Thursday, 13 April 2017

9th April - Thornham Marsh and Holme Dunes NNR, Norfolk

A warm room, an open window and a village church in the near vicinity are not the ideal recipe for a good night's sleep.  The village church would announce the hour with the appropriate number of chimes, and then for good measure let you know the half hour with a single chime.  It is as a result of this that I know at 5.00 am there was a Tawny Owl calling very close to the window, and that after that the dawn chorus started with a Song Thrush taking the lead joined by Blackbirds, Robins through to a Stock Dove, and bizarrely a Moorhen.

Once finally up it was off to breakfast with a beautiful blue sky, plenty of sunshine, a slight chill in the air that you knew would soon go, and a freshening southerly wind.  After breakfast we set off from the hotel along the Norfolk coastal path, or the Peddars Way, in the direction of Holme Dunes.  As we left the village there were several male pheasants parading in a small water meadow on the edge of the buildings.

Initially the path winds its way through a reedbed and a hedgerow of Blackthorn that was all in full blossom, and producing some heady scent that was an attraction to the insects.  Our first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell drifted past us, an indication that the day was warming up.

Looking across the reedbed we could see the Thornham Coal Barn. The barn is a former warehouse and has been the subject of countless paintings over the years, situated at the water’s edge at Thornham Harbour it enjoys unrivaled and unique views. As we approached the barn a Swallow and my first House Martin of the year were flying around it, before the two together flew past us and continued their journey together westwards.  The hirundines are back and I can't resist the challenge once more

During the 18th century, the Norfolk coastline was notorious for smuggling when wool, tea, tobacco and alcohol were unloaded off the creeks at Thornham.  The barn then would have served as a warehouse for the contraband.  It is believed that the barn is now the last East Coast property of its kind to remain in private ownership and it was hoped to turn the building into an arts centre, but permission was refused.  Turning the barn into holiday accommodation is also a problem as for a few days of each year, high tides flood the harbour and lap around the barn.

The barn though has become an inspiration for artists and photographers, so I had to have my go.  My preference was for a black and white image, which for me highlights the bleakness of the surrounding marshes.

 I was also taken by the old boat hauled out on the side of the creek, again black and white providing the ideal media.

We were now out in the open, and walking on the top of the sea wall, a very high defence against the sea which this morning was a long way away from us, but by the signs of old vegetation on the bank does flood this area.

Above us there was the constant song of the Skylark, they seemed to be everywhere.  We scanned the skies at one point in an attempt to find the owner of one song, only to find that he wasn't delivering his song from the sky above us, but was sat in the middle of the field on top of a clump of grass singing.

The marsh was a collection of small and large creeks, and on the mud we could see the odd Redshank, and several pairs of Shelduck, their plumage standing out against the deep brown of the mud.

Despite the wind there were butterflies enjoying the sun in the sheltered parts of the sea wall.  Helen found this Green-veined White, the first of the year. 

 We were now much closer to the dunes,and as the path ran to the north, on our left, or to the west was an area of grazing marsh.  There was a distant group of geese grazing here, and as I scanned through what I thought were Greylag Geese, I realised that there were in amongst them at least ten Pink-footed Geese.

The heads of the Pink-foot appear much darker than the Greylag, and lack the orange bill, they are also slightly smaller and have a pinkish grey tone around the neck and belly.  In mid winter thousands of these geese cover the fields and skies, amazing to think these are probably the last to leave for the breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland.

As we reached the dunes we were greeted by yet more Skylarks, this time though singing in a more familiar place.

Down in the dunes it was quite warm, the cooling southerly wind now calmer in the shelter of the dune.  Looking to the south the marshes stretched out beyond Broad Water where two pairs of Avocet were feeding.  beyond the water to the west are the Firs.

The path took us through the dunes, and then past the Holme bird observatory owned by the Norfolk Ornithological Association.  An Orange Tip butterfly flew past us and of course did not stop.  From the dunes we entered The Firs, a strip of Scots Pine trees that act as a magnet to tired migrants arriving on the coast.  Unfortunately we didn't find any newly arrived birds, although we were informed of several that had passed over.  What we did find was a single Redpoll high in one of the pines along with several Goldfinches.

 In a shady area we disturbed another butterfly, this time a Speckled Wood and the first again for the year.

