185 – Lesser Yellowlegs
Helen and I have come to Norfolk this weekend, to visit some of our favourite nature reserves and do some serious birding! Today we made a much-anticipated return visit to Titchwell Marsh RSPB, which we consider to probably be our favourite reserve of all those we have visited over the years. We have had some quite amazing bird photography opportunities here in the past, and hoped for more of the same with this visit.
Well, the anticipation levels were raised ever-higher before we’d even arrived at Titchwell! Half-way through our journey, and my iPhone received an SMS alert from BirdGuides telling us that a Lesser Yellowlegs was present at Titchwell – of all places! It was quite unbelievable that a MEGA, (that’s the Birding-world classification for a very rare bird), was currently present at the very reserve we were enroute to! Would we see it? Unlikely we thought; Titchwell is a very big reserve, the bird could be anywhere at all (if it was even still there by the time we arrived), and if it was still there, and we located it, would it not just be a tiny speck in the distance?
So, we dismissed any likelihood of finding the Yellowlegs and carried-on with our journey, hoping that the reserve wouldn’t be over-run by ardent twitchers by the time we arrived. (We’d had that experience once before at Minsmere, with hordes of people hunting for a Pectoral Sandpiper. That had been a bit hectic to say the least!).
The current heat wave we’ve been sweltering-under has carried-on unabated; it was around 28°C by the time we drove-into the car park at Titchers.
A brief visit to the shop in the Visitors’ Center saw us buying a new pair of binoculars to add to the cameras (and water-bottles!) we were already carrying. We’d wanted some really good ‘bins’ for ages, and are really happy with the ones we got today. The view through them is excellent, and much brighter than that provided by a long camera lens. As it was to prove, the new bins made our weekend’s birding much more productive, as we are now much better-able to find and identify distant birds.
We had a quick look at the recent sightings board in the Visitors’ Center to see where all the ‘good birds’ had been seen so far today. A staff member told us that the Lesser Yellowlegs had been spotted at several locations around the reserve so far, but hadn’t been seen in the last 2-3 hours. This pretty-much confirmed our earlier thoughts that it was extremely unlikely that we would be lucky-enough to see it, and that we should just forget all about it.
My favourite hide at Titchwell is Island Hide which protrudes-out into the Freshwater Marsh. That’s where we went first today. As we approached the hide, walking along an elevated path, we watched the reedbeds closely. A number of Warblers including my favourite (a Sedge Warbler) could be heard singing within the dense shrubbery, and occasional, brief flashes of brown could be glimpsed as we passed.
On settling-ourselves in the hide, we were treated to a vista that included huge numbers of birds, some close-in to the hide, and some much more distant. Species we could see included, Avocet, Ruff, Black-Tailed Godwit, assorted Gulls, various ducks including a great many young Mallard right beneath the hide windows, Greylag Geese, Moorhen, Coot and the occasional Pied Wagtail.
We quickly put the new binoculars to good use, surveying the reedbed about fifty yards in front of us, to the right of the hide. To our delight, we quickly discovered that a flock of Bearded Tits was flitting-about at the bottom of the reeds, and they were soon joined by a Water Rail! Not so long ago, Water Rail and Bearded Tit were two of my top three ‘bogey birds’ along with Bittern. Although I’ve now seen and photographed all three species, it occurred to me that on this occasion today, I was very nearly able to capture two of those three species in the same photograph!
After about an hour or so, we decided to carry-on along the path which leads ultimately to the beach, to see what else we could find. A large flock of Oystercatcher and a couple of roosting Spoonbill were at the far end of the Volunteer Marsh as we passed-by. At around this time I saw some kind of raptor chasing after another bird at high speed. I raised my camera and fired-off a few frames at what turned-out to be a Hobby chasing a Black-Tailed Godwit. I don’t know how the chase turned-out, but I was pleased to capture a few (slightly blurry!) shots of the action as it unfolded.
The beach was very quiet today; there was what appeared to be a large, mixed flock of gulls and Oystercatchers down at the water’s edge several hundred yards along from where we were, but it was much too hot for Helen and me to trudge a long way through deep sand to try to see them more closely. On previous visits to the beach at Titchwell, Helen and I have had close encounters with Sanderling, Knot and Turnstone. All these species had more sense than be out today in 30°C heat!
Returning back down the path we spent a few minutes capturing photographs of several Linnet and a Meadow Pipit which were sitting atop the gorse bushes just over the boundary wall to the West of the path. Male Linnets are especially attractive at this time of year with their bright pink chest feathers.
The next hour or so was spent in Parinder Hide, a double-sided hide which looks out onto the Freshwater Marsh to the South and the Volunteer (Saltwater) Marsh to the North. Here, amongst a plethora of other bird species which were present in large numbers, we watched a number of Mediterranean Gulls, including one adult, which was being constantly-nagged by a hungry juvenile. Eventually, the adult had had enough and flew off to sit on the water for some peace and quiet!
At this point it had reached around 5pm, but we had lots left yet to see, and there were still several hours of daylight to come. We walked all the way back down to the car for some refreshments and a much-needed rest.
An hour or so later, and feeling re-energised, we headed-off along Fen Trail next, through dense woodland and alongside various ponds, towards Fen Hide, where we had some wonderful Bearded Tit and Sedge Warbler sightings on our first visit to Titchwell. On this occasion, however, the reeds had grown so tall that they had completely hidden the view of the pond, and not much could be seen at all. A Marsh Harrier in the distance briefly gave us something to watch, but we soon decided to press-on towards the screen overlooking Patsy’s Reedbed.
Alas, again much too hot for anything exciting today. A few distant waterfowl were about all we could see, and there was no sign whatsoever of any Red Crested Pochard, which seem to be permanently resident here, and have certainly been present on each of our previous visits to Patsy’s Reedbed. We did enjoy photographing some Whitethroat in the trees as we walked back towards the Fen Trail again, however. I made a mental note that this must have been a good breeding-year for Whitethroats, as I’ve had far more sightings of them this year than in previous years.
By the time we had reached the Visitors’ Center again, we were feeling that we had probably seen all that we were going to see for the day. As we walked the last few yards, we met a fellow-birder who was scouring the trees at the bottom of the Beach Trail for some Tawny Owls that had been reported earlier in the day. Although we couldn’t find the owls, he casually informed us that, if we wanted to see it, the Lesser Yellowlegs had returned from the far (and inaccessible) end of the reserve and was currently near the Island Hide, very close to the path, from where he had just returned.
So, off we went up the Beach Trail path again, and sure-enough, the Lesser Yellowlegs was just where we had been told, very close to the path. A group of about ten birders were gathered watching it, making it very easy for Helen and I to find the bird.
We took a good few photographs of this very rare bird, which became my 185th wild bird photographed in the UK.
By this time it was after 8pm, and we felt that we had had enough birding-excitement for one day. Just as we started down the path towards the Visitors’ Center and car park once again, a Marsh Harrier flew up right in front of us and gave us our final good sighting of the day.
Cley Marsh tomorrow – I wonder what that might bring? Probably not another MEGA, but who knows?