Posts Tagged ‘Cley


Water, water everywhere

Sat in the hide with friends Bob and Bill this week we had independently decided to see if we could see the Water Pipits that had been kicking around Cley for the last few weeks. It was good to be out birding with them both. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an honest days birding together and the next couple of hours reminded me of how good it is to be in their company. I must admit I was paying attention to a 1st cycle Mediterranean Gull in the distance that Bob picked out when the lady sat in front of me asked me what the bird was right in front of the hide.

I was delighted to tell her it was a Water Pipit. Not a particularly well marked bird but nevertheless a Water Pipit. Feeding along the edge of the scrape the bird was working the muddy edge for a morsel or two. It didn’t stop long; but long enough for a shot or two.


Science Week Walk

Yesterday I hosted a walk around the perimeter of Cley Marshes. The walk was just one of the events for Norwich Science Week. It was well attended by a variety of guests of varying ages; however they all exhibited somethings in common. Enthusiasm and a keen urge to learn.

We discovered Winter visitors that use the area, we discussed the migration that got them there and we steeped ourselves in the history of the North Norfolk coast. We explored how the ice age shaped the landscape and how our birds use it to feed, migrate through and over-winter. We discussed how the NWT (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) was begat from the womb of the NNNS (Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society) some seventy odd years ago with a specific aim of purchasing the marshes and we talked of some of the local characters that shaped bird watching today!

The birds put on a good show with a singing Cetti’s Warbler, a stooping Peregrine, Marsh Harriers a plenty and a Red throated Diver that did everything but come out of the sea onto the beach. A flock of wintering Snow Buntings gave us a flypast as did a small flock of Bewick’s Swans and out on Arnold’s Marsh were a variety of Duck and Waders; including the over wintering Long-billed Dowitcher.

Arnold’s Marsh is named after Edward Carleton Arnold. A headmaster from Eastbourne who was no stranger to the Cley area in the early 1900’s. Edward (or given his headmaster status should we refer to him as Mr Arnold?) wrote several books back in the day. One of them, “British Waders” sits on my bookshelf. A signed copy, number seven of only fifty copies printed, with some stunning watercolours by the author.

There’s something humbling about watching the Redshanks yesterday illustrated in the book by the author who gave his name to the marsh where we were watching them.


Bill me!

Those of you that have been to Scotland with me in the past may remember Chris and Anne. They used to run Willowbank Guest House at Granton on Spey where we stopped when I first did the Scottish specialities Tour. Anne was renowned for her culinary delights she procured from the kitchen. Chris on the other hand left an indelible memory giving out whiskey ‘tasters’ and asking my guests to determine the brand. They sold the Guest House some years ago and I started using the Granton Arms Hotel.

A little bizarrely Chris and I knew one another many, many years before I started taking groups to Scotland or indeed before I started ‘Wildlife Tours and Education’, which by the way is now in its 16th year. We hailed from the same part of Yorkshire and we calculated that we once met over a drink some forty plus years ago but didn’t meet again until, at a guess, about 1993 when I first took a holiday at Willowbank. It’s almost surreal how we were able to trace back a chance meeting in our past.

Ever since I first used Willowbank for tours Chris, Anne and I have stayed in touch. We’ve become good friends. Chris and Anne have not lost any of their ability to always be good company and it was a delight to meet up with them this week when they visited Norfolk. They have both generated a healthy interest in birds so it was appropriate we would meet up and go for a walk together down East Bank at Cley. What’s not to love about East Bank?

The over-wintering Long-billed Dowitcher has been a little more sociable of late. This Nearctic visitor has usually been at the far side of the marsh but recently it has been occupying an area close to the East bank footpath. Nice to study that unique snipe-like feeding action so close. Difficult to photograph as it never stops feeding. It eats more than me! It always seemed to have it’s bill in the mud. It did a wing stretch at one point and even then never stopped feeding.

As Chris, Anne and myself watched the Dowitcher yesterday a Peregrine decided to swing over the reedbed. It ended up being moved-along by Corvids; as Bob Mortimer would say “… and away”. However, as the falcon flew over the Dowitcher it was interesting to see it hold its ground unlike the million other waders on the marsh that took flight in panic. Not only did it stand its ground but it crouched flat; maybe in fear, or perhaps defence it half submerged itself in the water. Trying to make itself blend into the marsh by donning a cloak of invisibility. Although it could never match the flock of 44 Snow Buntings we saw feeding on the Sea Wall. Now they really are masters of disguise; easily turning from feather to stone … and back again.