Amongst the calls of Black-headed Gulls coming from above us I heard once again the call of a Mediterranean Gull, and a pair flew over the clearing, again the brilliant white contrasting against the black head, and the deep blue sky.

We came out of the pine trees and into the Holme Dunes NNR, and after popping into the visitor centre headed to the hides looking out over the Broad Water.  The aspect again did not help good viewing, as when you are on north coast unfortunately there is always the chance that you have to look south, and when the sun is out this impairs that view.  We walked around the horse paddocks, checking for any migrants, from the hides there was little about, a few Teal, and Shoveler, while this pair of little Grebes were tucked away in the reeds.

Beyond the water there were pairs of Greylag Geese dotted about, and even a pair of Egyptian Geese. We didn't stay long and decided to head for the dunes, and the main path into the village of Holme.

Coming out of the hide I disturbed a Peacock butterfly that settled on the pussy willow flowers.

We walked through the dunes at the height of the sun, despite this there were bits and pieces about, several Meadow Pipits and Linnets could be seen in the scrub, and Helen found a male Wheatear, that decided to completely disappear when I tried to get close enough for a respectable photograph.  

Halfway along the path the dunes reduced and to the south of the path it was more Hawthorn and Blackthorn scrub, consequently there was more bird song.  A Willow Warbler proved elusive in the trees, with only brief glimpses, the song though unmistakeable.  A little further along there were two Blackcaps, and a pair of Stonechats that appeared on the bramble in front of us.

Then flew across in front of us for a better position.

We carried on towards Holme, and then actually into the village where we eventually arrived at the White Horse Pub.  After a break for refreshments we were off again, taking a footpath across a marsh, and then back through the dunes.

The path took us back to the area where we had seen the Wheatear earlier, and as luck would have it the Wheatear was back and feeding in the same place.  This time I took a distant photograph first.

Then made my way down the worn track to get closer.  It flew off but did not go too far and I was able to get some closer shots.  It couldn't see me this time.

Then it turned around to face me.

Then it was gone, and away over the back of the dune, probably where it went early when we saw it.

We walked on back towards the visitor centre, on the way we encountered another elusive Willow Warbler, and flushed a pair of Red-legged Partridges and a Brown Hare from the long grass.

After a stop for Ice Cream we started our way back through the pines, and then out onto the dunes and back to the sea wall.  As we passed Broad Water once again we found the two pairs of Avocets still feeding and a single Little Egret standing in the shallow water.

It was now very warm, but with a fresh breeze that had picked up through the afternoon.  We stopped at a bench and looked out over the marsh.

As we sat there four Sand Martins flew past us, and out on the mud there were several Shelduck, some standing, some feeding and some just sleeping.

When we finally set off again we had a view of Thornham village, and the church tower with the offending chiming clock.

It was then decision time because what could we do now.  We didn't want to spend too long in the hotel garden drinking, but did stop for one, then decided to walk out into the marsh.  The route took us through the village past several lovely houses that showed no sign of being used by locals.  A Chiffchaff sang from a dead branch as we walked past/

The walk through the marsh was a dead end, and followed one of the many creeks that litter the marsh.  When we reached the end of the path the sea was still a long long way away, but twice a day it makes its way along these creeks, and at one or two times a year floods the whole marsh.

On the beach we could see large gatherings of Gulls and Cormorants, and as we watched a large flock of Brent Geese flew past, with the wind farm in the background.

With only one way left to go we turned back, and took the path around the marsh rather than through the village.  As seems to be the case everywhere around here there was a pair of Avocets on the marsh close to the path.

Its mate was not too far away standing watch.

On the other side of the path was a large pond, where there was a couple of Mallards, and a pair of Tufted Duck.

All around us was the sound of the wind in the reeds, the long fronds moving together like waves.

Getting down low and using black and white they look equally impressive.

By now it was late enough, so we made our way back to the hotel, but did stop in the garden for a drink in the sunshine.  The weather was due to change tomorrow, so it was "make the most of it time".  Which we did, before retiring and then returning for dinner.  While it may have not been a spectacular day it was a thoroughly enjoyable one in what was very unexpected weather when  we booked this break.  Tomorrow will be cooler, much more like the seasonable weather we would have expected.

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