A keen, rather cool sea breeze blustered in through the open wooden windows of the hide, rippling the water and bending the tops of reeds and grasses of the lagoons. It was another of those days where the weather cannot decide what it wants to do. Out of the breeze it was warm, especially when carrying binoculars, camera, telescope, owl bag with food, 2 year old or any combination of them. The breeze was however pushing back the clouds above, revealing blue sky and a warm sun. Out on the pools of water was a plethora of birds. Ducks including mallard, teal and shovelar, were all in eclipse plumage making all the males look like females. The variation in the plumage of the multitude of waders present on the other hand was astonishing. Migrant breeders returning already from more northern breeding grounds still retained in many cases at least some of the stunning breeding plumage. Others, particularly the young of the year, already appear in the more drab colouration of winter. No more so was this diversity in plumage most easily seen than in the ruff. From birds that appear rather grey, to those with patches of white, black, beige and orangey brown. The freshwater lagoon at Titchwell was alive with ruff.
Next to them the other most obvious bird was the avocet. A conservation success story. Once on the brink of extinction in the UK there are now more than 15,000 breeding pairs. At this time of year numbers at Titchwell are swelled as local breeders flock to the lagoons. Among these two species were numerous other waders from dunlin, to knot to black-tailed godwits. Particular highlights were a pectoral sandpiper, a stunning curlew sandpiper in its red breeding plumage and a delightful winter plumaged spotted redshank.
Among the waders there were plenty of other birds to see. Numerous young black-headed gulls followed adults around still begging for a mouthful of food. A few Mediterranean gulls stood regal amongst the throng, despite the changing plumage of their head making some look like they were wearing funny masks. Almost hidden by the throng of waders and gulls, were two little gulls asleep on the shore, waking just briefly to confirm their overall small size, small black bill and short legs. Off one of the small islands a group of spoonbill towered over the other birds.
As with any trip to Titchwell the destination at the end of the long path is the beach. A wide expanse of sand which meets the seemingly endless sea and huge wide open skies. Here the breeze whipped small foaming white caps from the top of small greenish blueish grey waves. More waders and gulls forage along its shoreline and among the exposed rocks of low tide.
Before long it is time to head back to the long straight path that leads to the visitor centre, to the car and to the highly anticipated cup of tea and celebratory cup cake. The trip back passes by all the highlights of the journey out. All the waders, gulls, spoonbills and ducks. Past the meadow pipits and skylarks, linnet, reed buntings, sedge warblers and reed warblers that made up some part of the small bird contingent of our day. Almost at the end and the reserve gives up its final, and perhaps most delightful encounter. The ‘ping ping’ of a bearded tit comes from the tall waving grass and reeds alongside the path. Not unusual to hear, but often much harder to see these little passerines as they dart rapidly across the top of a reed bed. Standing staring at a wall of greenish brown vegetation there is some hope we might catch a glimpse as the bird moves. Then at the top of a brown woody stem of old reed growth the bird appears. Gripping to the bending stalk it looks around then flies to the next stalk. Starting low down and working its way to the top it stops looks around and then moves again. But for those brief moments it is stopped at the top giving wonderful views of this little bird. He is this year’s young. Lacking the grey head and long black moustache, the yellow bill, black by the eye and on the back still indicate it is a male.
And so we return to the car for the said tea and cake. But can we leave on a total of 58 species for the day? No worries as a couple of swallows dart overhead and a female bullfinch calls from the top of a nearby tree. Trip complete its time for a trio of tired, happy birders to head for home. Happy birthday Robyn…