As we walked north to the sea and across the shingle a large flock of Linnet raised from the marshy pools. I couldn’t see anything among them until they got up a second time. The unmistakable white wings disclosed a Snow Bunting. Out away across the fields it flew. Later we stumbled upon a flock of 13 sat peacefully pecking the sparse vegetation and shuffling their way first up and then down the shingle slope. Standing out like a beacon was this white male in his winter garb.
It’s that time of year again. The Grey Seals have started to pup their way through the winter. The beaches around Norfolk are now starting to fill with creamy white young seals that will quickly fatten to become the round balls of fur that all too soon become independent from their mothers.
This pup was one of many on one stretch of beach at the weekend. Having just been born I think his mum was just a tad unsure of what had just happened!
Well, it wasn’t a North African dry arid semi-desert but Gorleston promenade was about as close as you can get to it in Norfolk. The Desert Wheatear that visited us mid November chose a mild Southerly wind to travel north and find favour among the grass verges and beaches of our seaside town.
Desert Wheatears are not super rare. They tend to turn up most years, but they always mark the end of migration for me. OK we’ll get the odd very late bird winging it’s way in but the arrival of a Desert Wheatear marks the beginning of the winter drought of migrants. Our only chance now of something pretty good is an unusual weather event. A harsh cold depression over Russia spurring movement from the continent perhaps or something riding on the back of a strong southerly mild wind. Who knows? There may even be something special already lurking in Holkham Pines … waiting to be discovered.
The Pilot Whales after heading off east from Norfolk last Monday tried the continent for approval. Seen off the coast of Belgium on Friday they then zigzagged their way back west and were seen yesterday off the Isles of Grain in the Medway (per RBA). The British Divers Marine Mammal Rescue were again put on alert but as yet, fortunately, there’s no sign of them stranding.
It’s always difficult with these deep water species to know what they are doing here but the late autumn spawning Herring may be a factor. Pilot Whales will eat Herring as a substitute for their preferred diet of squid.
It seems ‘lost’ whales travelling down from the Arctic have an instinct to move west into where they think the open water of the Atlantic should be. Of course if they are on our East coast this can have dire consequences. The lure of the Wash and The Thames are often their downfall. I always feel with potential ‘strandable’ whales on the east coast that if they make it around ‘the toe’ of Kent they’ll maybe be ok. I hope so.
Sanderlings don’t usually like getting their feet wet. They often scuttle up the beach away from approaching waves. However this individual that landed in front of us one sunlit evening on tour last week was more than happy to soak his legs in the water as he ran along the sand.
Norfolk is rapidly turning into ‘the place’ to see cetaceans at the moment.
I received a call from Steve Gantlett at Cley on Monday morning. He had seen what he thought were 10 Pilot Whales off Cley at East Bank. I believe his wife Sue originally found them. After a short discussion about ID it became obvious his identification was correct. The sighting was confirmed to me by Paul Lee. Thanks Guys.
Good friend Bob and I didn’t arrive until around 2pm and opted to visit Weybourne as Steve had said the animals were moving very slowly East. Thankfully the animals were still offshore to the west of Weybourne and I could confirm they were predictably Long finned rather than the Short finned species of more tropical climes. My elation turned to disappointment when I saw that the animals were in a state of confusion. They had obviously come down from the north and hit the east west coast of Norfolk and didn’t know which way to turn. There were more than 10, indeed the calming sea revealed the pod numbered roughly 25 and many were spy hopping and breathing rapidly obviously trying to work out which way to turn. This species has a history of stranding. I telephoned British Divers Marine Life Rescue to put them on alert just in case. They were already aware of the situation having followed events on social media. I then telephoned Sharon, my other half, to warn her we could be in for a long night if the pod beached and asked her to bring our marine mammal medic grab bags and manuals.
It was around 4 o’clock when the sun made a last effort below a strip of cloud on the horizon and it was as if this was a cue for enlightenment; as if the wales finally understood where they were. They moved off strongly east and passed us 800m offshore. They were no longer bunched up and this gave me the opportunity to do an accurate count of 23 animals as they passed. It was a moment of relief and I could now enjoy the first sighting of live Long finned Pilot Whales in Norfolk.
There have been several records previously in Norfolk but all of dead animals: see the following record at www.norfolkcetaceans.wordpress.com
Long finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas
1982 25th November Eccles measuring 9 feet long
1982 22nd December Stiffkey measuring 12 feet long
1983 13th February Holkham
1983 13th February Scolt Head measuring 16 feet long
1992 13th December a 5.75m long male found dead on Scolt Head Island
2008 5th September a reported sighting on Birdline East Anglia was never qualified.