Tag Archives: Cley-next-the-Sea

A minibus trip to Norfolk

Friday, November 4th, 1988

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(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

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A new venture this time. An official  General Studies Birdwatching trip to Norfolk, taking the Sixth Form with me in a hired minibus. One thing is for certain, though… They’ll all get a lot of lifers… And I hope for one as well, the Indigo Bunting at Wells, which may just have lingered on from the previous weekend. There is every chance that nobody has really looked for it since then. The main priority, though, is to make sure that there is a constant stream of birds for the students, always as obvious and as spectacular as possible. We start at Cley-next-the-Sea, and then we plan to work our way steadily back westwards along the beautiful Norfolk coast. Look for the orange arrow:

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Arnold’s Marsh provides us with two nice birds, a late Curlew Sandpiper and a very spectacular Knot, still in bright brick red summer plumage:

red knot xxxxxx

Further along the East Bank, we find a lovely Stonechat, obviously prospecting for an overwintering site:

Stonechat%20-3 xxxxxxx

At the far end, there is an exquisite flock of about a hundred or so Snow Buntings, flying with their tinkling calls up and down the shingle bank:

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Unfortunately there is no sign of Boy George the famous Glaucous Gull, whichever plumage he may be in now, white adult or coffee coloured juvenile:

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There are no Waxwings either at the traditional haunt of Winterton. So off we go to Wells, stopping only briefly to look at the goose flocks at the side of the coastal road. The lads are delighted to see a Snow Goose which they all insist has flown in the previous day from Arctic Canada, despite all my vigorous explanations to the contrary:

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We get to Wells where I spend half an hour looking for The Bunting but without any success, either down by the old toilet block, or down in the Dell. It must’ve moved on or perhaps it’s been recaptured by its worried owner:

Indigo-Bunting1 xxxxxxxx

As we walk back to the car park, I see a starling like bird in silhouette. It flies over our heads and I don’t really pay it any attention, until it comes in to land. Instead of landing on the top of a nearby tree, it clings to the trunk like a woodpecker. That’s enough to attract my attention and when I look through binoculars, I soon realise that it is a Waxwing:

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That is when the fun starts because we have only two pairs of binoculars between four of us and one pair is broken. Added to this is the fact that all the lads are very inexperienced, and it takes each one of them a really long time to find the bird on the tree trunk. There’s a lot of shouting, a lot of counting branches to the left and branches to the right, until the bird finally gets bored with it all and flies off. Two of the three without binoculars see it properly but, sadly, the last one does not. Holkham and Lady Ann’s Drive provide a couple of new birds for us, namely Golden Plover, and the almost jet black Brent Geese:

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Amazingly enough, though, there are no Egyptian Geese to brighten the day. Titchwell is a little disappointing, with all the Marsh Harriers departed for sunnier climes and the Spoonbills that were asleep at the back of the pool three years ago also seem to have moved away. All we find are wigeon and teal.:

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Still the lads are pleased. Indeed in a lot of ways, they teach me a thing or two. Any nice bird they see is a source of almost innocent wonder to all of them, particularly if it has more than three colours.

 

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A lovely old bird called Elsie

(An extract from my birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Saturday, June 25, 1988

Birdline organises another weekend for me. Look for the orange arrows:

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This Saturday, it’s a vagrant duck from North America, a drake Surf Scoter, that has been found offshore at Holme next the Sea  in north Norfolk. A very well-behaved bird, it has been seen every single day of the week, and should be a cinch. Should be:

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I go with Paul, Robin and Sue. It’s a beautiful summer’s day, blue skies, a bright sun and a typically bracing east coast wind. After an uneventful three hour trip, we park in a layby at the side of the road at the western end of the Holme reserve. As soon as we get out of the car, I see a most peculiar bird. It’s a large tern, flying steadily eastwards along the beach. About the size of a Sandwich Tern, it has a straw yellow bill. I am paralysed, I can’t remember what colour bill a Sandwich Tern has. For a few moments, I think that I’ve got everything exactly backwards, so that all Sandwich Terns have a yellow bill with a black tip. But that’s not the right way round. Sandwich Terns have a black bill with a yellow tip! I force myself to look at the bird for the duration of the flypast, but it’s very difficult to take in a great deal, because I’m so panic stricken:

