After a late meeting in Boston on Thursday, I decided to take Friday off and head over into Norfolk and spend the day wandering around some of the nature reserves that dot the coast. Having had a few holidays and long weekends in the area, I know the sites well along the north coast and planned to fit a few in during the course of the day.
After a couple of dawn visits to RSPB Snettisham in the past, with great spectacles of both dawn flight of pink-feet geese and the hide tide wader root, I had thought about getting up very early again. However, looking at the weather forecast and the stage of the moon cycle the night before, I decided a dawn visit would probably be less fruitful than my previous two, so I decided to have a bit of a lie-in instead. I eventually got to Snettisham at about 9am and as I headed out on the walk to the front, the dark, brooding cloud cover started to release icey snow, made more forceful by the strengthening breeze and rattling on the outside on my hood.
Passing the lakes on the way to the front, there were plenty of geese, ducks and lapwings, the latter occasionally lifting in large flocks spooked by a passing raptor. On getting to the front, I found the sea was out, revealing square miles of mud, and out on that mud were thousands of birds. Close to the shoreline were shelduck, curlew and a few redshank but out in the distance were masses of others including large groups of golden plover and knot. As the wind became stronger and the snow came down heavier, I turned and made my way back to the car, crunching on the pebbly shoreline as I went.
Next stop was RSPB Titchwell, seeing a few brown hares in the fields on the way. The weather had improved markedly by the time I got there and I headed straight out for the coast again. Stopping on the way, I talked to a group looking into the distance and had my first ever view of a water pipit and then (as usual) a very fleeting view of the electric-blue flash of a kingfisher as it darted past. At the front, I had another first ever view, this time of velvet scoters – all in a nice group very close to the short line. Further out was a much larger group of several thousand common scoter and I tried for ages to see long-tailed ducks and red-throated divers but to no avail. On my way back to the car, I had a nice view of a male and female marsh harrier playing in the wind – one didn’t look too happy with the other. There were also good-sized groups of brent geese busily coming in and out of the reserve making a change from the large number of pink-feet I usually see in the area but strangely missing on this particular day.
Onwards I went again and moved on to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Cley. The weather had drawn in again and the snow was coming down but I still decided to do the 3-mile walk around the reserve including out to the sea shore. With the weather proving troublesome, I didn’t see much wildlife on my way around but found the impact of previous poor weather was just as interesting. I haven’t been to north Norfolk since the storm surge of late 2013 and the impact is noticeable, with the high shingle bank now flattened and partially spread out onto the reserve behind it. Walking along the coast was hard-going in parts as a more recent storm surge had loosened the shingle. While there was no storm surge this time, the force of the sea was still clear to see with the waves crashing onto the shoreline and the wind buffeting me as I made my way west giving a bit of welcome assistance.
On return to the car, I decided on one last stop before heading for my digs for the night and I went off to Holkham. Parking on Lady Anne’s Drive, I walked along fields on the landward side of the woodland and went up to the hide. During my brief stop, I had great views of four marsh harriers floating in the strong winds as they prepared to come down at dusk. Back out into the weather again, I went to the beach but soon headed back inland as the wind strengthened again and down came more snow, starting to settle for the first time in the day. As I approached the car, the snow was starting crunch underfoot as it froze on the ground; the going becoming more slippery with every metre.
I drove on to Blakeney and the White Horse – a fine Adnam’s pub and hotel – which provided a comfy, warm room and lovely evening meal of local produce, all washed down with a few pints of their great beers. Before turning in, however, I had to go for another walk and went out into the darkened streets of the village. The snow had stopped and the wind had lessened, making it a nice, chilly late evening wander around the picturesque lanes of flint-faced cottages. As I reached the final waterfront of the day, I couldn’t see far out along the river and across the marshes but could still hear nature out there. One of my favourite calls of wild followed me back up the hill to the hotel – the evocative, enchanting, and to me, slightly melancholic call of the curlew.
The great thing about Norfolk, I find, is that no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always plenty of wildlife to see. Despite the slightly challenging weather of this short trip, I managed to see well over 50 species of bird and a few mammals. The good thing about visiting in winter, is that you can have large parts of the lovely place all to yourself. Norfolk simply has to be on the anyone’s list who has an interest in wildlife and great English countryside.