After being given a SatNav for Christmas, I thought it would be good to give it a go on this trip to Norfolk, seeing as I'd be heading for Wells-Next-The-Sea initially, instead of Snettisham like last time. What a great little device - most impressed with its estimated time of arrival, though that changed when I missed a turn. Informing me that I was a dork, it recalculated, and took me down what seemed to be a dirt track, with grass up the centre. I now see why truckers get stuck, but fair play, it brought me back to the main route again, and I arrived in Wells in good time.
Upon arriving at the B&B, I found the room wasn't ready (they were fitting a radiator to the wall), so I took the keys and set the SatNav for Cley Marshes. The coast road was like a marsh itself, with numerous puddles and flooded areas, and the sky didn't fill me with hope of a good day. Gloomy, to say the least.
Paying my £4 (yet another reserve that charges "Non-local" Wildlife Trust Members for access) I wandered off along the boardwalks to the hides. On the stream at the edge of the marshes were coots and moorhens, and on the banks a couple of mute swans. At the end of the walk, were 3 hides, the first of which I chose turned out to be empty. Opening the hatch to look out, I could see why. Just a pair of teals mooching about in the reeds nearby, and not a lot else! The next hide was even worse, with some more teal and a flock of wigeon (miles away). Great. The last hide did give me something to photo albeit somewhat grey and dull - a godwit, though I still haven't worked out how to tell which one yet... I've guessed on my gallery - let me know if I'm wrong!
Back down the walkways, a lone stonechat caught my attention, but he wouldn't stay anywhere near close enough, and wasn't headed in my direction either. I had decided to head to the East Bank, after a friend (Max) suggested it might be a good spot for bearded tits. As it happened, it was a good spot to see a kingfisher disappearing at high speed, a redshank and a few geese, but not much else sadly. It was even gloomier by now, and I couldn't be bothered with distant pics that'd just end up in the recycle bin.
The beach proved to be a bit more interesting, with a diver just off the shore, and a little egret by one of the pools. The fields were also covered with large flocks of golden plover, but as before (at Belvide) they could only provide a distant shot.
Walking back to the carpark, I did see some of the first flocks returning from the fields, and what a sight they are. Amazing sound off them too. Anyway, back to Wells. Where in the carpark I bumped into Keith and Mark, two of my buddies off the internet, and the main reason why I'd come to Norfolk... for a photography meeting over the weekend. Wanting to settle in, Keith and I opted to go our separate ways until early evening when we'd agreed to find a pub for a bite to eat.
Thanks to Kay, I headed to the front of Wells, and then right, towards the Marshes. It was late in the day, but despite this, I took the opportunity of photo-ing a grey plover (I think!) on the mud, and also a redshank and what turned out to be a ringed plover, though it was a bit distant. Picking my way past the mud (and the rest, it's a popular dog-walkers area), I soon found myself at the edge of fields and marshes.
Then something white caught my eye. A barn owl!! Fantastic. Miles away, but still, something I'd hoped to see on the trip. Following it as best I could, I thought I'd spotted another one. Bins out, and oh the joy. A male hen harrier. Going like a bat out of hell, but all the same, a first for me. And what a fine looking bird. Shame it was so far off and so dark - pictures were blurred and could at a stretch be classed as "record" shots.
After a few minutes, the barnie had out-run me, and I opted to head back to the B&B. Not a bad end to what seemed like a dull day.
Saturday 17th January: Salthouse Gathering
An early rise, early enough to have to request a special breakfast time, Keith and I headed over to Salthouse beach, to meet up with the others. It seemed okay as we drove along, though some of the clouds inland didn't look great... and as we arrived, so did they, with rain. I have to say, despite the pouring rain, winds and cold, the jokes and spirit of us all, nattering about plans and possible places to go, kept us going and after about 90 mins, the rain eased and we spotted some blue sky.
Across from the car park was a flat area with some small ponds, and we headed there for some pics, hoping that we'd see some buntings. Flocks of turnstone scurried round, seemingly attracted to Keith, but close enough for us all to photo. There were also teal, black-headed gulls and buntings. Snow buntings, mainly female ones, but attractive little birds nonetheless. So a photography weekend with some photography, at last!