Sterne voyageuse (Sterna bengalensis)

I think of shouting to Paul, but he’s three miles away, year ticking Redshank. I don’t have the courage to yell to another group of nearby birdwatchers, because deep down, I have a terrible suspicion that I have got it all wrong, that I will be calling out to them just for a Sandwich Tern. I keep looking. The bird is fairly round winged, with fairly dark upper parts to both its wings and back. It has a noticeably white trailing edge to its wings, a little like a Laughing Gull, and for a tern, it seems big, almost the size and bulk of a gull. I walk thirty or forty yards, trying to dismiss the bird as an aberration, the product of a rarity crazed mind. I even consider the idea that I just got out of the car, tired from the driving, and somehow misidentified a Little Tern. There are quite a lot of them over the beach, and mental blocks through fatigue are not that unusual. Then suddenly, the bird reappears:

xxxxxxx LCT 3

It is in company with  two Sandwich Terns and I can easily pick it out, totally different from its two companions:

This time, I shout to Paul and tell him to get on to the last bird. He manages to pick it out and agrees with me on two things. Firstly, that it is different to the Sandwich Terns, and secondly, that it has a straw yellow bill.  We have an exciting discussion about it and Paul puts forward the idea that it is a Lesser Crested Tern, a very rare vagrant to Britain, but one which has been seen a few times of late, due in part, it is thought, to a single lost bird which wanders the east coast of Britain, looking eagerly for its Libyan homeland. I haven’t a clue. I’ve never even heard of a Lesser Crested Tern. I thought that Gaddafi had abolished birds as being too flippant. I don’t even have a book with Lesser Crested Tern in it:

xxxx LCT 2

When I get back to Nottingham, I spend many a happy hour, trying to get information on the mystery bird. What convinces me though, is an illustration that I find in an old Indian birdwatching book, where the most salient points are the yellow beak, the dark mantle and the brightest of white trailing edges. They ought to know. They see them a damned sight more often than I do. And what finally proves it to me totally is an announcement a couple of days later that a Lesser Crested Tern has recently been present, on and off, at Cley next the Sea, just a few miles down the coast to the east. Seduced by the promise of eternal fame, I send a letter to the Norfolk Bird Recorder, and also to the Reserve Warden at Holme.

The Surf Scoter, of course, after all this, is long gone. We spend the rest of the day looking for it, but without any luck at all. The Common Scoters are exactly that, but among the hundreds of sea duck, there is no bright white head:

We also see a lot of Little Terns, who succeed in sowing the seeds of doubt, but who, at the same time, solve quite a few problems. They fly down the same track as the putative Lesser Crested Tern, but with a completely different flight action. They flutter like butterflies. They don’t fly purposefully like the mystery bird:

And anyway, I saw it in the company of Sandwich Terns, so I have a good idea of its size, and it’s a lot bigger than a Little Tern. It’s a different bird, in actual fact. A thrilling end to a memorable day is provided as we motor south to Kings Lynn, on the way back. Look for the orange arrow:

lynn

Just beyond the ring road, we see a large raptor quartering the fields to our left:

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It crosses the road above our heads, continues the quartering, and finally disappears behind the line of trees on the horizon. It is a male Montagu’s Harrier, perhaps the North Wootton bird, but more likely, from a site not yet revealed to the Verminous Company of Egg Thieves. It is fairly isolated out here though. Let’s hope that the Montagu’s Harrier family spend their summer undisturbed, raise their babies and leave peacefully. Flying back if possible, not over Malta or any other world centre of illegal hunting:

xxxxx  montagus_Harrier_Serengeti_

 

