Field Trip to Berney Marshes 25th September 2011

By Jacky Pett

 09.15 on Sunday Morning.  Norwich Railway Station.  A party of lesser green birdwatchers hover in the entrance.  Among them the sharper-eyed can spot the rare blue birdwatcher and a couple of other sports.  They huddle together like a herd of cats and change their minds two or three times before rising like a chorus of larks to head in the direction of the Wherry Line to join the 09.36 train.  The driver sees them coming and runs to hide, but they join the train which sets off, passing Strumpshaw and Buckenham Fens where an obliging marsh harrier is seen by some, a pair of hobbies and a grey heron by others, and a flock of goldfinches by still more, along with plenty of corvids.  The driver of the train draws up at the Berney Arms halt and deposits 90% of his passengers on the platform.  They almost fit on it, although some quickly sneak off on the trail to the river avoiding our intrepid heroes who pause to be photographed with the station sign and the rear of the departing train.

Off over the fields towards the river, heading for a black painted windmill.  It’s a beautiful day, sunshine and a few high clouds, a pleasant westerly breeze.  They reach the river and pause to see what can be seen.  Pied wagtails seem to be coy, but are eventually traced to the roof of the barn, and a flock of curlew in the field takes the eye.  And something smaller.  After a lot of debate they agree on ruff, a group of which insist on disturbing the curlew by taking fright and flying round at regular intervals, which is kind of them as it allows all the party of birdwatchers to spot them.  Attention turns to the river and the point at which the river (Yare) enters the estuary.  On the bank there are numerous black-tailed godwit and a few sleeping avocets.  A large gull sits on a post and the decision is: great-black backed.  The black-headed gulls are largely ignored except when they turn out to be common gulls.  Herring gulls are checked just in case they aren’t, but they all are.  An egret preens itself, its beak catching the sun and briefly exciting people that it might be a Cattle rather than a Little.  Like many others seen along the way, it’s a Little.  Cormorant hang around, digesting their breakfast.  Talking of breakfast, the café by the Berney Arms pub stops serving at 11 a.m.  The flock of birdwatchers swoops down on it, with just a few ignoring the smell of bacon sandwiches and coffee to continue focusing their telescopes on the knot of knot (and some that are not) at the confluence of the rivers.

After suitable refreshment, the party set off in earnest along the five mile walk to Great Yarmouth.  ‘Earnest’ in this respect means a pace that a snail could keep up with as there are many flocks of black- and bar-tailed godwit and redshank flying up to the river, giving great views since they are flying against the wind, which takes a lot of time.  Curlew fly across regularly to find good feeding on the falling tide. Some Cetti shout from some bushes by the reeds and further on a female reed bunting obligingly sits on top of a hawthorn bush to let all get a good view.  A wren decides to scold the intruders and blue and great tits come for a look at the group too.  A swimming black-backed gull is having trouble with a fish it has caught which is rather too large to swallow in one go.  A debate at the water’s edge determines that black-tailed godwit may actually swim while feeding.  Another group flies in and lands, demonstrating that the ‘swimming’ group are standing at the precise depth of their bellies.  Duck are dismissed as mallard until one more doubting Thomas points out that the one tagging along seemingly reluctantly has a prominent white wing bar and is, in fact, a wigeon.  Or wjdgin as the charming centuries-old spelling would have it.

Two hours from the Windmill and rather less than halfway to Yarmouth the group find a suitable place to shelter from the ‘freshening’ wind and have lunch.  This allows plenty of opportunity to gaze at the marshes beyond a little bush-lined dyke and observe anything moving other than the cars speeding along the A47 in the distance, which can occasionally be taken for marsh harriers.  But that was a marsh harrier, and so was that…  and that sounded like a kingfisher…  it flew away and showed it was indeed a kingfisher, and so was that one which flew in the opposite direction.  And that smaller flash of blue was a southern hawker dragonfly, and the reddish one sitting on your boot is a common darter.  And a kestrel swoops low over the marsh and up over the sea wall.

Lunch over, the party move on, stopping less often to set up their scopes and view the large flocks of waders on the mudflats, and spot things flushed from the edge of the saltmarsh, which include a curlew with one leg dangling uselessly.  It seems to manage ok at the moment.  Eight shelduck feed fairly close to the shore and on a pond in the marshes a potential shoveler turns out to be a mallard with its head hunkered down close to its chest, but the smaller ducks are teal, one with summer plumage still showing.  Large swathes of distant mudflats are covered with godwit, knot, avocet, lapwing and a few smaller birds – three redshank have different stages of moult but they are all the same species. A hobby swoops over the sea, well spotted by the leader. As the birders trudge ever closer to Yarmouth they can see a golden sheen over the mudflats – golden plover, with a large party of wigeon in front.  Closer in, the saltmarsh is divided by deep muddy trails with a dribble of water in the bottom, just right for hiding another egret with three greenshanks darting around behind it.  At last the party round a corner, go under the bridge, across the car park and encounter the hubbub of Asda, where they gain relief at the rest rooms and tea at the café. And half an hour later they board the 16.18 train to Norwich, spotting pheasant in quantity on the way back, some of which, the conductor says, insist on sticking themselves to the front of the train on a regular basis.  It takes all sorts.


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