Towards the end of January, over the spring tide period, I spent a few days on the north Norfolk coast and each morning visited RSPB Snettisham for the wader roost. arriving before dawn ready to photograph the birds at first light. Then later, refreshed by a late breakfast, I was spoilt for choice by the numerous other superb wildlife locations around the Hunstanton area.
The weather was poor; dank, dark, dismal and dull would describe it! But it was a good break which I much enjoyed.
The photograph above shows the knots at the RSPB reserve at Snettisham assembling into a large flock as the flood tide drives them from their feeding grounds in the mudflats of The Wash. The flooding sea can be seen in the background and the sandy beach is lit by the low dawn sun.
As the tide approaches high water, the knots come ashore to roost alongside the banks of the man-made freshwater lagoons formed from gravel pits close to the beach and where the birds gather in huge flocks to wait for the tide to ebb. From time to time they take off suddenly: sometimes it’s caused by a raptor overhead but on other occasions it appears seemingly without cause. Whatever the reason, the sight of so many birds moving in unison and the sound made by their synchronised wings provide an unforgettable wildlife experience.
When the tide begins to ebb and the mud is again uncovered, the knots begin to leave the gravel pits in order to return to their feeding grounds. They usually go in dribs and drabs with relatively small numbers leaving together, rather than lifting off all together as a single flock.
On one of the mornings as I left the beach area with the ebb tide well underway, I stopped to take the picture above which shows the mud being exposed by the regressing sea water, the small temporary rivers that result and with some of the birds that have left the pits beginning again to feed.
One of my favourite locations on the north Norfolk coast is the the small village of Brancaster Staithe a few miles east of Hunstanton along the A149 road. In times gone by a staithe was a small harbour or pier and essentially that is what you will find, with a yachting club and a working jetty. At low tide thick harbour mud is exposed. It contains large quantities of worms, crabs and other marine animals which are attractive to a wide range of wading birds. The staithe is a very popular location for visitors to enjoy a flask of tea and to watch the birds. In consequence the waders ignore all the comings and goings and they can be photographed with ease from the car window. The photograph above shows a little egret feeding in a small stream at Brancaster Staithe and below a blackmailed godwit with a chocolate coloured beak.
The land around Hunstanton is mainly a farming area and there are many birds which feed on the rich agricultural soil including the beautiful red-legged partridge shown below.
A little south and east of Hunstanton near to Fakenham the Hawk and Owl Trust nature reserve at Sculthorpe Moor is home to numerous raptors as well as woodland birds including the bullfinch which can be photographed high in the trees from an elevated hide as it comes to join a wide range of other species making good use of the bird feeders in the bad weather.
The north Norfolk coast is a great wildlife location which is often full of surprises. It rarely disappoints. I recommend it.