I sent in my claim of a Lesser Crested Tern to the British Bird Rarities Committee, but after a year or two of careful consideration, they rejected it,  even though the Birdwatching Committee in Norfolk seemed reasonably satisfied with it. So, a few years later, I drove to Spurn Head in Yorkshire to see another, or conceivably the same returning, Lesser Crested Tern. Look for Nottingham in the bottom left and the orange arrow:

spurn

I went there on two separate occasions, and finished up driving nearly 500 miles in total. After almost two days standing in “The Place”, “The Bird” did not deign to tern up (sick). On the second day, I was there at seven in the morning, and I was then the last to leave at eight o’clock in the evening. Another birdwatcher arriving alone at half past eight then found the bird exactly where it was supposed to be standing and I’d missed it. That started to make it personal.

A little while later, I drove to the north Norfolk coast where foolhardy twitchers were wading across a tidal creek to Scolt Head Island, their telescopes and tripods held above their heads like the Marines in Vietnam. They were looking for a Lesser Crested Tern which had been seen in the Sandwich Tern colony. Look for the orange arrow: 

scolt

I decided, though, to stay on the mainland, not drown and keep my eyes open for the bird flying down the coast to fish. Three wasted hours. No chance!

It was by now way beyond personal. Around this time a Lesser Crested Tern had been hybridising with Sandwich Terns in a tern colony on the Farne Islands, some three or four miles off the coast of Northumberland, some 200 miles to the north of Nottingham. Eventually, everybody realised that all the many records of Lesser Crested Tern on the English East Coast were most probably this one returning individual, being seen over and over again by different people.  Because the initials of a Lesser Crested Tern are “LCT”, the bird was now being called “Elsie”. I decided to bite the bullet  and drive up to the Farne Islands. As the bird was nesting, it should be a cinch. Should be.

Look for the orange arrows :

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I failed to see it. So I decided to try again, and at very long last, I saw Elsie’s straw yellow bill sticking jauntily out of a crowd of black billed Sandwich Terns, all sitting on their eggs.

And I watched this good tern, this most excellent tern, for a very long time. A very long time. And then, half an hour later, I came back for seconds. And yes, I had already seen a bird just like Elsie, with her unmistakable bill, somewhere else, a long time previously, but the details escaped me for the moment.
Afterwards, I worked out that the nearest colonies of Lesser Crested Tern were on the coast of Libya. To see one, I had driven to Holme (210 miles for the round trip), Spurn Head twice (500 miles for two round trips), Scolt Head Island (250 miles for the round trip) and the Farne Islands(880 miles for two round trips). How far is it to Libya by car?

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Two local twitches

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Monday, September 5, 1988

Another walk around my local patch, Netherfield  Sludge Pits, the Cape May of the Nottinghamshire gravel pits complex. (see the orange arrow)

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Once again, it turns up the big one, with immediate and excellent views of Sedge Warbler, and a male Reed Bunting in the same fifteen yards of hedge.

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At the side of the path, there is a little flock of fifteen or twenty Yellow Wagtails and over the main lake, a Common Tern.

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They used to nest on the little island, until it was submerged by the rising tide of slurry from the local coalmine. Knocking around the fields are a Kestrel, some Jackdaws and a few Stock Doves.

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On one of the smaller pools, Mute Swans have bred.

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They have produced several cygnets, but don’t worry, the anglers lead shot will soon put a stop to that. It’s amazing to think that Curlew used to breed here fifty years ago, and that, at this very site, Black-winged Stilts nested just after the Second World War.

A flock of finches here once contained an Ortolan Bunting and Little Bunting travelling together, and just after the Second World War, there was an apparent family  group of Gull-billed Terns come through, .

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Today, there are three Great Black-backed Gulls, and a Herring Gull.

That’s what the destruction of habitat is all about.

