Trip reports

January coach trip to Titchwell Marsh

January coach trip to Titchwell Marsh
barn owl by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The sunshine was all the more welcome after the cycles of gales and rain stretching back to the storm surge at the beginning of December. The legacy of that is only too clear at Titchwell. Sand dunes have been erased and the boardwalk leading to the beach stands like a forlorn, abandoned fairground attraction. Work done in recent years to realign and reinforce the reserve's sea defences has been severely tested, but has preserved intact the vulnerable freshwater habitats and the bulk of the infrastructure. Coastal erosion is a fact of life here. The sea has encroached some 90 meters in the last 70 years, but the effects of climate change - rising sea levels and more frequent storms - can only speed up the process.

The first treat of the day for many was a brambling among the chaffinches and great tits visiting the birdfeeders behind the visitor centre. Walking out towards the sea along the West Bank gives panoramic views to the east across saltmarsh and to the west across the reserve. Starting with reedbed and freshwater marsh, moving on to intertidal, then tidal marsh and finally the beach, each is an increasingly saline habitat. From the beach it was just possible to pick out red-throated and great northern divers, common and velvet scoters, red-breasted mergansers and goldeneye in a choppy sea. Those prepared to take a hike along the beach saw snow buntings.

The striking Parrinder south hide (one of our group commented that it could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) faces across the Freshwater Marsh, dotted with islands. Hundreds of golden plover, plus lapwing, turnstone, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, avocet and ruff basked in the sunlight. As marsh harriers floated over the reedbed a mix of golden plover and lapwing spooked upwards, flashing gold, black and white as they turned until the flocks separated. The plover climbed higher and higher before, as if pouring down an invisible funnel, they spiraled back to settle where they started, all facing the same way.

Towards the end of the day, as we looked out for owls, a sparrowhawk posed obligingly on a fence post. A peregrine falcon appeared as we headed back to the coach. Some were lucky enough to see a barn owl. We travelled home through a land and skyscape requiring the skills of a watercolourist and a poet to describe adequately. The bare bones of trees stood stark against the deepening greys and pinks of sunset while overhead dark, writhing lines of pink-footed geese headed for their overnight roosts. And having started by saying that it didn't matter what birds you see on a day like this we ended with a group list of 85 species.