WONDROUS WADERS @ TITCHWELL MARSH
On day two of my trip to Norfolk I visited the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh Reserve which is located between the villages of Titchwell and Thornham just five miles east of Hunstanton. The Reserve's habitats include reedbeds, salt marshes, freshwater lagoon, sandy beach and a small woodland area near to the car park. Titchwell Marsh is part of the North Norfolk Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is an important site for scarce breeding birds such as Bitterns, Avocets, Marsh Harriers and Bearded Tits.
The reserve is also home to wetland birds such as the Water Rail, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Little Egrets. Geese and Ducks winter at the reserve in large numbers and Titchwell is very important for migrating birds during Spring and Autumn and regularly attracts rarities. On the reserve there are four hides, five trails, cafe and visitor centre and the reserve is free to RSPB members but non-members have to buy a car park ticket for the day. The five trails are the Meadow trail, Fen trail, East trail, West Bank path and Autumn trail, although the Autumn trail is only open from August to October.
During in both World War One and World War Two the site was heavily used by the military and remains from both World Wars are still visible. Brickwork from a First World War military hospital and 1940's artillery targets for armoured fighting vehicles and warplanes in the Second World War can be seen. Immediately west of Titchwell Marsh is Thornham Marsh and from 1914 to 1918 it was used as a bombing range by the Royal Flying Corps. There is also some brickwork remaining from a First World War military hospital and a First World War building on the West Bank was used as a holiday let until 1942 when the army returned.
During the Second World War military defences were built at Titchwell Marsh and between 1942 and 1945 it was used by the Royal Tank Regiment. An armoured fighting vehicle gunnery range was established and new banks were constructed for firing practice. Titchwell Marsh was still used for military activities after the war had ended with the RAF using Thornham Marsh again between 1950 and 1959. The remains of two Second World War Covenanter tanks used as targets are sometimes visible at low tides.
The wreck of the SS Vina, a cargo steamship built in 1894, can be seen at low tide and in 1944 it was being used as a target for the RAF when a gale dragged it to its current location and sank it. The remains are reachable at low tide, but visiting them is very dangerous as it can be very quickly cut off by the incoming tide with a warning sign advising anyone that reaches it to return to the beach immediately. Behind the sea wall the marshes were drained after the war and returned to farmland, but during the North Sea flood of 1953 the bank was breached and the whole area was returned to tidal saltmarsh.
Between 1970 and 1972 a pair of Montagu's Harriers which are Britain's rarest breeding birds of prey, nested in the reedbed at Titchwell Marsh and in 1973 the reserve was bought by the RSPB for the sum of £53,000. Sadly the Montagu's Harriers did not return but in 1984 Avocets bred here for the first time and the RSPB has been improving the habitat and facilities, embanking the lagoons and building a visitor centre and car park with the visitor centre facilities being upgraded between 1987 and 1989 to cope with the number of visitors.
In 1991 the sea broke through the dunes at the eastern end of the beach near the former Tern hide and this caused the dunes to start eroding. The remains of the two Second World War tanks first appeared at this time. The following year the boardwalk at the beach end of the West Bank was built to protect the dunes. In 1993 thirty acres of land to the east of the reserve was bought with much of this being the old firing range used by the army. Large amounts of barbed wire caused problems when converting the area to reedbed and wet grazing meadow.
In February of 1996 storms demolished most of the sand dunes east of the boardwalk and eroded those to the west leading to the Tern hide being cut off at high tide and as a result it was dismantled. In 1997 a cafe was added to the visitor centre and the Fen hide was erected alongside a boardwalk that leads to the hide. Titchwell Marsh is one of the RSPB's most visited sites and is right next to the A149 road with buses stopping right outside the reserve. The main track is a public right of way and is the only part of the reserve where dogs are permitted. The visitor centre is open every day except Christmas Day & Boxing Day with most of the reserve and its facilities being wheelchair accessible.
Breeding birds at the reserve include Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers, Water Rails, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers, Cetti's Warblers and Little Egrets. During the early part of Summer rare migrants such as the Little Gull, Black Tern, Eurasian Spoonbill and Garganey sometimes pass through to breed at other locations. In the autumn some species arrive from the north such as Black Tailed Godwits, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints either staying for winter or using the reserve as a refuelling stop before carrying on.
