Monday 4 July 2016

Knot on the beach

The weekend before the weekend before last (I've been busy, OK?) was my wife's 'birthday weekend'. Not birthday, you will note, which fell some days previously, but 'birthday weekend'. This phenomenon, like the 'birthday breakfast', and the 'birthday curry with the girls', is a privilege reserved, it appears, uniquely for the matriarch in our household at least. This year, however, it coincided with 'Father's Day weekend', necessitating a degree of compromise about how to mark both occasions.
Avocet at Titchwell RSPB, 18th June
Claire favoured hiring a campervan and heading for a south coast location. I favoured the home comforts of a hotel, preferably in Norfolk, given the presence of a long-staying adult Great Knot, a bird I had never before seen in Britain or anywhere in the world for that matter. The choice divided the family down the middle, with particularly strong views about migrants (by which I mean waders, of course) being expressed on both sides. Protracted negotiations, several tense stand-offs and a near complete breakdown in diplomatic relations ensued, until a compromise was reached involving, one might say, full access to the single market for campervans and the free movement of people to East Anglia.
Barn Owl quartering the saltmarsh near Titchwell
The hire vehicle Claire procured was a monster - a converted Peugeot Boxer, which barely fitted into our parking bay at home but contained sufficient space and home comforts to accommodate four people, suitcases, camera gear, telescopes, board games, and all the other baggage which a family which never learnt the meaning of 'travelling light' could wish for. After packing said menagerie, our Friday night departure from Dorset was pretty late, and we could only make it as far as Cambridgeshire before the need to hook-up at a campsite became paramount.
You don't see that every day - Shoveler duckling at Titchwell
After an early start we headed straight to Titchwell, but sadly the Great Knot, which on several of the previous days had pitched up early morning to feed on the beach before retiring to an unknown roost, had already been and gone for the day. So there was nothing for it but to knock up a full English breakfast in the back of the van. Always my favourite part of camping, and this was no exception despite the disappointment of missing the Great Knot.
White van men: Rowan and George outside our 'hotel' for the weekend
Sated by bacon and eggs, we trudged to the wet and windy beach and put in a good shift for the rest of the day trying, but failing, to find the Great Knot. Never mind, there was still Sunday to catch up with it, I thought, as we headed for an idyllic campsite at South Creake. The problem was that rousing the family early on Sunday would be no easier than it had been on Saturday, raising the prospect of a groundhog day double-dip.
Huge numbers of Knot land on Titchwell beach
Fortunately, a chance encounter earlier in the Titchwell car park with Dave Bradnum, my companion on a recent Hebridean adventure, suggested that he might be trying again early on Sunday morning, so, to cut a long story short, I was able to blag a lift with him, see the Great Knot and get back to the campsite in time to rustle up another full English.
'See that flock of 5,000 Knot? It's second from the right' The Great Knot moves conveniently to the edge of the huge flock on the beach to show the de-curved bill, black chevrons on the flanks and Turnstone-like back pattern
This was only the fifth record of Great Knot in Britain, so a very rare bird indeed, and all the more notable for being my second British tick on consecutive Father's Days following last year's Terek Sandpiper.
The Great Knot stretches its wings emphasising its small-headed appearance and revealing a necklace of black streaking
Feeling gracious and conciliatory having got what I had hoped for from the weekend,  back at the van I announced that I was quite happy to do what everybody else wanted to do. And this time I meant it. The remainder of Father's Day was therefore spent meandering south via Oxburgh Hall, a National Trust tick for the whole family set in beautiful, wildlife-friendly grounds.
Red-eyed Damselfly, Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

The boys and I dread places like this as their Mum diligently reads every word on the interpretation panels in every room, presumably in some kind of search for knowledge and self-improvement. We, by contrast, can only cope with so much information about the provenance of medieval dyes so after a quick whizz around the stately home, we made ourselves scarce and retired to the grounds. Damselflies in the moat and Grass Snakes on the lawn kept us entertained until Claire returned brimming with useless information about tapestry to entertain us throughout the four hour journey home. An excellent weekend, so a big thank you to my loving, tolerant family (and Dave) for making it so.
Grass Snake, Oxburgh Hall

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