Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Memorable Fly-past and a Mass Stranding

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve we managed to find a window of opportunity between snow showers to nip down from Durham to the Norfolk coast, for what turned out to be a truly memorable visit. On Monday evening we arrived at Snettisham just as the sun set and the mist descended over the fields, then watched thousands of pink-footed geese passing high overhead as they flew out over the Wash.

The flypast lasted for over half an hour – one of the great bird-watching experiences in England – with skeins of geese passing across the face of the moon on a bitterly cold but windless evening. No photographs, but if you want to see what these fly-pasts look like take a look at

On Tuesday we headed for RSPB Titchwell, where were saw ...

brent geese...


.. and shoveller, seen below in more conventional views...

Then walked along Titchwell beach, crunching over tens of thousands of razor shells Ensis ensis, along with dead starfish, whelks, piddocks, gapers, sponges and assorted other shallow-water marine life that had been washed up on the beach. It’s not clear what had caused this mass die-off. There are reports of similar strandings of burrowing bivalve molluscs after storms that have shifted sand banks, but I wonder whether it was the result of a combination of a low tide and freezing temperatures that killed these intertidal animals. They certainly didn’t die of old age – there were young and old shells piled on top of one another.

Similar mass deaths of shallow-water marine life were reported during the famously hard winter of 1962-63, which makes me suspect that this might have been the cause on this occasion.


  1. Phil that's amazing. I worked in the Baltic on and off over the years and never noticed it there. The Baltic is almost fresh water so perhaps Razor Shells aren't there to start with.

  2. One of natures spectacular sights Phil, all those Geese flying over. Must have been a wonderful sight to witness.

    Strange how all that marine life came to be stranded like that. So many of them.

    Phil, I have really enjoyed your blogs this year, and learnt so much from them too.
    I wish you all the best for the New Year.

  3. I like the photo of the mist over the fields; it's very atmospheric, and the 'mooning' ducks are good too! :D It must have been mesmerising to watch all those geese flying over. Sad though about the creatures washed up on shore.

  4. The sight and sound of so many geese flying over must have made for quite a spectacle. The dozen or so I see from time to time make plenty of noise.

    Like Keith I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogs and have learned a lot from them.

    Wishing you and yours a great 2010.

  5. Thanks Lesley, yes, the mist was really magical, with just the tops of the bushes sticking out of it. Years ago, when I was a teenager, I remember walking home at night through misty fields like that and watching a barn owl floating in an out of the mist, hunting by the sounds of its prey alone.

  6. Thanks John.... and all the best for the coming year to you too...

  7. Nice trip account - we've linked to it.


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