we were, to Frampton.

After skirting Kings Lynn we headed north into Lincolnshire on the A17, a road I haven’t travelled on for many years. To the best of my memory I haven’t birded in Lincolnshire before. It took just over an hour to get to Frampton and after spending a few minutes topping up the energy reserves with a sandwich we headed onto the reserve. Again some excellent advice was given by the friendly RSPB guys on site and it wasn’t long before we were on the sea wall watching the very obliging PGP which had just moved onto the seaward side of the reserve. Some further scanning got us our first Greenshank of the day, followed by sightings of hunting Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl. The Owl being constantly harassed by Lapwing as it drifted over the Marsh. After watching from here for a while we set of for a tour of the reserve. And what a fabulous place it is with a great variety of birds to be seen at every point. In all we saw twenty species of wader here, absolutely incredible. We stopped to a Corn Bunting singing, it seemed odd to hear in this habitat as it is a common bird for us near to home in the very different landscape on the Downlands of Wiltshire. A flock or apparently a Canteen of ten Spoonbills flew out from the Saltmarsh, the most I have seen in the UK. From the 360 hide we found another nice selection of waders including 2 Curlew Sandpiper, several Ruff and some Spotted Redshank. From here it was back to the car and after a drink and a bit more food we left the car park at three, twelve hours after I had picked Matt up in Swindon.

The journey home was obviously busier but with only a couple of delays I dropped Matt home at half-six. We covered three hundred and eighty miles, plus the walking in around seventeen hours and notched up eighty-nine species, in which for me were five year-ticks with two being lifers. So was it the right choice? Bempton would have been good but with the amount of birds seen today, even without including the two lifers it was a unanimous yes from us both.

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