Cley/Salt­house Marshes

Nor­folk,

Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out - David Ti­pling is a wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor who lives on the Nor­folk coast.

May is a great month for spot­ting birds, mak­ing it a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers. For me, there are few places bet­ter than Cley and Salt­house Marshes in Nor­folk. Sway­ing grasses hum with the song of reed and sedge war­blers, while noisy av­o­cets rear new­born chicks on the muddy ground. This is an ar­rival and de­par­ture lounge for mi­grat­ing birds, and wher­ever you look the wet­lands teem with life.

1 AERIAL ACROBATICS

Col­lect a per­mit from the vis­i­tor cen­tre next to the car park, be­fore set­ting out on this flat but of­ten muddy cir­cu­lar walk. Just a few steps away is Bishop Hide, my favourite spot at Cley Marshes for pho­tog­ra­phy. Out across the scrape (muddy de­pres­sion) av­o­cets will be con­spic­u­ous. Scan the reeds for marsh har­ri­ers. Their high-pitched cries may alert you to the male as he calls the fe­male from above. Drop­ping his prey to­wards the nest, she will of­ten catch the meal in an im­pres­sive show of mid-air acrobatics.

2 SONG FLIGHTING

Back on the path, the graz­ing marsh on your left sup­ports breed­ing wad­ing birds such as lap­wings. Look for lit­tle egrets in the dykes and sedge war­blers in the reeds – their ter­ri­to­rial dis­plays, or song flights, will of­fer a tricky pho­to­graphic chal­lenge. The next stop is Bab­cock Hide over­look­ing Watling Water. Av­o­cets may be breed­ing here, but also keep an eye out for mi­grant waders.

3 BIRDS ON THE BEACH

Leav­ing the hide, turn left to­wards the sea. The many dykes here can be good for pho­tograph­ing pa­trolling drag­on­flies. For a longer all-day

walk, con­tinue to­wards

Salt­house where the in­fa­mous Cook­ies Crab shop will be hard to re­sist for lunch. On the beach, I some­times linger to cap­ture pass­ing sand­wich terns or per­haps a mi­grant whin­chat or wheatear along the fence. The sea pools on your left of­ten buzz with birds, while yel­low-horned pop­pies pro­vide a colour­ful fore­ground for landscape shots.

4 EAST BANK TO WEST

The path soon reaches the northern end of East Bank. For a worth­while de­tour, head in­land along the em­bank­ment. Singing reed war­blers can be pho­tographed from the path and bearded reedlings give away their lo­ca­tion with noisy ‘ping’ calls. Re­turn to the beach and con­tinue to West Bank, which of­fers great views of the pho­to­genic 18th-cen­tury Cley Mill. Turn left and fol­low

Beach Road in­land.

5 HIDE AND THEN SEEK

The last stop is the Daukes

Hide com­plex – a col­lec­tion of three bird shel­ters. The rare gar­ganey and mi­grat­ing ruffs may be on show. Reed buntings can of­ten be seen from the board­walks, while at dawn and dusk barn owls hunt over the graz­ing marsh. Back at the vis­i­tor cen­tre, re­lax with cof­fee and cake on the view­ing deck.

“Pho­to­graphic encounters with bearded tits are al­ways mem­o­rable – this in­di­vid­ual was a real show off as he swayed to and fro on a reed in the breeze”

BELOW A barn owl hov­ers above the graz­ing marshes us­ing hear­ing as much as sight to lo­cate its prey

ABOVE Cley Marshes – des­ig­nated as a na­ture re­serve in 1926 – is Nor­folk Wildlife Trust’s old­est re­serve

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