« Previous | Main | Next »

Spectacular autumn gatherings

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 16:35 UK time, Friday, 23 October 2009

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.


One pulsating creature

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.


The knot gather in their thousands

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.


Pink-footed geese, another spectacular autumn sight

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:

North: WWT Martin Mere (30,000 pink-footed geese, 2500 whoopers, 2500 teal),
WWT Washington (400 curlew at the moment, bullfinches)

South: WWT Arundel (200-300 european teal, 6000 starlings )
Brighton pier (starlings)
Brownsea island - salt lagoon (wading birds/avocets)

East: WWT Welney (up to 4000 swans)
RSPB Snettisham (knot)

West : WWT Slimbridge (up to 750,000 starlings, 150,000 gulls, 12000 lapwing, 2000 dunlin)
RSPB Hamwall (starlings)

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)


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.