GREAT WHITE EGRET
South of Gramborough Hill, Salthouse.
Had the best day's weather and birding for 9th March EVER and found the first Norfolk Wheatear of the Spring on Gramborough Hill, Salthouse today!
It was forecast to be a glorious day with southerly winds, which meant the traffic would be atrocious and southerly winds mean't birds! So I needed to be out of the house early. The plan was to start at Edgefield for dawn for more Parrot Crossbills. I left my house as the sun was rising, so I didn't quite make dawn, but got to Edgefield just before 7.30am. I sat on the same tree stump as a I did last Sunday and remained as still as possible, with hood up and eyes down (sounds like bingo!). I fixed my gaze and camera lens on the pool and I waited and I waited. Glorious sunshine from the off. Two (male and female) Common Crossbills came down to drink (rubbish pictures this time), but no Parrot's were seen at all. A Wren was very vocal and to my delight had my first Comma butterfly of the year, fluttering over the log piles. The clock kept on ticking and still no sign. I decided that I would leave by 10am, but then Eddie appeared, so politely stayed a bit longer, well until 11am in the end! A Peacock butterfly was also seen. 4 Common Buzzards were spiralling in the thermals above the pines. 'Great White Egret at Salthouse' came up on the pager...... my cue to go! Eddie and I walked back to the edge of the clearing (by the barrier) where there were a group of birders who had been watching 5 Parrot Crossbills (including some I know who have pagers). Nice of people to ring the news out – not, note sarcasm! Eddie stayed at Edgefield and I left to go to Salthouse.
Common Crossbill bathing early morning at Edgefield.
Along the road through Salthouse heath I saw a Brimstone Butterfly. The glorious views of blue skies and the coast as I drove down to Salthouse, was stunning – it really did feel like a Summer's day! I parked up along Beach Road at Salthouse and walked alone to Gramborough Hill. I could see the Great White Egret distantly in the heat haze (seriously, can't believe this in March!). Huge campervans trundled down Beach Road, only to find that there is no carpark anymore and then attempting to reverse back along the road between parked cars! This is going to cause massive problems come the summer months – surely someone should put a sign up, to point out there is no carpark and nowhere to turn round for larger vehicles, before people drive down the road, it would save a whole load of hassle all round!
Signs of Spring!
So, I set off to Gramborough Hill with a spring in my step, to get a closer view of the Great White Egret. I was the wrong side for the sun, but never mind – got some bad record shots. There were a couple of Little Egrets around too, which showed the significant size comparison between them and the GWE. There were no birds in the bushes by the bottom of the hill. I circled round the bushes and had just started to climb the hill, when a bird flew over the hill (seaward side) and landed in a small bramble – I couldn't believe my luck – it was a Wheatear!!! My first one this year and I do believe the first one reported in Norfolk this Spring! Although, I expect someone will suddenly claim they have had one already after reading this. Hands off, that record is MINE! (smile). As I moved forward to take a picture, the Wheatear flew down the hill below the bushes. I climbed down to find it and was gutted – it had vanished. I searched the whole hill, several times, I really wanted that on my camera. A couple of birders I bumped into a bit later had seen it heading east towards Kelling – it could have hung on a few more seconds for a picture! There was excitement in the air! Suddenly a Chiffchaff started singing in the bushes below me! Wow! All kicking off now – I sensed a top draw day was commencing! It didn't stop there – a female Stonechat appeared on the large bramble and there were Linnets and Meadow Pipits. Three Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk flew in off the sea and headed south. 50+ Common Scoters were also on the sea. By now I was boiling hot – I still had waterproof over trousers on from early morning and far too many layers. Walked back to my car and re-located to the Cley NWT Visitor Centre to change my clothes and have lunch.
Common Buzzard flies on off the sea at Gramborough Hill, Salthouse.
Meadow Pipit at Gramborough Hill, Salthouse.
Had lunch with Pete S. and Eddie M. at the Cley NWT Visitor Centre (Note: I didn't have a cheese scone!). Pete had seen the Great White Egret from here on Simmond's Scrape (NWT central hides) just before I arrived, but the egret then re-located back to Salthouse.
Cley Coastguards – we stood on the shingle watching the sea – saw 2 Common Scoters and Eddie saw a Red-throated Diver, not alot else. People were sunbathing and soaking up the sun – the scene looking like an August Bank Holiday! We walked east (path to North Hide that was) – big flock of Golden Plover on the Eye Field. An Avocet was by the pool by the pill box. I presume that the NWT will fence the pool area off again for several reasons: there were families walking across the shingle, inside the (now, low) fenced area, which will obviously disturb potentially nesting avocets and also I can see children will be paddling with their buckets and spades in the pool which could be dangerous, depending on depth and softness of the mud! Dogs were running loose on an area by the North Hide path, which would have normally been fenced off as part of the reserve.
Back at coastguards carpark – I left Pete and Eddie chatting and I went to Walsey Hills NOA. Several large fallen trees across the bottom (public) path still – requires lots of ducking and diving to reach the end of the path! A Tortoiseshell Butterfly and a Toad were seen here, along with 3 Long-tailed Tits and Chaffinches. Sadly no Adders here – can't remember the last time I saw one at Walsey, which is very sad indeed. I was hoping for another singing Chiffchaff, but no luck. As I walked round the top part of the reserve, my pager bleeped up with 'Common Crane over Cley late afternoon and flew east' – I presumed by this message and no time indicated, that I had missed this bird completely, so didn't hurry.
Back in the carpark, Pete had just pulled up in his car and our pagers bleeped up with 'Common Crane at Salthouse at 4.04pm', so we flew up to Salthouse and arrived at 4.08pm to find no Crane on view. The crane had flown back west I found out later. Unbeknown to me at this time, Eddie had been trying to ring me to say he was watching the Common Crane at Cley by the west bank, where he had taken a fabulous video and then watched the bird continue west along Blakeney Point. Sadly I was in Walsey Hills at this time, with no phone signal on either phone! Pete and I then walked to Gramborough Hill – I wanted to get a better shot of the Great White Egret now the light was better and I could it was still there in the field. As we arrrived at the hill, the egret (still distant) flew off and headed for Kelling Quags and dropped down! How annoying was that! The Chiffchaff was still singing in the bushes, but no other new birds of note. We walked back and I decided to go to Kelling Quags. Pete went off the East Bank, Cley.
I parked up and started walking down the track and met up with John M. and other local birders who informed me that someone else had seen the Great White Egret take off and flew directly high south! So that was that, end of!
Hare at dusk, Dauke's Hide, Cley NWT.
I decided to end the day in one of my favourite places: Dauke's Hide NWT. These hides were an island amongst the sea surge back in December and I'm so glad they survived. The NWT staff have done an excellent job of repairing the boardwalk and the hides. It was so good to be back here. The light was fading fast, but I managed to see at least 5 Marsh Harriers, Grey Heron, Little Egrets, Shelducks, good numbers of Avocets, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Redshanks, flock of Starlings and a couple of Pied Wagtails. A Hare sat right next to the hide having a wash 'n' brush-up until a second hare appeared and off he scarpered. The sun setting over the reedbeds made everything shimmer with gold and this was a spectacular end to a long and eventful day! Left here at 6.30pm – love the night's getting longer, roll on 30th March when British Summer Time begins. A very significant date too – my parent's Golden Wedding Anniversary!
Central Hides, Cley NWT