Spectacular autumn gatherings
After last week's cuddliness with hibernation we wanted to bring the wow factor back with some spectacular autumn gatherings. One of the best places to see these is the north Norfolk coastline.
Each autumn wading birds gather in their thousands on the Wash, the coastal area between Lincolnshire and Norfolk on England's east coast. When the tide is out a huge expanse of mud is left exposed on this flat landscape, giving the perfect opportunity for wading birds such as redshank, curlew, dunlin and sanderling to feast themselves on the variety of marine invertebrates that call this mud home. But it wasn't these birds that we had driven five hours from Bristol to see.
The mud is also home to up to 100,000 knot. These small wading birds gather in their thousands on the tide line, creating what from a distance, looks like one pulsating creature, moving towards you with the rising tide. For maybe only four to six times a year, this spectacle of knot reaches breathtaking levels.
During a spring tide the many thousand knot are forced to fly into the 'pits' alongside the tidal zone. Here they roost in gargantuan numbers until the tide retreats enough for them to resume their feeding on the Wash. If spooked while roosting, the knot create a display to take your breath away. The sounds are equally impressive. Hundreds of thousands of wheeling, calling birds, their pale rumps flashing as they turn. A spectacle worth a drive of any distance.
Norfolk doesn't only attract knot, but pink-footed geese also roost in the fields in Holkham. When in Norfolk there was rarely a moment when the team couldn't see a 'V' formation of geese flying overhead or hear their honking calls. During the day these geese feed on sugar beet pastures. At night 20,000 pink-footed geese gather in the fields parallel to Queen Annes Drive in Holkham to roost.
Probably the UK's most famous gathering species are starlings. Their swirling masses are what everyone thinks of when they think of starling roosts. But in RSPB Titchwell we saw something quite different: instead of swirling in the air the starlings landed in the reserve to bathe in their masses, spraying water everywhere.
The end of October is just the start of the gathering and roosting season. These gatherings occur all over the country. Here's a taster of some of the best places to experience these spectacular events over the next few months:
Scotland: Solway firth (barnacle geese)
WWT Caerlaverock (up to 15,000 barnacle geese, 300 whooper swans, 3000 oyster catchers, birds of prey, and more)
N Ireland: WWT Castle Espie (up to 26,000 light bellied brent geese)