Knot – a lot!

In all the years since I first visited the north Norfolk coast I have only ever seen the amazing spectacle of thousands of waders at high tide once: And that was less a planned visit and more just luck at being there at high tide!

Snettisham, near the south-east corner of The Wash, is one of the last places to have dry ground when there’s a really high tide, and so around the full moon in months when there are a lot of waders about it can get really spectacular. So this year I have been checking out when the highest tides are and I finally found one that fitted my main two criteria: 1) A day when I was free to visit Snettisham, and 2) A day when the high tide wasn’t at 5am (I’m not good at early starts)!

And as a bonus today I knew that the weather was going to be perfect!

So I left the house at about 0740 and headed to the RSPB car park at Snettisham. I had assumed that a fair few other people would be doing the same, but it was Tuesday, so I reckoned it wouldn’t be too busy. I was wrong! The small car park was full to bursting, with RSPB volunteers directing traffic.

However it’s big open area, once you have done the longish walk from the car park, and so it didn’t seem too crowded in the end!

In the car park the bushes were covered in dew, as were the cobwebs, which looked wonderful in the sunlight.

garden spider in a dewy web

There was still about an hour to full high tide when I got to the beach area. It was clear that there were a lot of birds about, and small flocks were constantly moving around, feeding on the gradually reducing areas of vegetation and mud. Oystercatchers, dunlin, knot, ringed plovers, curlew, black-tailed godwit, redshank, sanderling and more.


It was wonderful to scan the tide line and see thousands upon thousands of birds getting gradually squeezed into a decreasing area! Many of the know still had a fair amount of their reddish summer plumage, whilst the majority were already in full winter garb.

knot – one showing quite a lot of red, with a single redshank (left)

Sometimes, when I review photos at home, I find something I had missed at the time: Today it was the fact that I had managed to photograph my only new species for the day – bar-tailed godwit – by accident when taking photos of waders flying past before I knew that I had seen it! Later in my visit I photographed one but it was only back at home that I found that I had already seen one. Wonderful!

The “accidental” photo of a bar-tailed godwit! Above in the centre surrounded by dunlin, and below at the front with dunlin and a knot
(notice the longer bill of the godwit, which is slightly upturned)

The moon was visible as high tide approached and I got some shots of birds against it, which I rather like.

oystercatchers and knot

Once the tide gets to pretty much peak level there is so little ground left for the mass of birds that they take off en masse and whirl around in fantastical formations.

Around 200,000 or more birds are in this part of The Wash in September!
A photo doesn’t really do justice to the sheer scale here – and the amazing noise!

Having lost their roosting and feeding area the birds – at really high tides like today – now do something which I had not known about: They fly just inland from the beach – over the watchers heads – and roost on the banks and islands of a lagoon which the RSPB manage for just this purpose, and where there are a couple of large hides for viewing the assembled birds.

This was a real bonus as one can now see huge numbers of birds up close, crammed together on the small amount of land available, waiting for the tide to turn.

Birds fill every inch of space on the banks and islands of the lagoon

It was from one of the hides that I sighted my first bar-tailed godwit of 2023 (apart from the one I had unknowingly photographed earlier!). It’s the one with the more speckled back slightly below centre in the photo below, surrounded by knot and redshank, and with black-tailed godwits directly behind it.

An absolutely remarkable experience!

New species for September 5th:
Birds: bar-tailed godwit

Birds = 216
Moths = 221
Wildflowers = 276