Friday, 13 December 2013

7th December - Titchwell & Holkham, North Norfolk

With Snettisham closed we resisted the early rise to see the geese, and instead enjoyed a good breakfast, after which we headed back to Titchwell.  The high tide was mid morning and we wanted to see if it breeched the walls again.  We also wanted to walk along the beach to see the state of the damage towards Thornham Point, there might also be some Snow Bunting about.  Despite a cloudy forecast, the morning was sunny, a little warmer and with less breeze.

At the visitor centre the feeders were very busy, but the Goldfinches were still interested in the seeds in the Alders surrounding the feeding station.

We walked around the meadow trail again, stopping by the dragonfly pool to watch the reflections in the water.  Black-headed Gulls were flying over, and you could see the reflections in the water as white ripples against the reflected blue of the sky.

We were going straight to the beach, and missing out the hides to start with, but as we passed the saltwater pools a male Shoveler sat there begging me to take its picture, and I was just a sucker for it!

Cloud was hanging over the sea to the west, and with the morning sun it enhanced the dramatic scenes of the sea's devastation.  The sky looking dark and menacing, while what was left of the dunes were bathed in golden light.

The tide was falling but there was still some life in the waves as we walked along the beach.

As the tide was falling it was revealing beds of razor clams, and these were attracting the gulls and many Oystercatchers, however if you looked a little closer there were other waders feeding amongst the broken shells.  

A Grey Plover

And a Sanderling, they would run like little clockwork toys as the waves broke and the sea rushed up the beach covering up where they were feeding

Looking back down the beach the clouds and sun was producing a dramatic scene, you can also get more detail on the impact the tide surge had on the dunes.  The vegetation you can see is marram grass still rooted in the sand.

We walked around to Thornham Point.  In the main channel a Red-breasted Merganser flew past us, but other than that it was quiet.  We came across a sign attached still to its post, the sign was from Holme NNR which was about five miles west from where we were.  It was a reserve sign for Raggy Marsh with the warning to keep off the dunes.  The sea must have ripped it out and deposited it here on the marsh.  You can just see the Holme Pines in the distance.

As I was taking the photograph I noticed two birds drop down into the tide line, and as we turned to walk back we disturbed them.  As they flew up the white in the wing was visible, and there was no mistaking Snow Bunting.

They flew off, but we found them again on the beach this time.

A little further on along the beach and a flock of small birds were heading for us, as they got closer the white was visible again.  As they passed by I counted 30 Snow Bunting, you can just see the white in this picture.

Attention now turned to the waders on the tide line, more and more razor clams were being revealed and there were now plenty of different species working there way through them.  Every so often the call of a Curlew could be heard, distinctive and evoking the sound of the wild.

There was a constant passage of Oystercatchers along the shore, but there was also a good build up of Bar-tailed Godwits.  They would use the wet sand, probing with their bills deep into the sand.  I watched one bird really digging deep, only for another to walk up to it and shoulder charge it out of the way, and take over digging.

They presented a lovely opportunity to get some good portrait shots.

Like the Oystercatchers the godwits would fly along the beach, and would come quite close.  Here you can see the lack of wing bar, and the barring on the tail taht gives them their name.

I couldn't leave out an Oystercatcher in flight.

When you look out to sea there is one dominating sight, wind farms!  They line the horizon from almost everywhere along the north Norfolk coast.  I can't make my mind up whether it is an impressive sight or just an eye sore.

The cloud was building up, and as is the case on a December day the sun was low and weak, and once covered by the cloud it starts to get gloomy again.  Here you can see again the remains of the dunes.

Turnstones had now turned up to feed in the razor clam beds, they joined the Sanderling that had been there for a while.  The Turnstones are a little more drabber in their winter plumage but remain an impressive looking bird none the less.

Sanderling, one with coloured rings.

Despite it being a little warmer it was time for a warm up and coffee, so we headed to the hides for a sit down and good "cuppa".  The Pintail were a little more confiding today, and with the sun behind the clouds photography was a little easier.

I watched a Snipe drop in, and then proceed to feed in the open quite close to the hide.

Normally a secretive bird, it was nice to get the chance to see one in the open.  

In the middle of the pool I noticed a group of waders, and on closer inspection could see that they were Ruff.  Slightly larger than a Redshank, but with a smaller beak, they stood in the shallow water.  Without really noticing it, their numbers increased.  In the end I counted 37.

Another wader to drop in was the Golden Plover, but we watched them arrive with groups of around 30 dropping out of the sky and ending up on one of the islands.

Once down they started to bathe in the water, splashing water over all those close by.

By now we had about exhausted the opportunities at Titchwell, and decided to move on, to where we were not sure, but we headed back towards the visitor centre.  Halfway along the bank there was a couple staring with binoculars into the reeds.  We stopped and casually asked what they were looking at, and they said there is a male Bearded Reedling in the reeds.  Expecting to have a distant view I scanned, only to be told it was close to us, and it was!