A portion of Wells chips later, we all met up at Holkham, for a look at the lakes and the famous pines. The area was supposed to be good for barn and short-eared owls, but alas all we saw was a kestrel hovering over the reeds. Geese however, made for the main attraction, as we watched (and listened to) huge flocks filling the sky, as they came in to roost. The light eventually faded and we headed back to Wells for some more ale and food (from the Globe), where I'd got a taste for the Wherry. Wherry nice indeed.
At this point I feel I need to describe my B&B room. A single. At best you could call it that. Broom cupboard might be better. Floorspace - enough for 3 single beds, maybe. Certainly not enough room to swing a cat, even a Manx. And for this reason, I managed to cause myself some extreme pain. Climbing out of my bed for a midnight tinkle, the Wherry had caused me to forget about the case in the middle of the vast floorspace, and yes, I managed to crack my toe into the hardest part of it, the wheel. I can feel it twingeing now, as I type. That lead to me limping for most of Sunday... and the drive home wasn't pleasant either. Anyway, on to Sunday's events.
Sunday 18th January: Barn Owls and Back
The early bird catches the worm, or in our case, the early riser catches the barn owl. Those of us left (a few could only come for the Saturday), met up at a layby near Burnham Overy. A lovely spot, with a bridge over a small river, a mill and a windmill at the top of a small hill. More interestly though, the fields were hunting grounds for barn owls, and we didn't have to wait long to see any. While they never gifted us any real close shots (unlike the one we accidentally scared off a wall in Holkham on the way there, much to our annoyance...) we watched them hunting and flying around at some speed at times. Tracking them to another field, their fine colours were lit up by the early morning sunshine. Wonderful birds, and what will I'm sure, encourage me to return to Nolfolk again and again.
Moving on, we headed to Brancaster harbour, where quite a few drivers had also aimed for, parking as near the muddy edge as they dared, to photo waders and gulls alike. Great light, but the locals said there wasn't much about, even less when a bird of prey spooked them all into panicked flight. Thornham harbour was even more devoid of bird life, so we decided to try RSPB Titchwell Marsh for a look.
According to one chap leaving the carpark, a woodcock was "showing well" from one of the boardwalks behind the visitor centre. Could we see it? Could we heck. Masters of camo, and too good for us. Oh well, we'd try the beach for waders. A long walk, when your toe feels like it wants to explode.
Sanderlings. A small flock on the water's edge and they soon buzzed off. That was it. Titchwell had disappointed me again. More so when Keith informed me that he'd just seen a bearded tit (male), which is one of the birds I'd really hoped to see. He did try to call me, but the buzz of the phone failed to be felt through the 10 layers of clothes I was wearing. Damn. The lure of Salthouse again called, though not enough for Paul who opted to head back home. Back to Salthouse for the buntings and possible glaucous gull. A not too healthy one, according to reports, and a not too visible one either, as we managed to dip on it! Oh well, more photos of turnstones, buntings, black-headed and a common gull. Nothing to sniff at. Gulls - I'm concerned that my lifelong lack of interest is starting to change. I found the common gull to be something really worth photo-ing.
Buntings came and went, mainly over to Nigel Blake, whose food on offer must have been better than our seed, and eventually Keith and I had had our fill of such photos, and wanted something else. Saying farewell to Pete & Mark, we left Salthouse behind. Maybe we'd get lucky with the barnies again. Worth a punt.
What we should have done, is stopped on the way back to Burnham, and photographed the immense sky-blackening flocks of geese. Incredible sight and sound as they swarmed overhead. Certainly would have made for a better shot than the empty fields we arrived at.
With the sun disappearing, and the prospect of a 3 hour drive back home, I dropped Keith back at the B&B, dug out the SatNav, and set the target for home.
Despite the gloomy start and at times the lack of birds, it had turned out to be a good weekend, and it was great to get to know some of the names off of the internet, face-to-face. And, it has given me a good deal of knowledge about places to go, the next time I head east.