Monday 22 March 2021

Wells and Stiffkey with Rob Lucking

With an eye on local walks and the Honeyguide break in North Norfolk in May, Julie and I joined Rob Lucking* to visit two of his local patches.

We met in Wells-next-the-Sea and started by walking along East Quay, opposite the extensive saltmarshes that dominate this part of the coast. There were close groups of brent geese and a nice selection of waders, as you might expect, including curlews, redshanks and grey plovers.

But the star birds flew past on the landward side, over the rooftops of the quayside properties: a raven, shortly followed by a second. They were heading west and disappeared from view over the main part of Wells-next-the-Sea. It's not often that I see a new bird for Norfolk. I release that there may be readers of this blog west of Norfolk (just about everywhere!) for whom a raven is an everyday or at least a regular occurrence. Over here in the east, ravens just haven’t been part of the scene for all of my birdwatching life. That’s beginning to change now, rather like how buzzards and peregrines are now routine in the right places. There has been one pair of ravens in west Norfolk since 2018, and an increasing scatter of records elsewhere in the county.

House sparrows were nipping in and out of lobster pots piled up on the quay, much as they like to dive into the safety of thick hedges.

North Point wetlands lie immediately east of Wells. It’s a series of pools, wet in winter and spring and drying in the summer, visually rather like the scrapes at Minsmere or Titchwell Marsh. It’s new habitat created on what was, by all accounts, an area of arable that the farmer found was difficult to make pay. Natural England encouraged the landowner to create the wetlands now in place, with a modest amount of land forming and water control structures. Forgive the lack of photo: at this point of the morning, it was raining and the wind had a biting edge.

Avocets were what especially caught the eye, a couple of dozen in a tight flock. Shelducks, little egrets, black-tailed godwits and various other ducks and waders made a nice mix. Spoonbills drop in regularly: the colony at Holkham isn’t far away, but none today. There’s a patch of scrub that is alive with warblers in spring, says Rob. We retreated from the wintry weather for loos and a take-out coffee in Wells.

Saltmarsh at Stiffkey.

We drove a short distance east to Stiffkey, with some sunshine at last. There seemed to be marsh harriers everywhere, plus buzzards and a single red kite. Stiffkey Fen is more habitat creation, supported by Stewardship payments. Rob is involved with weekly monitoring visits, counting birds mostly; an area of chalk grassland provides botanical interest in summer. Today there were more avocets and black-tailed godwits, plus brent geese again on nearby saltmarsh. Happily, there is public access as the North Norfolk Coastal Path runs through the area. All too soon it was time for our picnic lunch and for parental taxi service duties for Rob.

New wetland at Stiffkey.

Highland cows at Stiffkey.

* Rob Lucking is a former RSPB colleague of Chris Durdin and a Honeyguide leader, especially from when we used to go to Lesvos. There are still vacancies on the Honeyguide break in North Norfolk that Rob is leading in May 2021.

Chris Durdin

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