Birdwatching in Norfolk
by Dave Hawkins
Norfolk is the single best stretch of coastline in the UK from a birdwatcher's point of view. From Snettisham RSPB to Great Yarmouth beach, the miles of coastline is a birdwatching haven.
From the Snettisham RSPB reserve to Great Yarmouth beach, the 100 miles of coastline in Norfolk is scenically very beautiful and contains some of the finest nature reserves in the country.
The coastline contains some very valuable habitats including extensive areas of sand and shingle beaches, saltmarsh, reedbed and fresh, brackish and saline lagoons.
The Wash, which is the biggest estuary in the UK, is internationally important for large numbers of wintering birds because of its vast expanses of inter-tidal mudflats for feeding and safe roost sites.
Geographically, Norfolk sticks out into the North Sea towards Scandinavia. It is this position that ensures Norfolk gets a steady supply of migrating birds during the spring and autumn.
In the autumn especially, it is possible to see thousands of thrushes, finches and other birds making first landfall after their overnight flight across the North Sea at places such as Hunstanton.
It is this relative closeness to the continent, which ensures Norfolk gets more rare birds than any other county in the country.
Flock of Knots
Spring sees the departure of the winter wildfowl and waders and the arrival of the first birds from their wintering grounds in Africa. By mid-April, thousands of birds are pouring along the coast on their long journeys north.
Some of the waders such as grey plover are heading towards Siberia. Other birds such as black-tailed godwit and turnstone (now both in spectacular summer plumage) are heading in the opposite direction to Iceland and Greenland.
During the summer months, the breeding birds on the coast provide the main interest. At places such as Titchwell RSPB and Cley Marshes NWT, it is possible to see spectacular breeders such as avocet, bearded tit and marsh harrier.
In addition, there is always a chance of seeing bittern, one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds. Almost any section of saltmarsh holds a few breeding wildfowl and waders such as redshank while shingle areas provide breeding opportunities for ringed plover and oystercatchers.
There are a number of tern colonies along the coast notably at Blakeney Point NT reserve and Great Yarmouth beach.
Autumn is arguably the best time for a visit to the Norfolk coast. The last of the summer visitors are still lingering, birds are passing along the coast from the continent on their long journey south and the first of the wintering birds are arriving.
Migration is at its most visible and on some days the bushes and trees are literally dripping with birds freshly arrived from the continent. There are invariably a number of rarities around to spice things up a bit.
During winter, the coast plays host to good numbers of wildfowl, waders and gulls augmented by seaducks, divers and grebes. Two of the finest nature spectacles in the country occur in Norfolk in the winter months.
Norfolk plays host to 150,000 pink-footed geese from Iceland and Greenland. These geese roost each night at places such as Snettisham, Scolt head and Wells before flying out to feed each morning in the fields several miles inland.
The sight and sound of tens of thousands of geese flying low overhead as they leave their roost in the pink light of a Norfolk dawn is truly unbeatable.
In addition, the vast intertidal mudflats at Snettisham RSPB provide a rich food source for tens of thousands of waders during the winter. At high tide, the mudflats are covered and it is then that huge wheeling flocks of knot form as they search for somewhere safe to land until the tide goes out.
These huge flocks can often be seen packed like sardines just yards in front of the bird hide at Snettisham RSPB.Picture credit: Chris Gomersall, RSPB.
last updated: 19/05/2008 at 12:07