Last weekend was busier than usual on the reserve and to a degree, enlightening, as for the first time in many years the site suffered a major twitch. With Saturday morning being a tad damp and the wildfowling season ending the day before, I didn't bother with my customary early morning patrol and left it until better weather in the afternoon. A nice quiet stroll in the afternoon sun, a look at the high tide wader roost on The Flood and some photos of the High Spring Tide covering the saltings was my aim. However, the minute I climbed onto the top of the sea wall and looked along the saltings towards Shellness it was clear that things were definitely not going to be as solitary as I had hoped. Around a dozen twitchers/birders, whatever they might be called, were forming a large circle on the saltings with several more approaching along the sea wall from Shellness - obviously the bloody Richards Pipit was still attracting attention from near and far!
Walking along towards them, I couldn't work out why they needed to circle the bird on the saltings when presumably better views must of been available from the top of the sea wall a couple of yards away and when I walked out to speak to them they admitted that they couldn't see the bird in the long vegetation, so why were they there? Perhaps they have different ways of doing things when twitching rare birds, who knows, but anyway I only stayed briefly. I tried to advise them that a deep gulley between them and the sea wall was fast filling with water, a record Spring Tide was beginning to fill the saltings and they might want to avoid "bootfuls" by moving back to the safety of the sea wall. With the odd grunt and much still staring at clumps of grass in the vain hope that a pipit's head might pop up, they mostly ignored me until eventually, as you can see below, the tide did begin to prove me right and the gulley I was talking about shows as a straight line of deep water.
So, back to the sea wall they all came, and many began to disperse back to the Shellness car park and the various counties that they had driven from but as they went, more came. It was like a continuous sea wall, conveyor belt of twitchers like someone was organising "see the pipit" bus trips. All these people hurriedly rushing along the sea wall, laden with scopes, tripods, binoculars, cameras, pagers, phones to inform Birdguides with and in some cases, assorted camouflage clothing to somehow make themselves invisible when standing on top of the sea wall. Bemused, I stood with the dogs and listened to the much repeated comment of "is it still there", as some went and many still came and mused on what a stressful hobby twitching must be, to drive from counties north of London as some had, and possibly not even see the bird.
And in the meantime, the Spring Tide was flooding across the saltings fast and the pipit, not being of the web-footed variety, had left the saltings and somehow managed to disappear on the landward side of the sea wall, some new arrivals looked like being disappointed and I drifted off, not wanting to see grown men and women cry and wrists become slashed.
But finally before I left, I took this last photo of the now flooded saltings, (compare it with the top one), and wandered back along the sea wall, noting several Water Rail scurrying along it's seaward base that had been pushed in from the saltings by the sea. I've seen that before during Spring Tides and have been surprised that the Rails spend their time out in such salty habitat.
The following morning, Sunday, I returned to the reserve in my normal early morning fashion and guess what, despite the time of day, there they all were again, continually rotating as they came went and there was even a baby in a push chair.
Another long day of twitching was clearly unfolding and so after stopping to chat to a couple of birdwatching friends there, I pushed off across to the rear of the reserve and onto the RSPB fields alongside. From the farmland alongside the Capel Fleet reed beds below Muswell Manor several quad bikes driven by men with guns suddenly appeared, followed by an assorted pack of terriers and a couple of fox hounds, clearly a Kent terrier pack were out for the day trying to find foxes. They drove past me and headed across a rape field and down alongside the wide reed beds of Capel Fleet and pushed through the reed beds to end up at the Raptor Viewing Mound. As someone who walks the area with his own terriers I found it briefly entertaining, although it's clearly not everybody's cup of tea, but the more foxes that can be culled before the ground nesting birds' nesting season begins, the better.