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Monday, 6 April 2015

Bank Holiday Birding at Burnham Overy Dunes, Gun Hill, Cley & Salthouse!

I was determined to have a full day out birding and had set the alarm early. I bashed the snooze button at 5am and again and again! The skies were blue and the sun was out. I was on the road by 7.15am. At the crossroads north of Bircham Newton I saw a Barn Owl fly from a post, which was a nice start to the day! I always drive quite slowly through Bircham Newton Training Centre as I always imagine a hoopoe feeding on the short turfed verges and large areas of mowed grass here – there were a few Rooks, Blackbirds and Pied Wagtails. As I neared the coast the skies melted into a grey murky gloom and dense fog in places too – I couldn't believe it! I parked up at Burnham Overy Staithe and I couldn't see the horizon – how depressing. Where had my blue skies and sunshine disappeared to? I presumed this was the usual coastal blanket fog, whilst inland areas bathed in sunshine. My second Barn Owl of the morning flew across the fields nearby. Packed up my rucksack and with camera and bins in hand I was off.

Burnham Overy Dunes and Gun Hill
Walking along the track produced Chaffinches, Linnets, Goldfinches and Hedgesparrows, but no hint of any migrants. I didn't even hear a Chiffchaff in the large sallows. I watched two Kestrels hovering over a stubble field and there were plenty of Greylag Geese around along with Lapwings, Coots, Wigeon, Teal, Oystercatchers, several Curlews, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. The wonderful sound of Skylarks cheered up the gloomy, dull start to the day.

The bushes at the end of the sea wall only produced a single Magpie. I walked west along the path to Gun Hill. I expected to at least see a Wheatear, but nothing. A familiar 'clacking' sound produced several Fieldfares feeding on the short turf along with Linnets at 9.30am – they all then flew off over the bank. I managed to creep up on them to get some poor record shots on the camera and counted 11 Fieldfares in all, before they headed off east.  Good numbers of Brent Geese on the marshes, a couple of Little Egrets and the odd Cormorant flying over. I sat on the seat by the 'Grey Goose' and enjoyed a coffee and a marmalade roll before heading back. A single Reed Bunting was perched in a hawthorn singing by the sluice. The bank holiday dogs on masses had now started to arrive with very few on leads, but to be fair most looked pretty well behaved. I spotted a single Canada Goose amongst the Greylags and there was a Mute Swan, a pair of Tufted Ducks and Mallard on the pool east of the sea wall. Along with numerous Redshanks, there were 37 Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the channel near the sluice. A rare occurrence then happened! A Bittern started booming from the middle of the reedbeds in the marsh at 11am! I have never heard one here before, what a fabulous surprise! Shortly after this I watched a pair of Marsh Harriers sky dancing and then another three distantly. Not far from where I stood, there were a few clods of earth in a row in the field – as I scanned past with the bins I realised that all the clods were not clods, but were in fact two Grey Partridges who had camouflaged themselves perfectly! You would never have known they were there without binoculars! Back at the car I watched 5 Common Buzzards circling distantly.

Cley Coastguards & Visitor Centre NWT
The traffic through Cley village was both amusing and infuriating – I don't know why people drive differently on a bank holiday here, but they do, honest! The sun had now decided to show its face and with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, the afternoon improved no end. I started off at Coastguards and scanned with the scope for anything exciting on the sea in hope of a sandwich tern or similar, but it was a very poor state of affairs, apart from Black-headed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls nothing at all. Kept looking up, but no hirundines either. Local birder Dave chatted for a while and he hadn't seen anything much either – he had been looking for Ring Ouzels in favourite spots, but failed.

Visitor Centre for my lunch – it wasn't as crazily packed out as I thought it would be, but the jacket potatoes had run out by 1.45pm so had to make do with my second choice of Houmous and Vege toastie, but I did manage to get a window seat. I didn't want to sit outside when I discovered to my dismay that dogs are allowed on the 'terrace'. I really hope this doesn't last long – a few doggie 'accidents' or bitten child will soon put an end to that! Why would I want to spend my lunch listening to barking dogs? Come to that, why would anybody? So although I congratulate the NWT for their fabulous new education centre and stunning terrace area, I am not impressed with the dog addition idea at all!

Salthouse and Walsey Hills NOA
I parked up at Beach Road and was going to walk to Gramborough Hill, but changed my mind as there were too many people here and bouncy dogs. Re-located to Walsey Hills and walked along the bottom path to listen to a Chiffchaff singing. I couldn't see it though, never mind photograph it! I walked all round and was surprised not to see a single butterfly here. I smiled with delight when I found a single Common Lizard basking on the railway sleeper on the bank. I stood by the hide and was admiring the view, when I found myself half heartily watching what I assumed was two marsh harriers over Snipe's Pool – as they neared (note, my camera was zipped up in bag at this point) I realised, both had forked tails. Suddenly 2 awesome Red Kites were sailing over my head – directly over my head with all their stunning colours and crisp outline against the blue sky – perfect flight shots. I grappled to get the camera out and got some shots as they had passed and continued to head east at 3.40pm. Note to self: always have the camera ready!

