We spent last week about as far east as it’s possible to get from our home in South Wales without leaving the UK. Our destination was the north Norfolk coast, somewhere I used to holiday regularly as a child but a place I haven’t been to for at least fifteen years. From those early days I can still clearly remember walking out to the beach through the RSPB reserve at Titchwell, watching the huge wader roost at Snettisham and marvelling at the towering trees on the Sandringham estate. People always say that memories can be rose tinted and it is true that those holidays had their fair share of wind and rain, conditions that seem to be exasperated by the flat nature of the East Anglian landscape.
Fortunately for us our holiday bettered every single one of my memories. Despite not really trying we managed to see 106 species of bird as well as Seals, a Porpoise and Brown Hares. The headline figures disguise a wealth of special moments though that are far too numerous to put down in writing here without churning out something approaching novel length proportions. We had the obvious highs of seeing rarities including Jack Snipe, Yellow-Browed Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Spoonbill and Slavonian Grebe, but for me it was the more common wildlife that really brought a smile to my face. Finding a field full of Red-legged Partridge on the first evening sticks out in particular, as although locally common in Norfolk they are almost non-existent back home. Watching them run around could have kept me amused for hours. I also managed to finally see a Barn Owl (four in fact!) and Marsh Harriers, six of which were hunting together late one evening at Titchwell. Sticking with birds of prey I have to mention the male Hen Harrier that we watched making idle attempts at catching a Starling during their evening murmurations. Then of course there were the huge flocks of Golden Plover and Geese, Bearded Tits, dabbling Teal, the overhead migration of Redwings and Fieldfares, the night we stumbled across a couple of Grey Partridges and being surrounded by feeding Sanderlings. And that’s not even scratching the surface.
We knew we were in for some good times as soon as we stepped out of the car at Wells just after arrival. Walking to the edge of the estuary we were immediately treated to hundreds of Brent Geese, Bar and Black Tailed Godwits, Turnstones, Grey and Golden Plovers, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers. The Brent Geese were a particular treat and were a daily feature either in the air above us or feeding in fields alongside the roads and paths. They were relatively wary of people and the bright sunshine (yes we had a remarkable week of sun) was not particularly conducive to photographing black birds but I got a few photos that I am relatively happy with.
Wells itself is a pretty remarkable place and well worth a visit. The combination of restored warehouses and historic high street lend the place a charm that is often missing from seaside developments. The large masted ship in the photo below is actually operated as a cafe, a great idea that means the quay remains an essence of what it must have looked like in its trading heyday.
The local gulls were very friendly as well with the Black Headed’s having learned to beg for food whenever they sensed that a sandwich was in the offing.
One of our favourite evening locations was Lady Anne’s Drive on the Holkham estate, the location of the fantastic Grey Partridges that I mentioned above. On reflection I think that they rank as my highlight of the holiday, mainly because they were such an unexpected sight. In truth I had actually forgotten that they even existed it had been so long since I had seen any sort of Partridge species. Our first time there fortunately coincided with a two hundred strong flock of Pink Footed Geese feeding on just the other side of a wire fence. A banging door (not mine I might add) briefly startled them into the air allowing me to get a cracking flight shot lit by the setting sun.
Talking of a setting sun we were treated to one of the best ‘land’ sunsets I have ever witnessed that same evening.
Another great place to watch the sun go down was at RSPB Titchwell, easily the best nature reserve I have ever visited. We spent three evenings there, the highlight of which was watching six Marsh Harriers and a pair of Barn Owls hunting over the reeds. A dusk visit to Cley also comes close with a Bittern flying along the path in front of us, a Slavonian Grebe out on the sea and a single Avocet snoozing in one of the brackish pools. A Grey Heron fishing in the failing light captures the atmosphere of those evenings pefectly.
I’ll leave you with the only photo I managed to get of the Red-legged Partridges. As a consequence of being regularly hunted they are particularly skittish when approached so this is as close as I was able to get. Pulling back does have its advantages though as it meant I was really able to capture them in their natural environment.
Stay tuned for the second part of our Norfolk adventure.