A trip to Titchwell

The sun blazed in a wide open sky, the blue stretching above the open landscape of marshes, pools and reeds of Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast. A stiff breeze ruffled the sea creating white caps and powering the wind turbines just offshore in endless cycles. The long stretch of sandy beach, exposed by the low tide had rivulets of water running through the little sand waves created by the receding water. The shells of razorfish littered the strand line, crunching under foot. Working back inland the marshes stretch as far as the eye can see beyond the sandy dunes. To the left of a gravel path large lagoons with shimmering wavelets host a multitude of birds. From the beach the lagoons become more freshwater, so that the first, nearest the beach, is almost empty in the low tide with just the odd pools of water and tufty, hardy plants. The third pool is totally freshwater and full of water, so that at this point most of the birds are concentrated here. Beyond it are large beds of reeds.

The freshwater lagoon

Owned by the RSPB the reserve has some fabulous, well maintained hides that present perfect opportunities to watch the goings on in the pools without disturbing the birds. The newer Parrinder Hide is a modern building with wide, open windows overlooking both the freshwater and brackish lagoons. For me I prefer the more traditional wooden hide, although this is still very open and light compared to many I have been in. Still, I love the smell of wood, the slight mustiness, the scratch of wooden benches on wooden floor, lifting the catches and hoisting open the windows to reveal the landscape beyond.

The freshwater lagoon has a maze of little islands and peninsulas of land covered in grass, its edges has thick lush green grasses and tall dense reeds. Everywhere there are birds. Common and sandwich terns roost on the islands; standing in the shallow water, heads tucked under wings are black-tailed godwits, around the edges even more godwits, avocets, dunlin and ruff are feeding, each with a different characteristic action, each as busy as the next fuelling up.

A ruff feeding in the margins of the lagoon

Numerous teal also feed in the shallow water, their bills submerged as they filter food from the water. It is a cracking time of year to be watching ducks and waders. For the ducks, most are still in eclipse plumage. All appear brown and drab, the males having lost their bright plumage while they moult their flight feathers and are therefore more vulnerable to predation. For the waders there is a total mix, with many individuals still in their fabulous breeding plumage; the deep russet red, with almost tiger stripe barring on the flanks of black-tailed godwit; the deep black on the face, neck and breast contrasting with the golden yellow on the back of the golden plover; the black belly of little dunlin. Others are already into the greyer, more muted plumage of winter, and many more are in various stages between the two. Amongst these returning migrant waders is a species that has been one of the UK’s conservation success stories: the avocet. After the return of breeding pairs following an absence of 100 years in the 1940s, the creation of suitable habitat and protection has led to a substantial recovery. Now the sight of these distinctive black and white, long legged, birds sweeping their curved bill back and forth is thankfully much more common in many areas of our eastern coast.

And to top off the day… a superb wood sandpiper spotted emerging from the vegetation in a secretive corner of the pool.

The distinctive avocet

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