Wednesday 13 December 2023

Norfolk coast - 12th December 2023

A adventure:

I had not been up to the North Norfolk coast since October so it was good to have a private tour arranged for Andy and Sally yesterday.  We headed up to meet them at Holkham in truly appalling driving conditions and at that stage it really did not feel like a walk on the beach at Holkham was going to be a pleasurable experience.

Amazingly it began to clear near Walsingham and by 0830 it was actually dry by the time we arrived at Lady Ann’s Drive.  The marshes were alive with the sound of wildfowl and the swarms of Wigeon and Teal were feeding right alongside us, completely un-phased by us of the already arriving dog walkers.  Only the Red Kites and Marsh Harriers were keeping them on their little webbed toes while the last of the early morning Pinkfoot flocks were still making their way inland to feed.  There were a few Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe dotted around and a male Ruff was on the closest pool.

A Mistle Thrush came in to defend his little Hawthorn and I can’t remember the last time I saw one so well.  They are always so much bigger and plumper that you think.

We cut through to the beach expecting the usual dog fest but amazingly there was no one to be seen and the Brent Geese were even feeding on the spartina marsh either side of the main track straight out.  The first couple with their dog even kept it on a lead until they had passed between the two flocks, leaving them to carry on feeding.  A pleasant change.  It was good to see many youngsters with the group with most pairs having at least three young.

We veered right and headed to the enclosed area passing a few chirruping Skylarks on the way but there was not a bird down that end to be seen so we cut through to the dunes where the sea was dotted with Scoter. A single Snow Bunting flew over very high and thankfully Antony picked up the Shorelark flock almost back where we started so we tracked along the beach and then headed back inside the dunes to approach unseen where we thought they were.

Et voila there they were out on the sand scurrying around like little clockwork toys and we enjoyed half an hour with all 13 as they scurried around.  I have noticed that when running they often almost cock their tails and they also did not like getting separated to much from each other and every now and then then the outliers would notice that they were too far in front or lagging behind and scamper to get back with their yellow faced, horned buddies.

Shorelarks - Andy Buck


Sanderlings, the Shorelarks clockwork wader relative ran ahead of us along the main channel all spangly and shiny in the unexpected sunshine.


Back out to sea the number of Scoter I had estimated was woefully inaccurate with a swathe of birds stretching for at least mile.  Only when they took to the wing and swirled around did you get a true idea of sheer number and I suspect at the there were at least 2500 in two lines both close and mid-distance.  It was a magnificent wildlife spectacle with a maelstrom of dark duck swirling across the whole view.  Unsurprisingly we found at least ten Velvet Scoter when they were on the move and I wonder what more time and less distance may have revealed amongst them.

Not sure the pictures do the spectacle justice

Velvet Scodots - Antony Wren
Antony Wren

Antony Wren

Cutting back through to the Washington Hide added Goldcrests, Long-tailed and Coal Tits and Treecreepers in the pines before we entered.  Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and Kites were on view but I could not find any White-fronted Geese although there were many Greylags and a few Pinkfeet and Egyptians.  A flock of Fieldfares bounded west and Bearded Tits could be heard in the vast reedbed where Stonechats and Reed Buntings were standing sentinel on the top of the Phragmites.

The walk back along the inside was very pleasant and may have involved some moth leaf mine education for Sally and Andy courtesy of Antony while flocks of the same small birds seen before the hide followed us along our way.  The Goldcrests showed exceptionally well.  Jays were vocal and practicing their best Buzzard calls and two Little Grebes were amongst the hoard of Gadwall on the lake at Meals House.

Treecreeper - Andy Buck

Lunch back at the cars  and then east to Stiffkey to have a look for the Glossy Ibis on the flood in the valley.  We found somewhere to park and walked back to the roadside footpath and there it was happily feeding around the lush margins with the Wigeon, Teal and Redshank.  Although it looked black, the mantle and underparts were already a rich mahogany brown and the wings were petrol sheened when looking through the scope.  Everything was put up by a passing Marsh Harrier but completely ignored the appearance of a Buzzard – avian threat assessment in practice.

Glossy Ibis - Andy Buck

It was a little early to head down to Garden Drove but as it was meant to be a pleasant, dry evening I thought it would be worth the early approach. Brent Geese grumbled out on the marsh and Pinkfeet skeins moved to and fro. By the time we were set up at the end it had started to go grey so I began with telling them about the bridge railing that the Pallid Harrier sometimes perches on prior to roost sometime after three.  I had not even raised my bins but Andy had lifted his camera and took a pic of the bridge upon which was already sat the 2nd year female Pallid.  Amazing.

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier - Andy Buck

Excellent views were had for the next 20 minutes as she sat there and watched the world go by with an occasional glance at the ground where something was obviously rustling away.  The face pattern was very distinct and the golden collar seemed to meet up at the back. A Marsh Harrier spooked her and she set off to hunt at just after two showing an already obviously full crop.  Three minutes latter and on her first twist and pounce she came up with a small rodent which was leisurely consumed before another period of relaxed digestion!

Another push from a Marsh Harrier and she decided that with a full belly she could go to bed early and avoid the incoming rain that was slowly obliterating the westerly view of Wells and Holkham.  We stuck it out a while longer but she only got up for a couple more minutes before heading back to the same spot and out of view and with nothing else but a few Marsh Harriers for our troubles and steadily heavier rain we decided to call it a day and slosh back up to the cars.

It had been a great day but the journey home in deteriorating weather was not pleasant.

1 comment: