Waders Galore at The Wash, what's Knot to like!

If the tides and daylight coincide at this time of year, there's only one place to be for one of the most incredible bird spectacles in the world. If you've not witnessed the high tide wader roost at RSPB Snettisham, then check the tide timetables for a spring tide and get yourself down there for the experience of a life time!

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Masses of birds on the move

As the tide creeps in to cover the wide expanse of mud that is The Wash, a myriad of birds are pushed ahead of the rising waters. Some birds adopt the strategy of shuffling forward ahead of the tide so the ground ripples with a seething mass of waders. At first glance it looks like bare grey-brown mud, but take a closer look through the Leica telescope and you realise you are looking at a carpet of Knot, all packed in close together and jostling each other forward to keep ahead of the tide. That darker area of mud reveals itself to be wall-to-wall Oystercatchers all facing in the same direction and all steadily processing ahead of the encroaching tide.

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Running out of dry land!

Other birds prefer to take the leapfrog approach and take to the skies to fly ahead of the shufflers on the ground to land on a patch of mud they can see will remain exposed for longer. Different species seem to gather in slightly different areas of mud so at any one time, you can see in the scope a line of Bar-tailed Godwits standing facing in one direction towards the tide while next to them a line of Oystercatchers all run en masse in the other direction to keep ahead of the current. The shorter-legged Knot and a few small groups of diminutive Dunlin here and there have no option but to fly overhead to a new area of still-dry mud.

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Panic in the ranks!

All of a sudden the tempo changes! The birds take flight and bunch into shapes as the flocks twist and contort in the air. There's a raptor about, tempted in by all this bounty and the flocks of waders create shapes that form and dissolve like smoke as the flocks move as a single entity with each individual bird clubbing together with others as they seek to avoid being caught. The humble Knot becomes a creature of incredible beauty when it joins with hundreds of other Knot who all fly in a seamlessly co-ordinated mass that jinks and jives to avoid the predator. Like a fish baitball in the sky, the flock divides seamlessly as a Peregrine Falcon swoops through the flock trying to lock onto a single individual bird.

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Waders at Snettisham

The flock closes ranks behind the Peregrine which climbs higher and higher in order to dive down again out of the sun to single out a weaker individual. Like spectators at a firework display, we ooh and aah at the aerial acrobatics. One Knot takes a wrong turn out of the pack and the Peregrine is onto it in a flash; up and down the two parry, the Knot desparately seeking to shake off the Peregrine which is locked onto it like a heat-seeking missile. We all hold our breath, wanting the Peregrine to be successful in its hunt, but equally willing the plucky little Knot to evade capture. Again and again the Knot and Peregrine swerve low and then high, now left and now right, but the gap between them is closing and the outcome is inevitable. There's one Knot fewer, but the flock carries on as if nothing has happened!

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Knot for breakfast!

The tide reaches its highest level and those waders that haven't flown onto the lagoon are jam-packed into the remaining patch of mud. Once the tide starts to drop again, the waders will move back out onto the newly-exposed mud which, refreshed by the latest tide, is a veritable smorgasbord of invertebrates for waders.

Someone mentions breakfast and that is the cue for the spell of the wader display to break as everyone realises how hungry they are. So buzzing with the excitement of having seen so many thousands of individual birds in one place, we head back for brunch at the Thornham Deli and more Norfolk birding adventures.

If you'd like to join one of our future birdwatching trips to Norfolk in February 2018 and June 2018, please email us on


for more information.

We look forward to sharing lots of exciting birds with you.

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