About 35 miles away, over the border in the neighbouring County of Suffolk, lies the coastal town of Lowestoft. Once a thriving fishing port and a centre for ship and boatbuilding. College days during my boatbuilding apprenticeship were spent here so I got to know the area well. The town went into decline with the loss of the shipbuilding and the fishing industry is a mere shadow of it’s former self. North Sea oil and gas brought a period of prosperity before that too declined. Now the future seems based on manufacturing for the renewable energy market and a reliance on tourism.
The Town’s main claim to fame however is that, at Ness Point, it is the most easterly place in the UK. Now, you would think that the ‘Point’ would be a place to show off, not everywhere is the easternmost spot of the Country after all. Make a bit of an attraction out of it, pull in the tourists? Sadly no. The area can, at best, be described as ‘a bit rough’. Reached by narrow, lorry lined, roads, past factories and failed businesses that are now wasteland, under the shadow of ‘Gulliver’ a massive wind turbine. What could possibly draw local birders to this unattractive location? The answer…. Purple Sandpipers.
It’s been a few years since I last went to admire these cute waders, time for a visit. So if the Sandpipers attract the birdwatchers what attracts the Sandpipers? Well, these shorebirds like to winter on rocky coastlines. They do not feed by probing mud like most of their kin but by picking through what the tides deposit, like seaweed. Now East Anglia is not graced by rocks, this is an area of soft sandy cliffs and much coastal erosion. To counteract this, vulnerable places have been ‘protected’ by the installation of sea defences. At Lowestoft the concrete walls were supplemented with the placement of a barrier of huge granite boulders and it is these the Purple Sandpipers found much to their liking.
I was in luck. Two of these winter visitors were present and with a little patience allowed me to get very close. I sat down on the promenade and had to wait awhile for the sun to come out from behind a stubborn cloud to get the best shots. Passers-by were curious as to what I was photographing and were delighted when I pointed out the birds and explained a little about them. Soon these two will wing their way north to the Tundra of Iceland or Northern Scandinavia for the breeding season and hopefully they, or their offspring, will return for the enjoyment of birders in future years.