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Wednesday, September 7, 1988

An evening trip this time. A local birdwatcher has told me about a superb new place that attracts wonderful birds by Nottinghamshire’s normal standards. It’s a couple of flooded meadows down by the River Trent at Stoke Bardolph (now, alas, with houses built on them). Look for the orange arrow:

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For some reason, the farmer has allowed the fields to flood, and for an even more obscure reason, he has permitted them to remain flooded. Waders in unprecedented numbers have been attracted for a short stopover as they fly south down the Trent Valley to Africa. Previously, I would only have thought of Stoke Bardolph for the incredible stink of the sewage works that are down there, but this is really something else. It’s just like a hide at Cley-next-the-Sea, with Curlew Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks, a dozen or so Dunlin and some Greenshanks.

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There is  a single stint, which causes us a little excitement as Steve and I try very hard to turn it into a Temminck’s Stint.

Temmincks_zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

But it must, unfortunately, stay as a Little Stint. Still, it was a good try.

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The only negative thing about the whole evening is the failure of the Hobby to appear at the appointed time.

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There is at least one, if not two, birds in the area, and it, or they, often hunt over the woodland on the opposite side of the river. It’s even been seen knocking around in the gardens of neighbouring Burton Joyce, a riverside village. Tonight, though, there’s nothing.
Never mind – it’s a really brilliant wader site for somewhere as far from the coast is this. What a pity, therefore, that only a few months later, despite the impassioned pleas of a number of different conservation bodies, the farmer  should plough up the land without compunction, and what could have been a brilliant inland nature reserve is lost forever. So much for a democratic society. We are about as democratic as the Democratic Republic of East Germany is democratic. If you own the land, you can do whatever you like with it, irrespective of how many people subsidise you with their taxes and would like some kind of input as to what is done with the land.

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A twitch to west Norfolk

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a “twitcher”, the sort of birdwatcher who might travel hundreds of miles to see a species which is rare in whichever country he lives. A hardcore British twitcher, therefore, would travel vast distances without any hesitation to see a Common Grackle or a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Great Britain.

An American twitcher would react equally strongly to news of a Northern Lapwing or a Eurasian Siskin in his own country.
Twenty five years ago, I kept a diary of where I went in search of unusual birds. So, on Sunday, August 21st 1988, I know exactly where I was, and what I was doing…

“A minibus trip to North Norfolk this time.”

transit zzzzzz
“Not a lot on Birdline to chase, but one half decent bird is a Ruddy Shelduck.”

ruddy 8 zzzzzz

 

Here’s a short, but lovely, film taken by “paulboyish”

“This beautifully plumaged waterbird will be, hopefully, still at Lynn Point, just a few miles north of north of King’s Lynn.”

“I try to persuade the minibus driver to hotfoot it out there straightaway but he’s very reluctant. He thinks the bird must be one of those from a zoo that you can never hope to count, one of those wonderfully colourful birds that is almost by definition an escape. Something along the lines of Golden Pheasant, Mandarin or Carolina Wood Duck. Or Red-breasted Goose.”

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“O Ye of Little Faith. The mood of the passengers is one of optimistic keenness to go and see a new bird. When the minibus driver poses the hoary old question of how many people would actually like to go and see the Ruddy Shelduck, in an effort to prove once and for all that there will not be enough to fill a minibus, and therefore, we ought not to bother going, his effort at token democracy turns out all wrong. Absolutely everybody wants to go to Lynn Point to see this stunning bird, no matter how dubious the tick might be.”

