Spooning in Stiffkey

Mrs Sciencebase and I visited our peripatetic holiday house* to High Sands Creek campsite in Stiffkey, Norfolk, this weekend, turned out to be the hottest weekend of the year so far. Lots and lots of rather worn looking Painted Lady butterflies during the day and Silver Y pollinating the wildflowers at dusk.

A long, hot walk to Wells-next-the-Sea from the campsite was peppered with the usual seabird suspects of summer in this area – Oystercatcher, Curlew, Red Shank – and quite a few warblers in the trees along the footpath. It’s quite a hike from the east end of Wells to the pine-backed beaches of golden sand and beach huts to the west. The aroma of the pine and the heat of the day might make the somnambulant visitor imagine dreamily that they are on a Mediterranean island. It is quite beautiful and one of the many reasons we make return visits to this part of the world and have done so for almost thirty years.

Anyway, we had at various points along the hike seen what we thought were large, odd-looking herons overhead. It was only on seeing one wading and feeding along the shore of the inlet, East Fleet, that we realised that what we had been watching were Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia).

There are a few of the birds at Holkham, further west around the coast, perhaps one might describe it as a breeding colony and ironically enough they were spotted at Stiffkey Fen a couple of days before our arrival. The “spoon” shaped bill of this bird, Mrs Sciencebase remarked is quite something, but perhaps a more apt name would The Spatula-billed Heron.

Sadly, this species is of European conservation concern and is actually only a rare breeding bird in the UK. It is thought there are only up to 4 breeding pairs in the UK. That said, on a fairly recent visit to RSPB Minsmere we caught a glimpse of around 30 Spoonbills (out of breeding season some of them arrive here to over-winter). I’ve seen two previously at RSPB North Warren on the northern outskirts of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

But, on this more recent coastal trip to North Norfolk we may have seen a total of half a dozen, with one or two spotted in flight at different times over the weekend and the individual above I photographed in Wells-next-the-Sea.

Amazingly, only one other person in the town walking along the East Fleet seemed to notice the bird, he ran down to get a photo with his phone shouting about it being a “dessert spoonbill” to his friends and, of course, he spooked it and it took flight…which did give me an opportunity to snap it in flight much closer.

*Our tent.