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OCTOBER 2018

A storm of knot

Snettisham

I've been going to Snettisham for the best of the autumn spring tides for about 5 or 6 years now.  I look forward to it every year.  I go with the same small group of friends under the care and attention of Chris Gomersall.  I love going on trips with Chris. He's so relaxed and incredibly knowledgeable.  His ability to spot a distant speck and identify the species of bird is phenomenal!  

This year I collected a friend from Stansted Airport before we drove up together and spent a couple of days acclimatising to the Norfolk coast and to long walks.  Having been 'under the weather' for a bit, I planned to build up to the long walks with the 'big' lens!  It definitely doesn't get any easier!  We toured art galleries, pottered along the beach at Snettisham and chatted the hind legs off proverbial donkeys.  We also managed a trip to see the seals off Blakeney Point which was a real hightlight of my trip to Norfolk.  Loved it!

It was good to be back at Le Strange Arms in Hunstanton too.  Familiar rooms, familiar restaurant, familiar staff... and this seems to mean that I sleep well!   Thornham Deli did well out of us for lunches/brunches too.  

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I had fun walking along the beach front at Snettisham, and snapping away with my iphone seemed to get me into the mood for what was to come.  I spent time (as usual!) looking at the sun and shadows playing on the mud flats.  And then there's the old jetty that sticks out of the creek looking like a sort of stranded stegasaurus.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and the tides.  It's always a gamble each year to see whether the winds and the tides and the birds will all combine to create wonderful photographic opportunities.  I can't say that I enjoyed getting up really early and setting off before dawn in order to be in place for the dawn but as always, it was totally worth it.  

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My personal challenge is to see how I can use the camera to capture something of the movement of the flocks of birds.  I'm intrigued by the birds in the air when they are put up by either the tide or by a bird of prey.  I was amazed when I got home and saw just how many of the images on my screen had also captured a sparrowhawk or other raptor.

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The birds move from the mudflats at the last minutes when the tide pushes them.  They swirl up into the air and eventually stream into the nearby gravel pits.  They stream and swirl around until they eventually settle on the gravel.  They want to settle, preen and rest but they're easily spooked.  The sight of thousands and thousands of waders streaming around on the gravel is mesmerising.  I really wanted to capture this movement.  It's the streams competing against each other and going in opposing directions that fascinate me.  I experiemented endlessly with camera techniques to make the pictures that I could see in my mind's eye.

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On one morning when it was still dark, we were treated to the extraordinary sight of the knot flocks streaming across in front of the hide ... with a huge flock of black-headed gulls in and amongst them.  I wanted to capture the streaks of movement from the gulls against the dark rollercoaster streams of knot.  A little later the knot streamed and swirled around the cormorants.... it was fascinating and as usual, incredibly challenging to try to capture.  I really hope to see something like this again.  It was magical.

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There's a rumour that the RSPB will actually work on the construction of the new hide at Snettisham and that it will be ready in autumn 2019.  I really hope so!  I've never seen the birds so close to the 'bus-shelter hide' as they were this year but to see them from a comfortable new hide with a much better point of view onto the roosting flocks will be amazing.  Can't wait.