Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Wash in winter

This week, while I was visiting my parents for Christmas, I decided that, rather than relaxing, having a lie in and generally getting ready for the New Year, I would instead wake up at 5 am and drive to the RSPB Snettisham nature reserve to watch and photograph the Pink-footed Geese spectacular.

Pink-footed Geese from Iceland and Greenland migrate to the wash for the winter, roosting out on the open water of The Wash. Every morning, from September through to about March, huge squadrons of geese fly inland to feed on the sugar beet remnants in the fields of Norfolk farms.

I arrived at the reserve at 7 am, even before the sun had woken up. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by a chorus of honking geese, somewhere out in darkness of The Wash. Thank goodness my phone has a torch on it as, stupidly, I'd forgotten to pack one. I'd also managed to leave one of my gloves at home. My hands were going to be cold! I walked through the reserve to the beach and could just about make out the huge dark groups of geese out on the water beginning to wake up. Then, at about 7.30 am, as the sun began to shine brightly, they began to take flight in great skeins.

I really struck it lucky with the weather as well. Yes, it was cold, especially when the wind blew in off the water, but it was also clear and my early morning efforts were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise, which changed and evolved with every passing minute.

Once the geese had flown inland to find their breakfast, I began to take a look around the reserve.  I went into one of the hides and was immediately greeted by a friendly Robin.

He flew from bramble to bramble and then off to find his breakfast elsewhere. Watching all of these birds go and find their breakfast made me realise that my bowl of Cheerios at 5.30 am were clearly not enough and my stomach started to voice its displeasure.  I did, however, remember to pack a flask of tea which managed to keep hunger and cold at bay for a while longer.

The reserve has a lot more to offer other than just geese and robins. As the tide began to recede, uncovering vast mudflats, the beachcombers began to appear. First I spotted a few Turnstone, rooting around on the newly uncovered beach, joined shortly by a couple of Reed Buntings. Unfortunately the small LCD screen on my camera let me down, in that I didn't see that the photo of the Turnstone wasn't the best it could have been. I'll have to stick that shot down on the "redo list" for the next time I go.

Back on one of the reserve lagoons, an incredible number of Oystercatchers were sitting on a shingle beach, slowly waking up. I didn't notice at the time but there were also an incredible number of Knot roosting on the same bank (the grey bits on the right hand side). I also spied a Bar-tailed Godwit hiding in there as well.

Back on The Wash, the sun was now well and truly up. Unfortunately, the temperature had not followed suit and the wind compounded that fact.

Looking over one of the banks between the beach and the lagoon, I spotted a very large flock of roosting Knot, just beginning to wake up.

Their alarm clock obviously went off as, all at once, they took to the skies.  The collective sound of their wing beats sounded exactly like a breaking wave. It was an amazing thing to see and hear.

They went out onto the mudflats to meet up with the other tens of thousands of Knot and waders already feeding, occasionally taking to the sky, always signalled by the crashing wave soundtrack.


  1. Nice results for all your suffering; a lie in and a large helping of alcohol should also help. I've got two favourites - the third shot, which looks like a join the dots puzzle, and the last one. I'll bet that was one of dozens as the flock swirled through the air!

  2. Thanks.

    In total, over 1000 shots were taken but, once I'd got rid of out of focus shots and those that were just not very good, I had about 150 to look at and edit.

    I think my favourite is the one of all the geese flying in front of the sunrise (5th photo). Pleased with how they all came out though.

    I shall be returning soon!


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