Autumn is also a good time to see Bearded Tits as well as offshore birds such as Great Skua's, Arctic Skua's, Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes if the wind is favourable. In winter large numbers of ducks such as Wigeons, Teals, Mallards, Gadwalls and smaller numbers of Goldeneyes and Pintails. On the sea there are sometimes Common Scoters, Velvet Scoters, Long Tailed Ducks, Red-throated Divers and Eiders. Titchwell Marsh's location means that rare migrants such as Black-Winged Stilts, Baird's Sandpipers, Broad Billed Sandpipers, Thrush Nightingales, Arctic Redpolls, Stilt Sandpipers, Black-Winged Pratincoles and Black-Headed Wagtails which have all visited the reserve in recent years.
From 2010 to 2011 the banks on the east and west of the reserve were reinforced, with the sea wall to the north of the fresh marsh being rebuilt on the line of the old Parrinder bank. The Parrinder hide was replaced by two new hides designed by HaysomWardMiller, with the new designs winning an award from RIBA for the architectural style. The former brackish marsh north of the new wall was changed by creating a breach in the east bank to allow tidal flooding and establishment of saltmarsh. The new saltmarsh will protect the rebuilt Parrinder wall and slow erosion.
I arrived at Titchwell just before half past nine and once I had set up my camera I headed off to the West Bank path. As I walked up the side of the reedbeds a Wren was calling and out to the left a Little Egret was edging along a channel in the mud. Just after the end of the reedbed I arrived at the Island hide which is situated in the south west corner of the Freshwater marsh. Looking eastwards out of the hide at this time of day was quite difficult as the sun was beaming down and the water and wet mud reflected very strongly making it almost impossible to see anything.
I moved round to the north facing part of the hide and out on a mud bank half way across the marsh there was several Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shovelers and Black Tailed Godwits as well as a pair of Little Stints and a few Shelducks. Round to the north west corner a group of about twenty five Dunlins were moving around in shallow water taking food from the mud below. As I left the Island hide a Wren was hopping along the top of the fence before disappearing into the bush once it saw me.
Returning to the West Bank path I continued to head north getting a closer look at the Dunlins in the north west corner, but to the left a couple Redshanks called as they rose up and flew low over the marsh to a small pool. A Starling perched on top of a thick wooden pole as I reached the Parrinder wall and I turned right between the two grass banks and along the Parrinder path. At the end of the path are the two stunning Parrinder hides.
I went into the Parrinder South hide first and in front of the hide the group of Dunlins had moved across but like the Island hide the strong sun reflecting off the water made it hard to see or identify much else. After a couple of minutes I moved across to the Parrinder North hide which was much better as the sun was now behind me making it ideal for photography. From here there was a lone Little Egret moving along the near side of the Volunteer Marsh before flying over to the far left hand side.
Just in front of the hide to the near left side a couple of Redshanks were making their way along some of the exposed mud prodding it for food with their long beaks. Out in the middle there was a group of about a dozen Brent Geese and on the far side at the edge of the bank a lone Avocet was also present. Before I left the hide and headed for the beach a Water Pipit came in at a rate of knots and flew straight over the hide and out of sight.
I left the hide and headed back to the West Bank path turning north and as I reached the Tidal marsh in the bottom left corner a Black Tailed Godwit was busy wading through the water with the mud dripping off the end of its very long beak back into the water. In the middle of the marsh there was a group of eleven Oystercatchers and just in front of them about a dozen Black Tailed Godwits were huddled together with their beaks tucked under their wings.
I made my way through the dunes to the beach but as the tide was only just starting to go out there was not much about and I would come back later in the day at low tide. It was now approaching midday so went back through the sand dunes and started to make my way back down the West Bank path. As I walked along the path the Redshanks were still calling and moving low along the marshes and a few Little Egrets were making their way along the channels in the marsh.
Whilst I was having my lunch I was able to watch the feeders by the visitor centre which were being visited by Robins, Long Tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Goldfinches. Underneath picking up the scraps were Pheasants, Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves. Once I had finished my lunch I headed along the Fen trail to the Fen hide with Blackbirds and Long Tailed Tits moving from tree to tree. Upon arrival at the Fen hide there were plenty of Dragonflies and Wasps but in front of the hide all was quiet.
