On Thursday the forecast was for a storm surge that would send very high tides along the east coast and the north Norfolk coast. I was aware that Snettisham would be closed until Saturday morning, but no one really expected to see what actually happened. We set off early on Friday, and arrived at Titchwell around 9.30 to be greeted with the news that the tide had washed away all the dunes on the beach, and that the sea had just failed to breech the walls surrounding the freshwater pools. The reserve was only open as far as the Island Hide, and clearing up work would maybe allow the reserve to fully open later. Snettisham had fared much worse though, the sea wall had been breeched, and the Roost Hide was completely gone, nobody could find it, and another hide had been turned upside down. Snettisham was to be closed for the foreseeable future.
We decided to walk around the autumn trail first, it was clear and cold with still a brisk northerly wind blowing. There was very little about and no calling birds. For my first time ever at Titchwell I could see the sea from the reserve, in the past the dunes hid the breaking waves of the sea, but now there they were in full glory, the white breakers clear against the dark grey blue of the water. As we looked at the sea, a Marsh Harrier came into view, probably scavenging for anything that had drowned in the flooding, it must have been considerable
We walked back to the main west bank path, and walked to the Island Hide. On the top of the bank, which must have been about two metres high there was weed, and the odd bucket and plastic bottle, deposited there as the tide receded, the whole marsh to the west must have been one big lake.
In the hide we settled down to watch the wildfowl returning to the freshwater pool. We could see Teal and Shoveler and in the distance was a large flock of Wigeon. Brent were also dropping in and there was also a steady movement of Greylag Geese. As they flew low over the water the weak December sun appeared to make them glow as they flew over.
The hide faced east, and the sun was shining in through the viewing holes, and providing a little warmth now that we were away from the fresh breeze. The seed heads of the reeds were back lit by the sun, and looked like golden feathers standing upright.
The ducks and geese were coming and going and would fly low towards us, providing the ideal opportunity to capture them in flight. First were the Brent Geese.
Then a flock of Wigeon came over but just a little higher. When you see them on the water they do not appear to have a tail, but in flight it is very pronounced as a point.
The Island hide always seems to be distant from the birds, but every so often a pair of Teal would swim by. This pair came past us and into the shimmering and sparkling water created by the low sun.
We noticed that people were walking beyond the hide along the west bank, and heading along the path to the new hides. The clean up work had progressed well, so we decided to head on and try our luck in the new hides. As we walked along the bank this male Shoveler was preening and it provided a view of its spatula shaped bill as it scratched its chin.
The new hide on the freshwater pool is probably the "creme de la creme" of hides, space lovely windows and seats and none of the feeling of a confined space. The one problem though is it faces south, and at this time of year on a sunny day it is difficult to see anything but dark shapes. Consequently you are looking to the side, or just in front of you hoping that there is something to see.
Fortunately there was a group of Teal feeding by the edge of the water, their heads and speculum changing colour as they moved and the sunshine caught the feathers at different angles.
They were quickly joined buy a small group of Wigeon. From a distance the Wigeon looks like a grey body framed with black and white, and a brown head. But up close that impression changes. The grey is made up with a series of wavy black lines on a white background. These are vermiculations after the Latin name for a worm, mainly because they resemble the wavy pattern of a worm's trail. The brown head is a deep red chestnut, with a stripe yellow ochre that could have been put there with a paintbrush. The breast is incredible, what colour is it - pink? Not really, but then its not orange either.
This drake swam around with it's ducks in tow.
Then finally found a shallow patch and stood there to enjoy the midday sunshine.
There are two birds I tell myself I must resist in photographing, one I failed with already today, and as of yet I had not seen a Little Egret. But another male Shoveler swam past the hide quite close, and I couldn't resist any more.
After coffee we popped into saltwater hide, there wasn't much about, and as the path the beach was now open we decided to head there. On the mud as we walked along the path was a Bar-tailed Godwit. It makes a change to see these as opposed to their cousins the Black-tailed which are more common down where we are. The bill is not so up turned and there is no black tail, but it is when they fly and there is no white wing patch that you realise how different they are.
The light was also making the mud appear very cold.
We walked down a very muddy path to the beach. There had been a boardwalk through the dunes, but this was now totally destroyed, and in fact there was now no real need for one as there were no dunes. All that was left was patches of Marram grass that was still rooted into the sand, and the sea had not been able to move. This is looking west, the wooden stakes you can see in the foreground are the remains of a sea watching platform. Away in the distance you can see a person standing by a dune, this gives an indication of how much sand has been removed.
We walked along the beach, stopping to check flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet for anything a little rarer. we couldn't find anything, and by now it was very cold so we decided to head back to the hides and another coffee.
Back on the saltwater marsh, the godwit had been joined by a Grey Plover.
And a little further on there was a Spotted Redshank feeding very energetically in the water still remaining in one of the channels. Again the light gives both the mud and the water a blueish haze, emphasising the cold.
Back in the hide the light hadn't improved very much, and you were still looking at the dark shapes, but they also added a little atmosphere to some of the scenes. This Bar-tailed Godwit silhouetted as it preened by the edge of one of the islands.
While these sleeping Teal have a silvery look to them caused by the grey clouds and weak winter sun.
There was a sandy bar in front of us, and there was a group of Pintail at sleep. A few though were a little more active, but always distant which was very frustrating as this is a lovely duck with the males white flash in the chocolate brown head distinctive.
In amongst the Pintail was a small group of Avocet. These three were a little more adventurous, and moved away from the sand to feed in the shallow water.
A drake Teal swam close past the hide window, again an opportunity not to miss.
The grey of the Teal's flanks turns out to be just like the Wigeon's, wavy black vermiculations.
We decided to make our way back to the car, the sun was now beginning to drop, and we wanted to see if we could find a spot to watch the geese heading off to their overnight roost. As we came out of the hide and turned onto the west bank again the Spotted Redshank was feeding in exactly the same spot as we had seen and photographed it in February.
Walking along the path towards the visitor centre I noticed a small thrush sized bird flying low at speed, it looked different and when I managed to get on it I could see it was a Merlin. It sped though upsetting a few Teal, and then out over the reed bed.
On the other side of the path two Marsh Harrier drifted above the reeds, their wings held in a "V", and as they did they would rock from side to side as the watched the ground and reeds below them.
We were advised to drive to Cholsey Barns, a short distance from Titchwell, here we could sit and wait and the geese should head over us towards their roost in the Wash. We found the site quite quickly, the fields around us were dotted with coveys of Red-legged and Grey Partridges, and as we sat watching the sky you could hear them calling along with pheasants.
We waited and it got gloomier, and gloomier. The partridges became dots, but other shapes emerged too. Larger ones lopping across the field, these were Hares, and when one suddenly turned and scampered off I scanned the sky and picked up a large falcon, it could only have been a Peregrine zipping across the field, no real threat to the Hare, but probably one to the Partridges if the they panic and fly.
The Peregrine continued away to the south. I could see small flocks of geese in the distance, but nothing over us. A Hare came onto the road, and lopped past the car on Helen's side and then off into the field behind us. Finally Iheard Pink-footed Geese calling and looking up I saw six flying just below the cloud. "Six? Only six!" was what the barmaid said when we told her in the evening, so it would seem we were sent on a wild goose chase! But then we did manage to see Peregrine, and Hare up close so not all was lost.