Wild Goose Spectacle Looking Forward To Norfolk In October 2020



Pink footed Geese sunrise Oct 2

There’s something very special about dawn on the North Norfolk coast. Was it the lure of wide, open skies infused with a pre-dawn purple blush? Or perhaps the call of the ever-changing tide as it ebbed and flowed across the marshes? Or maybe it was the potential to witness thousands of birds on the move that encouraged me out of bed and onto the windswept seawall for a bracing walk before breakfast.

Burnham Overy Staithe Sept 3

The coastal path at Burnham Overy Staithe was the perfect place to start my Norfolk day. The raised footpath was easy to follow so I could concentrate on the sights and sounds around me. The extra height of the path provided a great vantage point for birdwatching, but I was now the highest point in the area and the sharp wind sliced straight through me. My warm bed quickly became a distant memory.

Common Redshank Norfolk 2016 1

On one side was the tidal River Burn. It was low tide, the water a mere strip leaving the wooden dinghies stranded at odd angles on the thick mud. It was perfect for smaller waders though as the gloopy mud provided a smorgasbord of invertebrates to eat. In the gloom, a Ringed Plover all but blended into the muddy background but its run-stop movement in search of food gave the game away. A Redshank, that nervous ‘warden of the marshes’ was startled by my unexpected appearance on the path and piped its warning call as it flew. A Grey Plover responded by running a couple of paces along the shoreline before stopping and becoming invisible again. Clearly one hypersensitive Redshank didn’t justify a serious response. On the other side of the footpath, a network of pasture fields and a patch of reedbed materialised out of the gloom. Several cows and one enormous bull placidly fed while a covey of greyish hummocks scuttled amongst them: Grey Partridge.

Snettisham Pinks

Looking east towards Holkham Pines, the sky become vivid orange as the sun rose. This was the cue for the wild goose spectacle to begin. With a sudden crescendo of noise like a football crowd at a goal, a huge flock of geese took off from the fresh-marsh at Holkham. Hundreds and hundreds of birds lifted into the air calling excitedly to one another as they flew. So many birds took flight at once that they created a cloud of black smoke against the orange sky. More and more geese lifted into the air, thousands of birds all on the move in one moment. I forgot the biting wind, I was totally absorbed into the world of geese.

Pink footed Geese sky full 3

Gradually the amorphous mass of geese separated into skeins, some making neat and tidy V-shapes, others forming long straggling lines, and all perfectly silhouetted against the now fiery-red morning sky. It was impossible to count the geese as more and more birds lifted off. Groups headed in different directions towards their preferred feeding grounds. Many geese headed inland towards the sugar-beet fields where they would spend their day grazing on the discarded beet tops. Others headed straight towards me on the seawall and as they approached, I could clearly distinguish the distinctive ‘wink-wink, pink-pink’ calls of Pink-footed Geese, for these made up most of this mega-flock. Coming closer and closer until they were directly overhead, they flew in the direction of the marshes and fields at Burnham Norton. Short necks, small dark heads, tiny bills but no chance of seeing those diagnostic pink legs in flight, these Pink-feet travelled in an organised V formation. They comprised family parties with adults accompanying juveniles as they migrated together from their breeding grounds in the tundra of Iceland. I might have found it cold that Norfolk morning but to them our winter weather was mild and inviting compared to conditions they’d left behind in the Arctic. The combination of balmy weather in this, their most southerly wintering area in Britain, together with a plentiful food supply, and the security thousands of other watchful goose eyes on the lookout made Norfolk the perfect winter destination.

Last year’s Pink-footed Goose survey by the Icelandic Breeding Goose Census co-ordinated by the WWT suggested that over 480,000 birds spent the winter here in the UK*. That morning it felt as though most of that number had decided to visit North Norfolk as still more birds streamed out of the marshes towards their feeding grounds. This year empirical evidence suggested that even more birds than usual were arriving, perhaps they had had a particularly good breeding season. It had been a good lemming year so the Arctic Foxes that comprise the chief predators of goslings had had plenty of alternative food to eat. Great news for the Pink-footed Geese, but perhaps a potential conflict in the making if all those hungry geese started damaging early crops in the Norfolk fields.

As the last few stragglers departed to feast on discarded root crops, still ‘wink-wink-ing’ their way across the huge Norfolk skies, that bitter wind made itself more obvious. Geese weren’t the only ones who needed food that morning; it was time to head back for breakfast.

That evening as the sky was once more suffused with an orange glow, this time from the setting sun, the air was filled again with the familiar call and sight of geese on the move. A continuous conveyor belt of Pink-footed Geese flew in family parties or bigger communities of birds all drawn to the safety of the freshmarsh to roost together for the night. In families of sixes and sevens, or groups of fifteen and twenty, more and more geese headed eastwards as the light levels dropped. Even when it was too dark to see, I could still hear ‘wink-wink’ as birds flew over to join the party.

Big skies, muddy creeks, and thousands of geese: that’s North Norfolk in a nutshell.

Looking forward to being back on the North Norfolk coast this October for more fantastic birdwatching.

For details of all our Birdwatching Trips tours please see our Tours pages and if you have any questions at all please drop us a line here....

info@birdwatchingtrips.co.uk

We look foward to enjoying wonderful birds and places with you soon!



Sunset Burnham Norton 2





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