Sunday, 27 July 2014

A Great Knot in Norfolk

Monday 14th July was a bit of a panic with the hot news of a Great Knot being found at Breydon Water.  My car was off the road still, so I was thankful for a shared journey with Nick Moran, BirdTrack supremo that involved dropping his daughter off at her school first.  When we arrived the bird was still present at a roost among Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, although out of view.  I set my scope up sitting comfortably on the roadside and when the bird appeared felt confident I'd pick it up when it waded into view.  However, when the moment came it was taking off with 10 or so Golden Plover and I didn't get onto it!  I couldn't hear the directions due to the din of the traffic.  Eventually I picked up the plover flock so I kept on them, until they were so distant could not be discerned any more.  They seemed destined for Cantley Beet factory, surely never to be seen again.  I decided to console myself by painting other birds still present, so embarked on a landscape below to which I added a Whimbrel.  There were so many potential subjects and compositions, it's hard to know where to begin!
Whimbrel, Breydon Water.

While I was working on this, and about to add more there was a movement among birders on the South shore, the rugby club side, and then on the north shore too, with people crossing the bridge over the river: the Great Knot had been relocated!  I hurriedly packed up my stuff as quickly as I could and made my way, thankfully finally seeing the bird at 14.52 hours, albeit quite distantly.  Yet even at ?400 m range it was instantly obvious as a Great Knot in summer plumage, a thrilling moment!  Fractionally smaller than a Redshank and with a horizontal gait, head held hunched and with an oddly long bill compared with more familar waders.  I hurriedly did the pencil sketches below.  Pencil is fast and convenient; I couldn't mess around with watercolour when trying to capture the shape of something so unfamiliar.  I then started the paint sketch below which has not caught it.  But it's important to try [Actually I forgot I've cropped it from the scan, will have to re-scan].  At  c. 15.25 the knot then decided to fly off south west into the distance.

First views of the Great Knot, Breydon Water
 Later, news arrived that the bird had been relocated, 2km further along the south wall.  What to do?  I almost didn't bother as I couldn't face the long walk in the heat.  Thankfully I decided to go for it and trudge the distance.  Incredibly when I arrived, the bird was feeding unconcerned at ?250-300 m range, certainly excellent through my 'scope.  I madly rushed off the sketches below; best to work in pencil, not get bogged down with water-colour, save that for later.  I did put a few washes over the second pencil sketch below.  Big dark spots extending from the breast sides onto the flanks.  Also strongly chequered upper Scapulars; these summer plumage feathers completely lacked the rufous tone of fresh breeding birds, replaced instead by pale cream.  I guess the rufous colour has been bleached out by sunlight.
The Great Knot at its closest

The Great Knot in afternoon sunlight
I wished I'd rushed straight here, I'd have had longer; remember for next time!  Presently at around 16.30, the Great knot had other ideas and decided to fly over to the north side of the basin where it loosely associated with many Avocets and various gulls.  Even at this distance the gait, size, slow movements and the distinctive black breast band still made this bird stand out.  My friend Nick had meantime arrived back having left hours ago to get half a day's work in.  Had it been a first year or in winter plumage it would have been slightly more of a challenge.  After more time the Great Knot flew again, alone, this time north-east when I lost it in the direction of the hide on stilts on the north-east shore.
The Great Knot with Avocets for comparison
Much later we were back on the north shore where we watched the bird again, mostly at 400 - 500 m range, and with several flight views allowing appreciation of its distinctive appearance in flight - long slender wings, slow, low, steady flight action, and a distinctive dark carpal patch on the upperwing.
The sketches below attempt to capture this.  I spent 12 hours in the field, definitely a good day even if I've not produced a definitive watercolour of the bird in situ.  That's always a hard task to ask for.
The Great Knot from the North wall

The Great Knot, again from the North wall
PS: Note James McCallum has some great field sketches of the bird here:
Further field sketches by Brian Small can be found here:

Misc Spring sketches

Various bits and pieces since my last posting, it's been a while I know...  I'll post these up for now and add more plus a posting on the Great Knot later.

Pied Wagtail, Chosely Barns, Norfolk.

Hawfinvh female, Lynford arboretum

The Spectacled Warbler, alas not actually painted.

Kingfishers attending their nestsite

Viper's Bugloss and Vervain with Small Skippers and bumblebee

Local Stone Curlew 1

Local Stone Curlews  2