Re-parked the car in the East Bank car park and lazily walked along the bank to see Bearded Tits. It was really pretty along here and the 'Serpentine' was full of birds including Teal, Wigeon, Shovelers, Little Egrets, Greylags, Redshanks, Pied Wagtails etc. I sat part way down the bottom of the East Bank just before the sluice on the west side, in hope of seeing Bearded Tits – I did see three fly across to the east side, but that was it. Suddenly I found myself dozing in the sunshine – lovely! Later I got up and started to walk back along the bank. A familiar face appeared... Kim and her husband Adam from work! It was weird seeing someone I work with here – you get used to seeing someone only in their uniform. Kim made me laugh when she said she had just being saying to her husband that she works with a lady called Penny who birdwatches at Cley and here I was! This was their first visit to Cley and they were really enjoying it. I ID'd some birds for them and they continued their walk to the end of the East Bank, west along to Coastguards and then back along the West Bank, Beach Road and returned along the main road – I take my hat off to them, that's a long walk!

Dauke's Hide, Cley NWT
Whilst walking along the path to the hides I bumped into John M. who declared E.T.M was not a happy mood because of a birder dressed in bright red and hanging out of the hide flap in Bishop's Hide – oh dear! Made me chuckle. Anyway, in the hide the light was stunning, but it was absolutely freezing even with gloves on. A Water Rail raced across, but managed to capture this on the camera. Two Hares lolloped towards the hide until my annoyingly loud shutter made them re-trace their steps – bl**dy photographers!!! Lots of Avocets, Teal, Wigeon, Shelducks, Redshanks, a single Ruff, Black-headed Gulls and 10 Little Egrets. Also 3 Grey Herons flew across landing in front of Avocet Hide. A couple of Marsh Harriers scattered a few birds briefly before I left.

Fell asleep as soon as I got home and was too tired to write the blog up, hence my late update of this on Tuesday evening, sorry! Sleep beckons.



  1. Nice to see your getting back to your old self Penny. With a bit of birding time, Chris in Great Yarmouth

  2. Hi Penny, I've been following your blog fo some time now and find it interesting and informative. You've obviously been going through some trauma lately, but I hope things are beginning to improve for you. I work at Cley on Wednesdays and note the comments you have made about dogs etc. It's always good to get feedback and I will bare your comments in mind should us volunteers be asked for our opinions on how things are progressing. If you are interested I too write a blog about Norfolk wildlife, it can be found at Keep up your good work and maybe I'll see you at Cley one day. Barry

    1. Hi Barry, thanks very much. Please feel free to pass my comments on to any NWT staff, much appreciated! Also it would be great to have new seats in the shelter at Coastguards on all four sides, not just the south side, but I understand its Cley Parish Council I need to contact about that. No good for seawatching on the south side!!! Thanks again.

  3. "I don't know why people drive differently on a bank holiday here, but they do, honest!"...
    My Dad used to say that that was because they were the ones that ONLY got the car out on w/es and Bank Holidays...
    you should try Swaffham!!
    But, yes, Cley is terrible... for a start, like our village here...
    it was never designed for vehicles as wide as modern motorway cruisers...
    or modern agro-cultural vehicles... especially some of the new tractors!!
    And then you get the motorised window shoppers and "Oooo, look at that building... isn't it quaint!" tourists...
    Cardboard Cutouts was my Dad's term for them... when on foot...
    made him a t-shirt that said... "I'm not a Cardboard Cutout. I live here!"
    so the ones in Cley should be...
    Cley's Carborne Cardboard Cutouts!!

    Great news about the Bittern... a haunting call!!
    And as for the kites...
    I had a Black Kite cruise along side the car yesterday...
    25ft away...
    camera was...
    By the time I'd stopped, retrieved it and lifted... so did the bird... and it suddenly made off at around 40mph... never knew they could fly that fast... but the wind [strong] was coming from slightly behind it... got alongside... but no chance of stopping and taking a shot.
    So... I think they know... and do it just to wind us up...
    had a kingfisher do the same thing!!
    It even "mooned" at me before flying off!! Hurrumph!

    "a birder dressed in bright red and hanging out of the hide flap in Bishop's Hide"...
    NOT a birder, please...
    just someone into birding to impress... or try their new camera...
    in France they are the same...
    and, they seem to think that the hide is a place to have a loud, general conversation...
    and even worse is when they meet some people they know...
    then it is time to get out of the hide, the conversation will go on for hours...
    even if they only met each other the day before!!

    Keep on trucking,

    1. Thanks Tim for your interesting and amusing comments!