There’s a good omen as we leave Heacham before dawn: the sharp cry of a tawny owl emanating from somewhere in the woods. Fifteen minutes later, walking from Snettisham RSPB car park towards the beach at The Wash, there are already a  few skeins of geese in the sky, flying west, ready to breakIMG_3208fast on sugar beet fields.

Mostly though, you hear them before you see them – a noisy gabbling racket coming from dark rafts of life out on the water. Tens of thousands of pink-footed geese overwintering from Greenland and Iceland – west Norfolk must seem like Shangri-La after all that tundra and icy water. The geese peel off in groups at regular intervals, forming fluid arrowheads as, honking excitedly, they fly west inland.


There is an unwritten discipline at work, and every bird seems to know its place in the squadron. Flapping inland, the geese merge loosely with other groups before they eventually disappear from view. To our human eyes, Snettisham church rising out of the mist is the only recognisable local landmark; perhaps its steeple serves as a beacon to the geese too, as they seem to know exactly where they are going. IMG_3218

The sun rises over the land, a brilliant orange fire that lights the birds as they fly over head, turning their underbelly pink, orange, red. Momentarily they almost resemble flamingos.

IMG_3244The tide is turning quickly and hidden sandbanks are revealed as the unseen moon sucks water from the land. As dawn-pink drains from the sky our attention is drawn to an untold number of hyperactive waders a little way to the south. Mostly dunlin, curlew and knot, it is the latter, another Arctic winter visitor, that are the most extraordinary as dense clouds of them rise sporadically into the sky, tightly grouped like starling murmurations. As they swiftly weave and turn, shifting the angle of their wings, the colour of this mass organism transforms dramatically from black to white to golden – the avian equivalent of a firework display. Such fleeting serendipity of form and colour: a photograph can hardly do this justice. As with the pink-footed geese, the Arctic’s seasonal loss is Norfolk’s gain.



IMG_3313 IMG_3344

About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
This entry was posted in Norfolk, Travel, wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Snettisham

  1. Dina says:

    This is absolutely breathtaking, Laurence, I love your gorgeous photos! What a great day out you had! The sound of the geese is pure magic to me, my favourite Norfolk sound, I’d say. 😉 Your great clouds with birds give me goose pimples.
    Wishing you a happy week,

  2. Thank you so much, Dina. It was Jackie’s birthday and the perfect way to start her special day. All the very best, Laurence

  3. Wow, so many, and so beautiful photos. Enjoyed the text too. Our birds have left now.

  4. Nigel Harper says:

    Fab photos and evocative comments – wish we’d been there !

  5. Simon Horton says:

    Beautiful photos, fantastic light!

  6. dobraszczyk says:

    This is my idea of pure bliss! What an extraordinary piece and breathtaking photographs.

  7. What a privilege to witness nature like this at first hand. A lovely post.

  8. Thank you, Alex. It really was a privilege – nature in the raw just a few miles from industrial King’s Lynn.

  9. Fabulous photographs and what an array of natural wonders. The first could almost be a line of ants crawling across an abstract canvas.

    • Thanks very much. I hadn’t thought of a line of ants but I see what you mean. I was just happy that the geese seemed to be closely following the pink-tinged streak of cloud as if it were some sort of aerial highway.

  10. Martin says:

    Lovely post, I too was bewitched by the geese squadrons last winter when hiking around the Wash, quite magnificent.

  11. Thank. Martin. You are right, the Wash has many natural wonders. It is underrated I think.

  12. Marvellous and beautiful post, Laurence. Such extraordinary light, filtered through words and wings – a deep joy to read. Thanks for this coastal journey.

  13. Many thanks for your kind words, Julian.

  14. Al says:

    An absolutely terrific post, which I can’t tear myself from. I’m off to Holkham this weekend hoping for similar fireworks…

  15. Thanks, Al. Like your blog very much. Good luck at Holkham – I understand the geese are pretty spectacular there too.

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