Monday 26 July 2021

Some momentary and conflicting excitement

All things considered it was a very interesting weekend, certainly rather better than the last few where I have moped at home or worked. Saturday saw an unnecessarily early start for a quick dash up to Norfolk for the Western Sandpiper, and frankly the amazing spectacle of Snettisham RSPB over a high tide which was perfectly timed. Bradders and I met near Barton Mills and dumped one of the cars before continuing up, arriving at around 6am. The star attraction was on view quite quickly but was hard to stay on as it was rather distant and extremely active. The best views ended up being from about half nine onwards and once the water had gone down significantly, and when despite the miles and miles of available mud it decided to feed with Dunlin right on the edge in front of the assembled crowd. Despite how close it was I did not get a photo of it but I did enjoy exceptionally good views. It would always seem to aim for a morsel that was ever so slightly out of reach, which as a dumpy and quite long-legged bird meant it appeared to pitch forward every time as if it had tripped up before recovering and continuing. I last saw one of these nearly ten years ago, also in Norfolk, so this wasn't a new bird or any kind of tick, but it felt like it given the passage of time and was extremely smart in summer plumage.

Although seeing the target bird so well was superb, you cannot go to Snettisham at this time of year and come away un-wowed. The thousands upon thousands of Knot and Dunlin that moved as one between the shore and the mud were a sight to behold, even more so when a flock came off the lagoons and buzzed over the path and out to the Wash. It is a life-affirming experience that everyone should be made to do at least once. Quite extraordinary. Bonuses included an adult Spoonbill and more Little Terns than I have seen for a good while, including a few juveniles. Good also to catch up with a few faces I've not seen for a while having only twitched very sporadically over the last few years. Clearly there is a big scene that I am no longer part of, a group of people who see each other all over the place.

It seemed only natural to drive around the Wash to Frampton RSPB given the abundance of more waders there, including of course the glowing Pacific Golden Plover. I wonder if this is the same individual that I stopped to see in Northumberland on the way up to Fife last year? Frampton is a very fine reserve, seemingly superbly managed, so the supporting cash was truly excellent with Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Little Stint amongst over 20 species of wader. This latter bird was an adult and showed amazingly, easily the best views of the species I have ever had. My rubbish phonescoping attempts don't do it any justice at all but all blog posts are improved by photographs, no matter how naff, so here it is.

A lovely gingery adult Little Stint

Tempting as it was to bird for the rest of the day I had things to do back home so my pressing need to see a Great Tit in Lincolnshire had to go unfulfilled. One day....

On Sunday the heavens opened. I had planned to spend the day gardening, harvesting my first tomatoes, weeding the vegetable beds lest the cucumbers get overwhelmed, and planting up some pots of succulents. As it happened I only got a part of that list done before we had an hour and a half of the most torrential rain I can remember for a very long time. Our street largely disappeared underwater other than the very top of the camber. The water flowed over the curbs and also submerged the pavements, lapping up to the start of my front path. Thankfully this was the highest it got. 

This looked much more impressive as a photo with houses in the background and submerged pavements, but I don't want to post photos showing exactly where I live. Had I stepped off the curb I would have been shin-deep, and I live in a completely flat area.

It was a similar story in the back garden - we have a slight dip in the middle of the grass and this quickly filled up until the central portion looked a bit like Frampton but with fewer waders. The grass will be fine though and it truth it needed the water. What didn't need the moisture was the inside of the house. The volume of rain was such that it somehow managed to find a way through the back door, and for a while we had a stream of water flowing down the inside of the door and pooling quite extensively on the floor. Four or five leaks developed in the ceiling at the same time - not quite the end of days but clearly we are not as waterproof as we had hoped. There was nothing we could do to stop any of it, and so for a while it was mops, cloths and buckets, plus strategically placed watering cans.

