Wader Spectacular, RSPB Snettisham, Norfolk, UK
The Wash is a huge bay and estuary on the east coast of England, where Norfolk meets Lincolnshire. Salt marshes, shallow water, deep channels and mud, sand and silt, make it a perfect habitat for a wide variety of birds. Common terns breed here and migrating birds such as geese, ducks and waders spend time on the Wash during the winter months. Ornithologists estimate that close to half a million birds inhabit the area at any one time with more than two million brds using the Wash for feeding and roosting during their migrations.
The Wash is such a massive area that generally birds are difficult to spot as they are so far off the shore. But within a few days of the full moon, when the tides are pushed over 8 meters, a truly spectacular event occurs. As the tides get too high for the waders to roost and feed, they must leave the Wash and settl on neighbouring more shallow mud flats. I had read that getting to the Wash at the right time to witness this display would be a life changing expereince.
I was staying with a friend not far from the Wash, and the moon was full. With inclement weather though and high tides taking place during the dark, I only had one chance to see it. The tide was going to be over 8 meters at 7 in the morning. The walk out to the Wash was an hour from the parking lot. It was recommened that I got there an hour before high tide, so out i walked, in pitch darkness, using a flashlight to pick my way along the over grown bramble towards the Wash.
Upon arriving on the pebble beach that borders the Wash, I turned off my flashlight and sat in what turned out to be complete silence and darkness. The darkness stretched on and on - I knew there was water in front of me but I could not see a thing. As 6:30 am appoached, I realized that not only was it dark, it was incredibly foggy but then just as my eyes were able to make out features here and there - a bush some twenty feet off, and a lone goose walking long the shore line, I began to hear birds coming off the Wash. A few muffled honks from geese and the quiet chatter of waders.
The time approached high tide. In less than five minutes the tide would be full and i saw no evidence of birds in flight, but then all of a sudden, small flocks of waders started to make their way out of the mist, flying low along the surface of the water, then up the pebble beach and over my head to the shallow scrapes some two hundred feet before me. It was still very dark but i could just make out their shapes as they passed me. Thirty in a flock maybe, then another flock of perhaps a few more. Then more flocks and closer gaps between them. And then it really started to happen and I stood up to further take it all in. Within minutes thousands of birds were coming out of the mist toward me. A steady wave swept over me and around me and the wave grew thicker and thicker and more, it must have been hundreds of thousands of waders flew past me.