“I navigate for the first bus, and Alan navigates for the second. We have a short diversion around the docks at Fisher Fleet, which was the scene of my first ever Mediterranean Gull, only a year or so previously, watched at close range as it fed from the wagons full of steaming hot shellfish waste which emerged at regular intervals from the factory.”

med gull

 

“We eventually find the mud-bath that rejoices in the flattering title of car park and set off along the seawall, out towards Lynn Point. It is throwing it down with heavy rain, and I begin to get very nervous indeed at the mood of the other birdwatchers, as we gradually get wetter and wetter. They seem to walk terribly slowly and not at all to like the idea of leaving the car-park. One woman actually says within earshot, “We’re a very, very long way from the bus.”, obviously racked with terror at the prospect being any distance whatsoever from her preferred method of vehicular transport. I begin to understand what Moses must have felt like.”

moses
“Things are not helped one little bit by having to make a gigantic detour inland to the concrete bridge which allows you to cross one of the many enormous drainage ditches that are met with so frequently in this sodden landscape.
To be honest, it isn’t pleasant marching into driving rain, but on the other hand, for a new bird it’s obviously worth it. Suddenly catastrophe strikes. We are faced with a bright green electrified fence that the farmer has erected across the path. We all stand there like a flock of lost sheep, milling around, not knowing what to do. Several people wring their hands and talk seriously of turning back. No chance. In for a penny, in for a pound. With a loud cry of “Twenty years in an SAS Suicide Squad taught me this one”, I step over the fence, followed by Alan, and then, with his trousers at their usual go-faster low-slung crutch height, Paul. The fun really starts when Paul’s wife makes the attempt to get over the fence, and gets electrocuted. Not badly, but just enough to make her squeal loudly with surprise. It’s all Alan’s fault of course. As always, it’s the husband who gets the blame. We all want to dissolve into unsympathetic howls of laughter, mostly at Alan’s attempts to smooth things over, but none of us dare.”
“Off we go again, into the hurricane and the sleet and the slight rain of volcanic ash and the radioactive nuclear fallout that has just started to come down. Eventually, we decide to walk to a certain spot in the distance, stop there and then take a good look around the saltings. If there is no Ruddy Shelduck on view, we will all come back and not pursue the quest any further. We do this, and, sure enough, Alan, who has a wonderful talent for finding specific targets, locates the Ruddy Shelduck within less than thirty seconds. It’s with a flock of twenty or so ordinary shelducks, swimming about thirty yards off shore, slowly making its way towards the opposite side of the estuary, then finally reaching the muddy bank and striding ashore. It’s at fairly long range, but would seem to me to be a female. A prime candidate for genuine vagrancy I would say, particularly as it’s in the correct part of Britain, at the right time of year, with exactly the required winds, namely, gentle warm south easterlies. Indeed, Paul reckons that there are several other birds from roughly the same part of Europe and the Middle East, present in Britain at the same time.”

“On the other hand, we are also in exactly the right place for one of the Dutch feral population to have made landfall across the North Sea. King’s Lynn may not be exactly Amsterdam, but it’s not that different for a Ruddy Shelduck in a storm. Soooo… overall, it’s not a complete tick, well, only if you’re either unscrupulous or plain desperate. Still, at least, it’s a moral victory.”

This short film is by Peiselkopp

“On the Long March back, we see a Marsh Harrier, and we are treated to one of Kevin’s by now legendary live commentaries on the bird’s progress, delivered in his fantastic foghorn of a voice. He sounds like a reversing bus….MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… OVER THE BANK… BEHIND THE TREES… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… FLYING AWAY… IT’S FLYING AWAY…IT’S NEARLY GONE… IT’S REALLY GOING NOOOOOW… IT’S GONE”

This lovely film is by Thomas Harris

and this one, equally atmospheric, is by John Watson, and was taken  on the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia.

“Nobody on any of the three shores of the Wash could have been in any doubt whatsoever about what was happening at that stage in the development of Kevin’s universe.

As we cross the huge dyke, a couple of waders fly up, and whirr off along the edge of the water.”
wood sand zzzzz
“Closer inspection reveals them to be Wood Sandpipers, two very decent birds indeed to see almost as an afterthought. Indeed, I can’t remember ever finding a completely wild Wood Sandpiper for myself before. All the others were plastic dummies carefully placed by the Warden out on the marshes at Cley-next-the-Sea to attract middle aged visitors.”

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