Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Day Tripping at Cley Marshes Nature Reserve

Cley Marshes D200  20-05-2011 15-13-34 Babe had been ill and in so much pain the whole week. But being a wonderful hubby, he still managed to drive me to work and as soon as he arrived back to the casa, he’ll be straight in bed with a hot water bottle strapped to his head. In the evening, despite his pain, he’ll drive back to the university and get me home safely. Thanks a million darling.

But on Friday morning, I was already dressed for work and having my breakfast of toast and honey,  Babe came down with a big smile. After 4 days, he was finally pain-free and was just itching to get a bit of sunshine on his very pallid face. I checked my little black book to see if I’ve got anything pencilled in and the page was blank. Yesss…I called the office and informed them that I’m starting my weekend early :-).

I quickly changed into my camouflaged gear and made a thermos of coffee and plenty of fruit juices. We nipped to Morissons to fill up the car and purchased a pack of cheese and onion pasties, bananas and Kit-Kats. We packed our gear and were on the M6 in no time. It was a lovely 3+ hour drive through Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and finally Norfolk under sunny intervals, blustery breeze, patchy clouds and sudden cloud- bursts.

Thankfully, there wasn’t much traffic on the road. Norfolk was very flat, interspersed with lovely chapels, churches, fields of wheat and flowering rapeseed, dairy farms and fruit orchards. Winding along the A149 we passed through tiny hamlets and villages. And then we saw the most beautiful piece of architecture, the famous landmark in this part of the world, the picturesque 18th century Cley Windmill, glistening in the sunlight against the hazy blue skies. I’m planning to spend the night here in the near future. I can’t wait.

We drove through the very kooky village of Cley. Most of the buildings here were built using the local Norfolk red brick and flint and nearly all had Flemish gables. I couldn’t imagine the amount of traffic that passed through this town. I would like to check this town when we come here again. Immediately after the town, we were greeted with 400 acres of marshland to the left and the stunning eco-friendly visitor centre perched on the hill to the right. We quickly parked the car and made use of the facilities. After getting our tickets and several flyers, we checked out the stunning views from here. I could see the golden reed beds framed by the A149 and the North Sea. Ooh, how I missed the sea. We also bumped into acquaintances from Brandon who were here for a holiday. Small world huh… 

After a quick lunch we were ready to wander and wonder. NWT Cley Marshes is Norfolk oldest and best known nature reserve. Founded in 1926, it was the first Wildlife Trust nature reserve in the UK and provided the blueprint for nature conservation and started a national movement of 47 Wildlife Trusts now with 2,200 nature reserves. As soon as we stepped on the boardwalk to start our adventure, we were serenaded by a Sedge Warbler with its cheerful chattering song. The bachelor boy was singing his heart out to attract a mate. I’m sure he won’t be single long.

Meandering along the boardwalks, glimpsing the birdlife through the reeds, scanning over the reed beds for anything and being accompanied by a symphony of birdsongs  was pure pleasure. The nature reserve contained both saltwater and freshwater marsh, with large areas of reed-bed, grazing marsh, lagoons and scrape pool. A magnet that attracts birds in their thousands.

We headed to the main hide complex overlooking the scrapes and pools. We checked out the first hide, appropriately named the Avocet. There were hundreds of this symbol of the RSPB, with its striking black and white feathers, upturned bill and bluish legs, feeding and nesting all over the place. The melodious liquid calls were echoing all around us. We were so excited to see Avocets chicks probing the rich tidal mudflats.

Suddenly from the reed-beds, 3 very adorable Redshank chicks emerged. They were flanked by their very protective parents. We were entertained by their very cute antics, running along the mudbanks, feeding and enjoying a bath. They were very inquisitive bundle of fluff. From time to time, one of the parents would fly from post to post with their shrieking calls, looking out for any signs of danger.