Six Whistler

When staring out to sea, as I often do, looking for cetaceans, birds often attract my attention. These Whimbrel flew West the other week when watching at Cley.



Some of the Black tailed Godwits visiting Cley at the moment are just stunning.


A Bird from Kent or a Kentish Plover

I was engaged doing something which must for the time being remain a mystery. However, the story will reveal itself in the fullness of time. Anyways, I was thinking I better get off home and do a little work before the tour to Scotland at the end of the week when a message popped up on my mobile phone. ‘Kentish Plover on Simmonds Scrape at Cley’

It’s been a good while since I saw the last one but I played it cool and had a vegan cake and an oat milk coffee at the reserve centre before walking out to the hide. Although a very smart male the bird might as have well been in Lincolnshire; it was miles away at the back of the scrape. I gave it the opportunity to move closer by waiting a couple of hours but it stubbornly stayed well out of range of the camera.

I sat in the sunshine outside and dealt with a few emails before intending to walk back to the car park. It was only when friend Trevor came out and said it had moved closer I put the plans to leave on hold. The Plover had indeed moved to the nearest sandy island. Although it was still aways-away I at least managed a record shot.


Hardly Iceland

A day or so before New Years Eve the rain had abated and left a balmy end of year Southern wind casting up from the Azores. The warmest winter temperatures for a long time … maybe on record.

I took the decision to make the most of the heatwave and visit Cley to seek out the Iceland Gull that had been roaming the coastline there for the past week or two. It had been visiting a seal carcass just east of the beach road. I thought that may be a good place to start. Even as I walked down the beach I could see the distinctive white winged form cutting the air distantly towards North scrape. It promptly flew over me and West to Halfway House. I’d no sooner put the message out and it returned and flew east towards Weybourne. Taking a photo wasn’t going to be that easy. To add to the difficulty the beach couldn’t have been busier if it had been a bank holiday. Still I had some good company as i waited for the gull to return which it eventually did. Sadly it looked to have an issue with one of its legs. I was told this was because of an entanglement with fishing line the previous day. Enough said.

A seasonal bird in un-seasonal weather.



On Saturday I held a ‘cetacean workshop’ in the reserve centre at Cley NWT. It was a good interactive group of interesting people. The morning was classroom based and after lunch we went down to the ‘beach hotel’ to look for a few porpoise out at sea. We unfortunately didn’t see any and guests gradually bid their farewell, but there were a few birds passing to keep interest high. As the light was failing the Black Guillemot that had been moving up and down the coast for the past week or so sailed-by. All the remaining guests managed to get onto it and have a good look through the scope. Some compensation at least for the absence of porpoise.

I took a few record shots as the bird bobbed and dived in the swell. I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular given the distance and the failing light. I put the camera away and took the opportunity to look at the bird through the scope myself. It was then I saw it tilt its head sideways and look up. I’ve seen many birds do this over the years and it’s always indicative of them seeing a raptor above. However, I’ve never seen any species of auk do it previously … and I’ve seen a lot of auks.

Following the guillemots line of sight I looked up myself and very high above us was a Short eared Owl coming in off the sea. Seeing an owl come in-off is always good; a treat in itself. The owl spilled air from it’s wings and steeply dropped down onto the marsh behind us.

I pondered on the fact that the two species, Black Guillemot and Short eared Owl, would rarely be in the same environment and have a chance to interact. So how did the auk know the Short eared Owl was a threat? I guess it is just hard-wired into most birds that birds of prey, whatever the species, are just not good news.



We were stood watching a duck that supposedly has a lot of Whistling Duck in it as it swam around Snipes Marsh last week when Steve stopped to pass on a message. He told us the ‘White Heron’ seen around Cley of late was sat in the field at Babcock Hide. I’d wanted to see this individual since it had been initially seen some weeks earlier. Photos of it looked odd. A short trip to the field in question only took two minutes and as we watched it a goose pushed it off the marsh and into the air.

I have to admit it took me a while to eliminate Great White Egret. Structure and leg colour was not right for that species but at a cursory glance its true identity  probably would have passed me by. In any case I don’t think I would have put it down as a leucistic Grey Heron.


A Cley Visitor

I’m used to seeing Black Guillemot in full breeding dress during our visit to Mull each year. They tend to stay north and west; rarely visiting the South East coasts. Not so this little chap. He spent a week or more just further out than the surf at Cley-next-the-sea in August and was sporting his casual dress.

It was quite amusing to see a whole bank of photographers overlooking the swimsuited masses on the warm bank holiday.

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Mar 2023


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