Burnham Overy Dunes, Gun Hill and the Staithe – The Burnhams – Norfolk’s undiscovered walks
Continuing the Burnhams theme we move to what is possibly one of North Norfolk’s best birding locations. Burnham Overy Staithe is located about 1 ½ miles west of Holkham, the same distance North of Burnham market and about 3 miles east of Burnham Deepdale. It is a picturesque village with a small quay with a channel forming part of the River Burn which leads out to the North Sea. Parking can be found easily on the Quay, although keep an eye on the tides, or about ½ a mile east of the village at a t-junction on the A149. Parking can be tight here though, especially if a rare bird is present in the dunes. It is from here that the guide begins.
Once parked walk North down a track which heads towards the dunes. The track is lined with hedges which in Autumn can hold migrants such as Lesser Whitethroat and Great Grey Shrike and in Spring be a great place to find Cuckoo. There are a couple of gates to negotiate but the track then opens out to have fields either side. These fields are grazed but waders are present here in the form of Oystercatcher, Curlew and in winter Golden Plover can be found here.
Soon the grassland becomes wetter and a few small pools can be seen. Skylarks are regular here in the summer months and Reed Bunting and Linnet during other times of the year. The reeds near the pool just before the raised sea wall are a good place to find Reed, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. In Winter this spot looks great for Jack Snipe and Water Rail so be sure to check it thoroughly.
As you climb onto the sea wall you will notice a large pool surrounded by reeds in the field to the east. In spring migrant Terns are often seen here and Grebes can be found here in Autumn and Winter on occasion. The raised position of this location allows good views as far as Brancaster in the west and Holkham pines to the east. Flyover Spoonbills and Egrets are regular in Summer and are joined by Geese in Winter. Huge flocks of Pink-Footed Geese can be seen here during late afternoon in the winter months as they come in to roost on the marshes near Holkham. Walking along this ban during winter can lead to good views of Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Short-Eared Owl, Hen Harrier and, with luck, Rough-Legged Buzzard, a northern species which visits Norfolk during most winters.
Reaching the end of this raised bank will bring you to the dunes. A short section of board walk leads you into them and you then have a choice to make.
By heading west you will eventually come to a site known as Gun Hill. This is a fantastic dune system with a lot of dense scrub, ideal for finding migrating birds. Whitethroats and Blackcaps can sometimes be joined by rarer Yellow-Browed Warblers and Pallas’s Warblers in Autumn. During the right conditions big falls of migrants can occur here and species such as Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Black Redstart, Redwing, Fieldfare and Goldcrest can be found among the dunes.
Continuing straight from the board walk will take you to a vast sandy beach. Waders can be present here in winter and Terns in summer. It is a particularly good spot to find Sanderling, Turnstone and Knot during winter. You may also bump into a rare Gull species during the Autumn and winter months. It is worth keeping an eye out for the gigantic and bullish looking Glaucous Gull during this period.
Heading east from the boardwalk will take you towards Holkham and its vast pine woodland. This area is very good in winter for finding Rough-Legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier and Short-Eared Owls and Woodcock can be unintentionally flushed from the ground in this area too. In Spring Ring Ouzel and other migrants like Wheatear can be easily found here and the same applies in Autumn but with Redstarts, Black Redstarts and thrushes. Wryneck is one of the speciality birds of this area and they can be seen in the scrub area near the fence line on the inland side of the dunes.
From whichever route you take after the board walk you have to return by the route which took you out to the dunes. This isn’t a hardship though as it is a stunning location and there is always something to see. It takes roughly 30-50 minutes to walk the route from the car park to the dunes but it is possible to spend a day out here when there is lots of birds to see.