It's always a bonus when work takes me over to Norfolk, and yesterday was no exception. We called in at Cley Marshes Reserve, run by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, to see what was around.
Down on the beach, it was predictably windy and cold, but the easterlies hadn't blown in any unusual European or Scandinavian migrants. A juvenile Gannet flashed past, and a Red-throated Diver, but otherwise it was just the gulls and, on the far side of the wonderfully ramshackle cafe, a field full of Brent Geese and a single Curlew. A flock of Golden Plovers shimmered overhead a couple of times, but we didn't stick it too long before the lure of the new visitor centre and a cheese and ham toastie grew too great.
It really is a great building, blended well into the low ridge on the far side of the coast road, and constructed to make as low an environmental impact as possible. The food, all locally sourced, is good too, but the best thing about it is that you can eat it while looking out over the marshes through huge windows. Marsh Harriers skimmed the reeds as we ate, and small groups of Black-tailed Godwits made their way inland (presumably to feed, although I've never seen that at Cley before).
Afterwards, we went to the main hide, to watch more harriers, plus a good assortment of wildfowl and waders, then on to Salthouse Marshes, where a little flock of eight Turnstones landed practically at our feet. They're always engaging, entertaining little birds, and after a quick bustle around, they departed to further down the shingle, calling as they went.
Cley is reputedly the most birdwatched parish in the UK, but once you're out on the shingle, looking back inland, you can't help noticing the three great wool churches of Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse (and there are more inland). They dominate the skyline, looking totally out of scale with their surroundings, a reminder of a time when Norfolk was both the most densely populated and the richest part of England. Now they look like ships, thrown up onto the land by a great storm, and stranded for good.