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Biggest Twitch
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Biggest Twitch

VERY High Tide at Thornham, Norfolk!

Arriving at Thornham harbour at dawn, the tide was still well out, though just beginning to flood the creeks.

Thornham dawn

Dawn over Thornham Harbour

We parked at the end of the road beyond the Coal House and set up the scopes to scan the masses of waders and wildfowl being pushed towards us by the rising waters.

Thornham Harbour at first light

The Coal House and dry road at Thornham Harbour

Ruth and Jayne birding

Ruth and Jayne enjoying the bird spectacle

Realising the tide was now lapping the edge of the road, we took the tactical decision to move the car to higher ground well out of reach of the normal high tide. Back on the seawall, we could see the marshes fast disappearing before our eyes as the water continued to rise. Two Short-eared Owls were pushed out from their roost and took to the air, giving us a stunning display.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl in flight

These long-winged owls floated majestically over the calm floodwater and thrilled us with their beautiful plumage and staring bright yellow eyes. Having been enthralled by the owls, we looked back towards the car and were amazed to see just how high the tide had now risen. Would the car now be under water? Our worrying was briefly interrupted as two Dowitchers (probably Long-billed) flew from the saltmarsh just in front of us, then swung low across the harbour before gaining height and heading off east. We were elated and gutted in equal measure at having seen these great rarities but not being able to determine which species of Dowitcher they were given the flight views and their lack of call.

Thornham harbour high tide 1

Where's the road?

We just couldn't believe how high the tide had risen in the short time that we'd been watching the owls over the marsh. The road had completely disappeared under water leaving the Coal House as an island in a sea of floodwater. We dashed along the seawall to see if the car had been engulfed by the tide. Amazingly, the water had stopped just inches from the front wheel. We were very lucky indeed. Had the car been parked just a few feet further down the track it would have been more of a boat than a car!

Thornham harbour high tide wait

It wasn't just us, even the locals were caught out by this amazing high tide!

Now we had a bit of a problem. The water was way too deep for us to drive through so what could we do? Just one thing of course: keep calm and carry on birding!

Thornham birders

Scoping the marshes from the safety of the sea wall

Our time marooned on the sea wall was well spent as we enjoyed Lapland Buntings, Crossbills overhead, coveys of Grey Partridges, at least five Marsh Harriers, thousands of waders and wildfowl - just brilliant birding, with many of the species a little closer than expected! Luckily the floodwater soon began to recede and we escaped, albeit a little nervously ploughing through the tide.

Thornham flood

The Biggest Twitch tours are always great for waders!

We waved goodbye to Thornham marshes and headed south for Welney WWT reserve where we spent the rest of the day. Here we enjoyed huge numbers of wildfowl again, but this time the highlights were wild swans, with both Whoopers and Bewick's close to the hides.

Welney WWT Whooper Swan arrival 2

Whooper Swans touch down at Welney WWT Reserve

It had been an absolutely outstanding weekend of wonderful birding in Norfolk. We can't wait to return in a few weeks' time to enjoy more fantastic birds and the big skies (and tides!) of north Norfolk.

For details of our forthcoming trips to Norfolk and elsewhere, please email us on for details. We look forward to sharing great birds with you!


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