We could see it through the reeds pulling the seed heads apart, it was difficult to get a clear shot, but as if it must have realised, it gradually made its way to the top of the reed, and perched out in the open giving some wonderful views.

Then with a "ping" it was off across the reeds giving the views I usually see.  We carried on, a little elated to the visitor centre where we were told the place to see the geese in the evening is Holkham, and Lady Anne's Drive, so off we went.

The last time we had been here was full of wonderful memories, and visiting here today was going to lay some of those ghosts.  It was a beautiful winter's afternoon, just like six years ago it was a beautiful summer's day.  We walked along the boardwalk to the beach, and as we came through the pines, we were confronted with the all to familiar sight this weekend of the beach and dunes ravaged by the sea.

 We decided to walk around the outside instead of crossing the muddy beach.  A Rock Pipit stood in one of the pools lit up in the golden afternoon sun.

Once again the cloud over sea was contrasting with what was left of the sun lit dunes.

 There were very few birds about, the odd pipit would call, and a few Brent Geese were in the middle of the marsh.  This Black-headed Gull stood head on into the wind.

The light was incredible an continued to produce some stunning scenery all around us

Although the large dunes had been damaged there were signs all around of how in time they will build back once again.

We never made it to the sea which was a pity, but the memory was there of that August day in the warm sunshine.  She loved a beach, and this is an amazing one.

Heading back skeins of Pink-footed Geese were flying over the pines and you could hear them calling behind the trees in the fields. 

There was still enough light on the beach for one final performance lighting up the pools and dunes

And the pines that hopefully have survived the saltwater surge

We walked back to the car park, the sun was now setting fast,and hopefully the main event would not let us down this evening.  A ditch alongside the field looked quite impressive with the reflection of the evening sky

The Pink-foots were around us, and small groups continued to land in the fields close by to feed.

Gradually larger flocks began to appear and drift over us and on into the fields to the west of us

 Some would come right over our heads in a classic "V" formation, their wings and bodies being lit up by the last of the sun's rays

Other birds were not to be left out, Curlew called from the fields, and there was a large flock of Wigeon grazing not far away, their whistles punctuating the calls of the geese above us.  A large flock of Lapwing took off from amongst the geese, and flew around.  The golden light of the sun picked out the white in their chests and characteristic broad rounded wings.

As the sun sank lower, the sky became a kaleidoscope of yellows, orange and red, the geese silhouetted against it as they flew away to the west

 I turned around and Helen had gone, then I heard her call.  Apparently she had seen what she thought was a Barn Owl, and had gone to investigate.  When she got there it was sitting on a post, but by the time I arrived it was off hunting over the long grass, and away into the distance.

We watched two quartering the reeds and long grass, but at a distance unfortunately.  We waited to see if they would make their way back but they didn't.  Although I only had distant views at least Helen had gotten the chance of a good view, and it was an excellent find.

The Geese continued to fly over, now in huge numbers.

The Pink-footed Geese winter around the north of Norfolk in thousands, they head out of their roosts on the wash or around the bay at Wells and Blakney to the surrounding fields to feed.  On nights when the moon is full they don't return to roost, but continue to feed in the fields.  Fortunately tonight was not a full moon, and the geese were performing.

The sky continued to change colour, never being the same for very long, in flight the geese were black shapes against the sky, but very unmistakeable;e shapes.

Rather than head off to roost they continued to feed in the half light, and you could see them dropping from the sky to land with their legs down like an aircraft's undercarriage, their bodies "wiffling" as it is known so they can reduce their speed before landing.

There was a moon, and looking down the drive it was there above the trees in the pinks and indigo of the sky.

It was now very dark but we could just make out the skeins heading off to the west, and geese still feeding in the fields.

We decided to head back, and started along the coast road towards Burnham.  A little way along Helen pointed out geese coming over the fields.  Suddenly a few became a huge amount, and fortunately I was able to pull over.  It was dark and when we got out of the car all we could hear was the calls of the geese, then gradually our eyes adjusted, and above the sky was completely full of streams of geese like toad spawn across the sky.  I have never seen so many, and did not want to reach for a camera for fear of missing this amazing sight.  To be truthful any photograph would not have done the experience justice.

We watched as they headed towards Blakney Point, the sky full of the calls of these truly wild geese.  Another of those experiences we will remember for the rest of our lives, and finally what we had come to see.  How did we miss them yesterday?

A little further on a Windmill provided the perfect final shot against the wonderful sunset sky.

 Not to be out done though a skein of geese came over just as I was getting back into the car.  It is grainy but it shows what they look like, you just have to imagine thousands more all at the same time - Incredible

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