After a few minutes I left the hide and walked to the East trail and sat down at the viewing screen. On the left hand side of the pool in front of me a trio of Shovelers were busy preening themselves and on the far right hand side several Coots, Lapwings, a trio of Lesser Black Backed Gulls and about ten Black Headed Gulls. I now headed for the Autumn trail but as I approached the start of it a bird was calling from a small patch of reeds and it turned out to be a Cetti's Warbler although it never actually came into view before I moved on.
I started walking along the Autumn trail (open August to October only) which has a line of dead trees leading towards the Freshwater marsh. The path turns north along the eastern edge of the reedbed and as I followed the path a couple of Stonechats were perched on the dead trees. The path terminates at the south eastern corner of Freshwater marsh and as I looked out over the marsh a Kestrel and then a Marsh Harrier flew overhead.
As I made my way back down the trail a trio of Bearded Tits flew over the banking and dropped into the reeds to my right. One of the Stonechats was now on a bush nearer the path and the Cetti's Warbler was now silent. As I approached the Fen hide a Redstart flew through the trees and disappeared and I continued via the Fen and Meadow trails to the West Bank path. I paused for a while sitting on a bench that overlooked the reedbed hoping to see some more Bearded Tits. Sadly there were none for now but a Kingfisher did pop up out of the reeds and flew round me and onto Thornham Marsh. I decided to skip the Island hide and head straight to the Parrinder hides this time, visiting the south hide first.
In front of the hide a few ducks were present and a lot more further out whilst in amongst them were a few more Brent Geese. A couple of Pied Wagtails made a brief appearance on small rocks at the edge of the water before moving off. A minute or so later a Dunlin flew in and landed on the water in front of the hide and started wading through the water looking for food. After about ten or so minutes I moved across the short distance to the north hide and the water levels on the Volunteer Marsh had now dropped significantly with the tide now going out.
A group of Linnets descended onto the marsh pecking at some of the plants exposed by the now low water level. As the tide was now going out I made my way back to the West Bank path and continued north towards the beach. In the north west corner of Volunteer marsh a lone Turnstone was walking along the now exposed mud bank and on the Tidal marsh Redshanks and Black Tailed Godwits were patrolling the shallow water near the path.
Upon reaching the beach the tide had gone out a couple of hundred yards and exposed the remains of an old building from the sites military past and fishing boats were lowering their nets into the water a few hundred yards further out. At the edge of the water low lying rocks covered in barnacles, muscles and all sorts of other food for wading birds were coming into view. As I got closer the rocks were packed with Oystercatchers and Turnstones as well as a few Black Tailed Godwits and Curlews. As I moved along the edge of the outgoing tide I spotted a couple of Sanderlings moving about on the wet sand.
I edged closer and closer to the pair of Sanderlings to try and get a photo, but when I was about thirty feet from them they moved down to the water's edge. They then started racing along the water's edge towards me and continued walking past me very fast until they disappeared into the distance. I walked back along the shore watching the Oystercatchers and Turnstones for a while and before I returned to the West Bank path I spotted a single Greenshank had joined the other birds investigating the now exposed low lying rocks.
Returning to the West Bank path I spotted a lone Grey Heron standing in the middle of the water on Tidal Marsh and a bit further down on a small patch of exposed mud a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were present. I continued on past Volunteer marsh to the Island hide which, now the sun had moved round, made it easier to see out on to the water. The large group of Dunlins were still present and I could now see an even larger group of Knots out on a mud bank in the middle of Freshwater marsh.
There were a few Redshanks & Black Tailed Godwits dotted about in amongst the large numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Shovelers with a few Moorhens and Coots nearer the hide and the number of Shelducks had swelled to nearly thirty as well. I had been at Titchwell Marsh for nearly seven hours now and it was time to go back to the hotel, but as I was packing everything back into the car a Goldcrest was hopping about in the tree next to the car.
I have attached my full sightings and quite a few photos from my visit to the fantastic Titchwell Marsh.