Friday, 1 July 2016

Great Knot, Titchwell, Norfolk - Thursday 16th June 2016

A quick blog about the Great Knot at Titchwell RSPB, and my hasty trip to see it.

Great Knot is a rare bird in the UK, with only four previous records (plus one in the Republic of Ireland). It breeds in north-east Siberia, Russia, wintering principally in Australia and New Zealand, but also throughout South-East Asia and along the coast of the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. North Korea, South Korea and China have some very important migration refueling sites.

The last occurrence of Great Knot in the UK was as recently as 13-15th July 2014, at Breydon Water  in Suffolk. I remember it well - Breydon Water  that is, not the bird. I went on the 16th and stared at an empty expanse of mud for hours... The arrival of this year's bird was a brilliant opportunity to get this one back - a chance I thought I'd lost. The bird was first reported at 13:00 on 15th June, and I headed down to Titchwell from work at lunchtime on 16th, the earliest I could.

The Great Knot was with a large Red Knot flock. Find that flock and the bird should be obvious, being taller and darker. I parked up in the car park at Titchwell RSPB, and as I was getting my stuff out of the boot, a leg fell off my scope's tripod. Um, I now had a bipod. Ah well.

I was told the flock was currently on the beach, and headed there. At the end of the boardwalk birders told me to head east for 500m, towards the small crowd of twitchers. There was sea fret and I couldn't see 100m. Into the unknown then, at a running pace, though I hoped the mist would help keep the birds in place.

And they did - the flock was on the shoreline; and there, in the middle at the back, was the sleeping Great Knot. In the scope the coppery mantle, flecked with black, white and grey, stood out brilliantly - looking no unlike a roosting Turnstone. Occasionally the Red Knots would shift around as a wave encroached, but the Great Knot seemed more relaxed (or perhaps, more tired). I wondered if the bird's longer legs meant it was less concerned my the rising tide. Now and again the Great Knot would show its dark face with its darker eye. The bill was clearly longer in relation to the Red Knots, and the bird's size - bigger and taller, though in part due to its longer legs - and more rounded body were the obvious first impressions.

First view of the Great Knot on Titchwell beach - Thursday 16th June 2016

The flock flew after I'd had around 20 minutes on the bird, breaking into sub-groups. News came through it was back on the freshmarsh, so we all headed inland, including the breathless group who'd arrived seconds too late to see it on the deck.

The Red Knot flock, with the Great Knot takes flight on Titchwell beach
Thursday 16th June 2016

The light was still poor from beside the Parrinder hide on the reserve, but at least the mist was thinner. The Knot flock had settled on the sand bar, in among the Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets and Oystercatchers. The Great Knot clearly wanted to sleep some more and kept its position while the Red Knots around it shifted their positions every now and again. I got prolonged views of the bird's rotund body, with its spotted breast and flanks, and its patchy-plumaged mantle. I also had a few good view of the face  and neck, enough to scribble the most basic sketch, but not (with the dull light and distance) enough to get a decent photo.

Great Knot in the crowd, Titchwell RSPB - Thursday 16th June 2016

Avocets mating as the Great Knot pretends not to notice - Thursday 16th June 2016

Great Knot notes - Thursday 16th June 2016

I drove home mostly in glorious sunshine. There were occasional dark clouds, some carrying rain, others carrying ominous exhortations to "take our country back". The EU referendum was a week away, and Norfolk's roads were littered with posters encouraging us to sabotage our nation for the sake of ...what? I don't know, but all the wrong people were happy with the result a week later...

People, what have we done?

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