Locally it was much worse. Various nearby underpasses flooded, normal roads became unpassable, and some cars were abandoned to the surge. I later learned that we had 45.9mm of rain in about an hour and a half. It doesn't sound much does it, but if that water has nowhere to go... I spent a lot of the evening reading about local experiences and have nothing but sympathy for those who didn't manage to get away with it as we had done, people whose cellars and ground floors are flooded, people with sewage in their front hall. I have no idea how much longer or harder it would have had to rain here before we would have had a genuine problem at Chateau L, but it felt closer than on any previous occasion even despite only being the third wettest 24 hour period recorded by a local meteorologist.

I had not planned to write about this weekend at all. Who wants to know about a few birds I saw and a bit of rain? But there is such an obvious dichotomy between the two days of this weekend, alternatively known as a correlation, that I felt compelled to start typing. On Saturday I had a thoroughly marvellous time gallivanting around East Anglia by car. On Sunday I was defending my house against water and flooding. Well now. I am not suggesting that my 250 mostly shared miles were directly responsible for the rain the next day, but in the last two weeks London has made the news twice (albeit barely) for severe flooding, and the scenes from Germany and China were on another level entirely. Few places are immune, climate change is not a phenomenon confined to the third world any longer, and it seems that not a week goes by without there being some kind of natural disaster where the root cause, ultimately, is human activity. However infinitesimally small, I'm afraid that on Saturday I contributed. On the other hand I had a great time birding two fantastic reserves, and after three weeks of having gone nowhere and done nothing I genuinely needed to leave London. Places like Snettisham are good for the soul. So are Albatrosses. I am hugely conflicted and I don't know what to do.


  1. Self-conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Depends how far you take it, I guess. I enjoyed reading about your Western Sand twitch and I'm glad you went for it, but I was a little saddened to note the underlying apologetic tone in the first half of your post. Peer pressure, like a fine wine, is a good thing in moderation. Were you a rabid twitcher, that pressure would quite rightly increase. And, sticking with the fine wine analogy a moment longer, too much of it is not a good thing. The albatross was exceptional, no British-based naturalist need offer much in the way of apologies for 'daring' to travel at the chance to marvel at the spectacle of one of those beauties! I dare say that if a spaceship arrived hovering over London the crowds would quickly rush in for a look and their carbon footprint in doing so will not be the main topic of conversation on the news that night.

    The world is made up of several billion people. Each have a role to play in the ongoing climate emergency, some do change their way of life, many deny, quite a lot do a little bit here and there. But until governments and multi-national corporations change, those billions of individuals will more-or-less carry on as if things will be alright in the end. Which it won't. It's shit on a plate, that's what it is.

    PS: vino has been consumed tonight, apologies if none of the above makes much sense!

    1. I did wonder about that, whether having spent an afternoon reading LowCarbonBirding threads if a tinge of regret would come through. I guess it did. At the time though it was fantastic to be wandering around these wonderful reserves admiring all those waders in their summer finery. They were just beautiful. I don't get that opportunity very often locally, and I last went to Frampton in August 2014 and Snettisham in July 2013. I was reminded very keenly of what I miss almost every year. But at the same time I think it is healthy to have a little bit of introspection as it promotes restraint. Superficially the vocal advocates of lifestyle change would appear to only be satisfied by everyone going nowhere and eating only cardboard, but if you read a little deeper all they are trying to say - forcefully for sure - is that everyone needs to modify their behaviour where and as much as they can. If that message gets through to people like me, and I subsequently do a bit less long distance travel to see birds then that is a good thing. I fear it won't ever work on the rabid though.

      I agree that things won't be alright in the end. We're too stupid. Every day I marvel at quite how stupid in fact. I think that of all the fuckwittery currently on display the one that does my head in the most is the sight of gazillionaires having fun in their rockets. Just think how much good they could do, but no, instead they seek three minutes of thrill while people starve and burn.

  2. Did the same trip from Worcestershire. Felt slightly guilty. Then I see the mayhem and stupidity of so many and think my contribution is of a very minor kind. I certainly wouldn't want to live in a city - go for it ......