The Norfolk Coast – A monthly wildlife guide by Oli Reville

October is a favourite among bird watchers in Norfolk. It is the month which signals the arrival of the wintering birds to the area and whether it is a rarity or a bird which arrives in the thousands it is always a special moment to see these species.

In a slightly different format to the usual monthly guides I will outline the key species to look out for during October and where you can find them.

I couldn’t possibly start this article without mentioning the Pink-Footed Geese. The Pink-Footed Geese are legendary in Norfolk. Their skeins fill the skies on winter evenings and their iconic call is heard for miles around. They are just starting to arrive back in Norfolk and here is a few facts about Pink-Footed Geese that you may or may not have known…

• The wintering population in the UK is 360,000 birds (As of 2010) and around half of these spend the winter on the Norfolk coast.
• Despite this they are listed as an AMBER conservation status due to past declines in population.
• They breed in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland before migrating south for the winter.

Other than Pink feet the Pink-Footed Goose can be identified by the following features:

• Short bill with bright pink middle
• Mid Grey-Brown body with richer dark brown head
• White rump
• Grey tail with broad white tip

So keep an eye, and ear, out for this fantastic species. There can sometimes be a rarer Snow or Ross’s Goose, both small white geese, mixed in with them but it is the number of the Pink-Footed Geese which makes them so special.

Another species which is very evident in Norfolk during October is the Red Knot. This small but stocky wader is not actually red at this time of year but dons its winter greys and silvers before returning to red for the breeding season. Their numbers begin to build during October and they can be best found at Snettisham and Titchwell. Here is a few facts about the Knot:

• Britain’s Knot belong to the subspecies Islandica. This subspecies breeds in Greenland and the Arctic islands of Canada.
• On average 320,000 birds winter in the UK and these form massive flocks at coastal locations. The flocks at RSPB Snettisham are popular with visitors as they fill the sky at high tide, with the peak between December and March.
• Like the Pink-Footed Goose they are an AMBER conservation status species. This is because their populations are vulnerable to changes in wintering grounds such as sea level rise and human disturbance.

The Red Knot can be identified by the following features:

• Short legs
• Stocky body with grey upper parts and white underside with chevron markings
• Pale rump and faint wing stripe
• Thick, black bill

Of course Norfolk in October is about more than just Knot and Pink-Footed Geese. Waders in general build up during the month as they use Norfolk as a wintering ground. Oystercatchers, Curlew, Sanderling and Golden Plover all begin to increase and can be found at coastal locations.

We also begin to see an increase in wintering duck species. Wigeon and Teal are best looked for and species such as Pintail and Shelduck also increase.

Hen Harrier, Short-Eared Owl, Smew, Goosander, Red-Throated Diver and Jack Snipe are just a few of a huge number of birds which winter in Norfolk and October sees the start of these birds arriving.

During the correct conditions Norfolk is also a fantastic place to find birds which have been blown off course. Yellow-Browed and Pallas’s Warblers are two of the rarer birds which can be found and migrating Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling can arrive in huge numbers later in the month in the right conditions.

October is a real month of change. The warm weather we have currently quickly leaves and Norfolk can experience some fantastic conditions for the arrival of these wintering species.

The site guide for Burnham Overy Dunes gives details of a superb area to visit during October, give it a read.

Oli Reville