Monday, 16 December 2013

A Wild Goose Chase

5th December 2013

Without doubt one of the most memorable spectacles in the birding world is the vast flocks of Pink-footed Geese that visit the north Norfolk coast each winter. Whether you watch the tens of thousands of geese leaving The Wash to feed on the inland fields in the morning or the never-ending skeins coming into roost at Lady Anne's Drive, they never fail to leave you with a memory that will last until you return to see them again next year. Ever since I bought my camera in July 2011 I have been promising myself a trip to photograph them, and when a report came in of 10,000 at Docking the bags were packed.

Andy Johnson and I set off at about 8.00am but unfortunately the A14 was at a standstill and therefore we lost about an hour as, with everyone else with the same idea, we picked our way through the narrow side roads trying to find a way through to the A10. In the event it didn't really matter as the sun didn't break through until we were at Heacham, just down the road from our destination.

As we approached Docking we slowed down to inspect all the fields along the road. Many of the fields were still holding Sugar Beet or sown with Rape and were therefore unsuited to the geese which seem to prefer muddy fields where the crop have been recently harvested so they can feed on the leftovers. Then suddenly, as we came across a new field that fitted all the requirements there were about 5000 geese, all feeding quite contentedly close to the road. And as if that wasn't enough, there was a place to park and the sun was behind us. What a result!!

It was difficult to know where to start as there were so many opportunities, coupled with fact that there was a constant turnover of birds as some departed to the north only to be replaced by new flocks arriving from the south. And all this to the accompanying soundtrack of 5000 birds constantly giving their wink-wink-wink call which seems be no more than a comfort blanket.

After about an hour a large tractor came along the road and spooked most of the nearby birds which flew off north, so therefore a good time to continue on our way. We cruised through Stanhoe trying to find another large flock that had been reported there but without success and so continued on to Wells.

The purpose of popping into Wells was to visit the football pitch at the start of the road that runs alongside the miniature railway to the lifeboat station. It was on my very first visit to Wells about 30 years ago that I came across a flock of 1000 Brent Geese on this football pitch, a sight that has remained with me ever since. And sure enough as we turned the corner there they were, not 1000 this time but still a good 200 attacking the goal to the right. Even the most hardened footballer would think about a sliding tackle on this pitch!!

There are always a few birds that stop feeding and act as look-outs to warn the flock of imminent danger. This bird obviously saw a threat approaching, possibly a Peregrine, as without warning the whole flock lifted into the air and flew out over the saltmarsh until the danger had passed, eventually returning to the football pitch.

And so on to the final site of our wild goose chase, that goose mecca of Norfolk, Lady Anne's Drive. As soon as we arrived things were looking good as, despite significantly reduced numbers, all the geese were much closer than those at Docking and were clearly used to people, as this is a busy car park. The next hour was spent snapping away as the nearest birds carried on feeding.

There was also the occasional opportunity for a flight shot as more birds joined in the fun. And no, the last shot is NOT a collage but just as it happened.

Well, that is it for another year until about the same time next year when I will need another fix!!

Now on to Brancaster Staithe to try out the mobile hide.

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