A Lovely Present And A Great Read A History Of The Birds Of Norfolk

Cley-next-the-Sea Windmill

The beautiful village of Cley-Next-Sea in Norfolk where birding began.

Brian and Rita have been on a number of our Birdwatching Trips and always wonderful company. It was a lovely surprise when a parcel arrived and it was a book from Brian and Rita “A History of the Birds of Norfolk” which they thought we would enjoy – they were very right!

Alan has been birdwatching in Norfolk since 1978, yes that long, when as a teenager he visited Norfolk for a job interview with the National Trust. He got the job and was back in April to start work at Blakeney Point the huge tern colony at the end of a three mile shingle spit west of Cley-Next-Sea which at the time was the epicentre of British birdwatching. This was dream come true for super keen young birdwatcher not only working on a nature reserve but so close to the place to go birdwatching in Britain Cley Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve. So Norfolk has always held a special place in Alan’s birding heart and has returned time and time again to enjoy the amazing birds and big skies.

So to receive this wonderful book was so exciting and the pages were quickly turning. Published in 1930 by Witherby of London written by B. B. Riviere and includes sixteen plates and a map amongst the 296 pages! A wonderful book and instantly grabs your interest to see how things have a changed in ninety years, short answers a lot!

On the inside cover page is an inscription that reads “P.J. Hand Christmas 1930 from mum” imagine the excitement of P.J.Hand opening the Christmas present and finding the wonderful book, well hope it was excitement and not oh no a bird book again!

The very first plate is a beautiful image of a pair of Montagu’s Harriers doing a “food pass” where the male is dropping prey to the female mid-air. There is also a wonderful fold out colour map of the county of Norfolk which is very detailed and fascinating to look at.

An introduction is followed by a detailed chapter on bird migration and then the main body of the book – A History of the Birds of Norfolk – which gives a species by species account of bird distribution and recording. Most species are given between a half and a full page of text though sometimes more such as the Bearded Titmouse, aka Bearded Tit aka Bearded Reedling which runs to three full pages of information about this classic Norfolk species.

Avocet flock.jpg

A flock of Avocets at Cley Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve, Norfolk.

Compare this to another classic Norfolk species the Avocet that runs to just over a page with much of the text charting the decline and then extinction of this beautiful wader as a breeding bird. In 1930 the Avocet was described as “an occasional passage migrant” so good to see the bird breeding again at many Norfolk sites now.

Marsh Harrier male Norfolk 1

Marsh Harrier such a familiar sight over Norfolk reedbeds but not always the case.

The Marsh Harrier is another species that many birdwatchers may think of as a Norfolk species but back in 1929 just two pairs were known to be breeding in the whole county! So glad to report they are now widespread and easily enjoyed in Norfolk.

Norfolk has long been associated with rare birds even as far back as when species were collected in the 1800’s. In the late 1970’s when Alan first visited Norfolk it was “the” place to go for rare birds and Cley village was the hub of all rare bird news. An end terrace house, close the beautiful wind-mill, in the centre of Cley village was “Nancy’s Café” and his tiny tearoom was it, rare bird news central. Just inside the door to “Nancy’s” as all birders knew it then was a telephone, state of the art dial on the front one, and next to it a notepad and a pen. If birders went to the café they were expected to buy a least a cup of tea, some legendary birds could make a pot of Nancy’s tea last most of the day! You were also expected to take a turn on the phone, the phone that rang quite literally non-stop. The late 1970’s was the heyday of twitching no fancy electronic devices just keen birders swapping information with other keen birders. You knew most people in the café by name or if not by sight and they were a good humoured bunch, mostly.

Yes kids this is what phones used to look like in the late 1970's!

So the phone rang and the voice asked the same question nearly every time “what’s about?” the answerer of the call read out the notes from the pad by the phone “Red-necked Phal still Cley from Bishop’s Hide, Caspian Tern seen again at Hickling Broad, some big shears off Porthgwarra in Cornwall, a Rose-coloured Starling rumoured to be in Pembrokeshire” . The phone was replaced and it immediately rang again “what’s about?” “Red-necked Phal…” and so it went on and on all day every day! Just occasionally you might be lucky enough to hear incoming news and the café fell silent as everyone held their breath to see if it was a mega bird. No panic the Pec Sand is still at Frodsham in Cheshire and the item was added to the list to be passed to the next caller.

One of the most famous pages of Nacy's Cafe logbook, Britain's first and only Rock Sparrow,1981.

When news of a mega or a good bird very locally broke it was very different story the café could go from a noisy bustling hub of birders to empty in seconds as the poor staff tried to extract payment from fleeing twitchers! If the rarity was far flung the café erupted into a planning room, who was up for the long drive, how many seats were free, who else might fancy driving so many questions and a fantastic buzz of excitement. Sadly Nancy’s Café is no more and now rare bird news comes via an App on a mobile phone that tells you all you need to know, no need to say a word to anyone, maybe this is where it all went a bit wrong for UK twitching? The comaradery is much reduced, gone is being part of a small band of crazy people that more or less knew each other and were driven and determined to see birds at often pretty long odds. I can remember many twitches where we did not really know where the bird had been seen, when it had last been seen, was it even a genuine record but we went anyway and sometimes we even saw the bird! Not so many birders/twitchers would be happy to do that now.

Seem to have got a bit distracted from the book there! It really is a wonderful read and a real insight into the birds of Norfolk. If you can find a copy do read it you won’t be disappointed.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales, and once the world returns to normal, we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you.

We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….


We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

Contact us

* * *



Our Tweets

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. See our Cookie Policy for further details on how to block cookies.
I am happy with this


What is a Cookie

A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is a piece of data stored by a website within a browser, and then subsequently sent back to the same website by the browser. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember things that a browser had done there in the past, which can include having clicked particular buttons, logging in, or having read pages on that site months or years ago.

NOTE : It does not know who you are or look at any of your personal files on your computer.

Why we use them

When we provide services, we want to make them easy, useful and reliable. Where services are delivered on the internet, this sometimes involves placing small amounts of information on your device, for example, your computer or mobile phone. These include small files known as cookies. They cannot be used to identify you personally.

These pieces of information are used to improve services for you through, for example:

  • recognising that you may already have given a username and password so you don’t need to do it for every web page requested
  • measuring how many people are using services, so they can be made easier to use and there’s enough capacity to ensure they are fast
  • analysing anonymised data to help us understand how people interact with our website so we can make them better

You can manage these small files and learn more about them from the article, Internet Browser cookies- what they are and how to manage them

Learn how to remove cookies set on your device

There are two types of cookie you may encounter when using our site :

First party cookies

These are our own cookies, controlled by us and used to provide information about usage of our site.

We use cookies in several places – we’ve listed each of them below with more details about why we use them and how long they will last.

Third party cookies

These are cookies found in other companies’ internet tools which we are using to enhance our site, for example Facebook or Twitter have their own cookies, which are controlled by them.

We do not control the dissemination of these cookies. You should check the third party websites for more information about these.

Log files

Log files allow us to record visitors’ use of the site. The CMS puts together log file information from all our visitors, which we use to make improvements to the layout of the site and to the information in it, based on the way that visitors move around it. Log files do not contain any personal information about you. If you receive the HTML-formatted version of a newsletter, your opening of the newsletter email is notified to us and saved. Your clicks on links in the newsletter are also saved. These and the open statistics are used in aggregate form to give us an indication of the popularity of the content and to help us make decisions about future content and formatting.