Friday, 31 January 2014

Purple Peeps at The Ness

20th January 2014

It is now probably 10 years since I have seen a Purple Sandpiper. We always used to go and see them on the groynes at Heacham during our winter visits to the north Norfolk coast but I understand that they are no longer seen there. So when I heard that they were still seen fairly reliably at Lowestoft Ness I set off with Andy Johnson to try our luck.

It was necessary to be there at high tide to view the birds at close quarters, so the forecast high tide of 12.00pm was ideal. In fact, we arrived on site at 11.00am and therefore should have ample time with an hour either side of high tide. Unfortunately, despite conditions being just right with still a fair amount of sea weed showing and the jetty being pounded by the waves but not yet covered, there was not a sandpiper in site. In fact, not a wader of any description. I suspect that this was an exceptionally high tide today as, by noon, all the possible feeding areas were covered and the jetty was totally submerged.

It was apparent that there was little prospect of seeing any birds until at least an hour after high tide when some of the more favourable areas would be uncovered once more. At 1.00 pm on the dot three waders flew in and landed on the sea wall, not the intended quarry but Turnstones. They did, however, provide a few moments of entertainment until the real thing arrived.

Eventually, at 1.10pm, eight Purple Sandpipers did fly in but settled on the far end of the jetty some 50 yards away, which is too far for a decent shot of a bird this small. When the waves broke over the jetty, they would merely flutter up just a foot and then settle again for some more voracious feeding. Things were not looking good. Then, for no obvious reason the whole flock took to the air for a couple of laps of the jetty before landing on the large boulders right in front of us. A bit of luck at last. This provided a number of opportunities for some shots as they posed on the rocks. For a relatively dull bird, albeit with gold legs and base to the bill, they are incredibly smart.

Then, as the tide continued to recede they flew down on to the beach and continued to feed on the now exposed seaweed. Well, it took over two and a half hours but was it worth it in the end? You bet!!

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