We also saw hundreds of Shelducks, Swallows, Greylags, Wagtails and a Little-Ringed Plover, as well as Little Egrets and House Martins.  The pools and scrapes were all within easy view of the hides. I loved the spacious hides with its thatched roof, blending easily with the environment. The brilliant whiteness of Little Egrets were blinding as they flew in front of the hide. Sometimes they flew so close that we could see their surprisingly yellow feet and hunched neck.

We checked the next hide which was just next door but facing a different pool. From Dawkes Hide, apart from the above birds, other common waders such as Gadwall, Lapwings, Mallards, Shovellers, Teals, Wigeons, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylags, Moorhens, Coots, Black-headed and Common Gulls. Nothing that we’d not seen before.

At the third hide, known as Teal Hide, we saw hundreds of swallows skimming over Pat’s Pool. Their musical twitterings and warblings accompanied the swift, swooping flight on long curved wings and forked tails. I was stunned when this handsome Swallow was taking a brief rest and having a wash just opposite my window. I was trembling with excitement getting so close to this beauty. I could even see the metallic blue upperparts and chestnut face patch. Simply stunning.

Sister, my sister, O fleet, sweet swallow

Thy way is long to the sun and south”

~Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)~

Then we walked back towards the starting point to reach the Bishop’s Hide. We spotted a Whimbrel which was very well camouflaged but he was too far to photograph. The Sedge Warbler was still singing from his post. Red-faced Goldfinches were twittering on the branches and Marsh harriers were foraying over the reed-beds. From the hide, we saw the the usual waders. It was very calm when suddenly a Grey Heron flew into the reed-beds and emerged with a duckling in its beak. I guess you know what happened next. That’s Mother nature for you.

While we were contemplating whether to continue on the East Bank towards Arnold Marsh and Swarovski Hide, we spotted at least 3 Marsh Harriers gliding low over the reed-beds. You just don’t know where to point the camera. One flew right above us, checking us out. An amazing experience. Since don’t know how far the hide was, we decided to go there on our next visit. We were already quite tired by this time.

We walked back to the visitor centre, used the facilities and drove towards The Eye, formerly an island in the marsh. In 1949, a series of banks were built to protect Cley from sea flooding and to increase the area of land available for animal grazing. We parked on the shingle beach and walked towards the sea. I had fun chasing the waves of the North Sea. How I wish I was brave enough to have a dip. It was freezing…

Along the beach, we saw hundreds of Swallows catching their dinner and spotted a few having a brief rest in the beach shack. A Wagtail with its beak full of flies came over to check us out. There were a number of Avocets nesting very close to the beach. These nesting sites were fenced off to stop people from getting too close.

We spent nearly 4 hours on the site and then it was time to head home. We will be back as I haven’t seen the Spoonbills, Bearded Tits, Ruffs, Curlews, Dunlins etc. As we drove past Cley, we parked at a lay-by  to get a closer view of the beautiful windmill. All you could hear was our cameras rattling away. A Greenfinch and Whitethroat came over to see what was the fuss all about.

We had a fantastic day. The North Norfolk coast was teeming with nature reserves and we will be spoilt with choices.

Over the roof of the hide the seed plumes dance.
The hinged flap is up and he focuses
On the pool under the reed expanse.

Waders duck and scurry leaving prints
On the shining mud. His mind turns to the time
When leaning here he pointed out the red shank

Or the speck of the warbler, and felt fortunate.
Even the cold touch of her ring coming back
From the storm beach under the swooping terns

Could not break that. Now the sea has reshaped
The beach - taken the stones lower
And the hide, empty of her scent, echoes

With the perfect logic of her situation.
"I understand, believe me, I understand."
He shifts the binoculars to his other hand.

~Ornithologist by Cameron Self, a poem inspired by the marshes at Cley~

There are 95 wonderful images from our wonderful adventure on Babe’s blog. Do check them out. You’ll be amazed and hopefully pay a visit. I know I will :-) you can also access the images by clicking the photograph at the head of this posting.

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