Friday, 17 June 2016

Get knotted!

It's really starting to get quiet now. With a big low pressure system over the country there is nothing coming across from the continent and the Yanks aren't arriving either. So, when two day ago, there was a mega alert in Norfolk it got not just me but most of the twitching community well, twitching.
The bird in question was a great knot, an Asiatic cousin of our commoner red knot and a very rare bird. There have only been 4 previous records and one of those was nicknamed the great dot as it only showed at massive distance on a mud flat and most observers could barely recognise it as a bird let alone a great knot!
Day 1 was Wednesday when it was first sighted at Titchwell on the fresh marsh then the beach causing a localised migration of birders to the coast for it. Thursday and it was still there, commuting between marsh and beach in the company of the local flock of red knot. Amusingly, Boris Johnson was in Norfolk on the same day and apparently the great knot attracted larger crowds!
So, Friday was a 5am leave the house and a blast down to Titchwell. By the time I got to the car park at 7.15 it was already pretty full, probably 40 or so cars. I pulled in at the same time as another birder, Mike, who lived locally and who had dipped on Thursday so the two of us yomped down to the beach together and spend a pleasant morning together. If you know Titchwell, we walked down the bank to the beach and turned right for about half a mile to get to a group of around 100 birders.
Everyone was looking at a flock of waders, mainly red knot, about a hundred yards or more away on the edge of the surf.

You can immediately see the challenge - somewhere in there is one bird, roughly the same size and shape as the others which you need to find. The bird we were looking for is closer in appearance to a turnstone, with a reddish mottled back and white underside, and boldly marked face - but where is it?
Over probably an hour we scanned the flock. One bird looked good but we could only see it partially, and at extreme distance. The tide was also going out so every 10 minutes or so the flock took off and moved out with us following them at a suitable distance.

Eventually the flock though started to disperse as feeding grounds were exposed. This also meant the birders dispersed to check all the different sub-flocks. Eventually the bird was tracked down and we all clustered together as it moved along the tide line.

These two give a good impression of what we are seeing. There is one great knot and a lot of commoner red knot. Hopefully you can see the difference. The great knot is larger,  but only just so and hard to tell at distance. What stands out though is the plumage - the dark chest band, the red mottled back, the longer beak. Once you got your eye in even though it moved you could get back onto it relatively easily, well with the help of many other birders anyway!
For about an hour or so we all followed it up and down the beach as it fed on the rocks as they appeared with the falling tide. Sometimes it got a bit closer, most of the time it was a long way off. The photo below, as with all the others, is with a 500mm lens, 2x converted and heavily cropped! It's on the left of the flock, 4 birds in.

The series below hopefully gives you a better idea of the jizz of the bird. Easily mistaken for a turnstone, it was feeding happily with it's plainer cousins, but that mottled almost chestnut back, bright white rump and head pattern made it stand out.

Apologies for the background noise, but finally this short video shows you what we were all getting excited about - a great bird in many ways.

Great knot feeding at Titchwell

About 11.30 the early starters began to disperse back to the car park, although there was a good numbers of new arrivers as well. As a post script, it flew off about an hour after this and was not seen again on Friday, so I may have been a very lucky boy. Certainly the drive back was not a chore. Only need 5 more lifers now to get 350 - would be nice to get that by end of this year as a stretch target!!