Thursday, 22 January 2015

Jan 22nd Holkham Pines to Gun Hill

Today, I am in North Norfolk with my dad for a long walk from Holkham Pines to Gun Hill and back. This takes me through a costal pine forest, across the dunes, past a salt marsh and an estuary and finally looping back with a long stroll on the beach. It will be exhausting but it will provide great scenery and wildlife.

Brent Geese
Before setting off, my wildlife search begins at the car park. The car park at Holkham Pines is sandwiched between two large partially flooded fields, wintering grounds for enormous flocks of brent and pink-footed geese and wigeon. The geese, for now, were constantly flying by us in several massive flocks, calling away. The wigeon were more approachable, grazing near the fence. I also found lapwings, black-tailed godwits, a kestrel and a marsh harrier in this area too.

Little Grebe
The walk amongst the pine trees of Holkham Pines was alive with goldcrests and long-tailed tits. I was more excited with what was on the site's pond though. Three little grebes were diving underwater for food and with it was a handsome male goldeneye. A goldeneye is a diving duck that fishes out invertebrates living deep under the surface. A few of these ducks come down to overwinter in Norfolk each year and I have found them on this pond before a few years ago, so this pond is quite reliable for such a stunning bird. The site also has two hides overlooking the grazing fields. From them, my goose count went up to four species with additions of graylag and Egyptian geese. I also spot a couple of buzzards with one of them being a pale morph bird (that means it had a blond head and chest).

Rays of sunlight over the saltmarsh
We eventually left Holkham Pines and were now walking the dunes to Gun Hill (a mound next to an estuary). This was an environment that was like walking on a lunar scene that was covered in lichen, small shrubs, marram grass and potted with rabbit holes. It was a tiring part of the walk with its slopes and trip hazards (thanks rabbits!), but the scenery alongside the dunes was changing from a field (from which we saw a pair of marsh harriers and a muntjac deer) to a saltmarsh that provided us with shelduck, redshank and a flock of linnets. We had lunch on the dunes, watching rays of sunlight hitting the water of the saltmarsh just right with a soundtrack of redshanks yodeling. A beautiful moment! We also watched hundreds of brent geese taking flight in the distance, filling the sky.

Now for the moment of madness when Dad realises he didn't put enough money in the car park's meter. That meant he had to leave me to walk all the way back to put more money in before the meter ran out! Good job he is a fitter person than me! I, however, was left to loop back via the beach at a more casual pace. This gave me a chance for a bit of beach combing and here are a few things that I found...

Ray Eggcases

Shore Crab Carapace with Barnacles

Common Otter Shell
Oyster covered in something

Dog Whelk Eggcase and cockle
Common Whelk

Apart from beach combing, I also did a bit of exploring around some saltwater pools on the beach. Here I found common gulls and a curlew probing the mud with its long curved bill. The mud's surface along the shore of the pools was covered in wader prints and the squiggly casts of lugworms.

Wader Prints

Lugworm Cast

Snow Bunting
At the halfway point along my walk back, I came across a piece of the Arctic in this part of North Norfolk. I was caught by surprise when I saw 3-4 snow buntings. I nearly didn't see them until they did a short flight up in front of me. They didn't go far though, as I sneaked closer for a few shots. These are small white bellied birds with orange bills and were feeding on the vegetation along the edge of the dunes. This hardy finch-sized bird is a winter visitor to our coastline from the Arctic Circle where it breeds in the summer. I had a few minutes to admire them before a dog came and scared them off.

Pink-footed Geese
Back at the car park, after reuniting with Dad, the pink-footed geese were starting to come in to roost as the sun was setting. A few were already on one of the fields, but the majority were still in the air. We watched them fly in the distance like a cloud of birds searching for a place to land. They tested each spot by spiralling down to land, appearing as a zig-zag from our point of view, but seemed unhappy with each spot and went back up again. It was great way to end our walk on. I am tired and my body aches, but it was definately worth it.

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