Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year- Birdwatching at Historical Sites of Interest

With no big foreign birding trips planned for this year, I wanted to of course focus on the patch but also The British Isles. I will be returning to Scotland in early April, and Debs and I will return to Northumberland in the Summer. Much of what ties our trips together (as well as the birds) are the history and culture of the locations we visit, and particularly with Northumberland I felt we scratched the surface a few years ago but now with a joint membership of English Heritage in the bag we should really be able to get under the skin of a variety of historical sites. So as well as the marshes and broads on my doorstep, this year I intend to keep a list entitled 'Birds seen at Historical Sites of Interest'. This extends to wildlife in general (need to get on top of Wildflowers this year, and have been granted access to a super piece of marsh nearby to hone my 'skills') and should get me/us out and about to some different places all with a story to tell, and maybe some decent birds too. 

I began this foray into the unknown with the known, New Year's Day afternoon had Debs and I visit the ethereal St.Benet's Abbey at Ludham. The site has received a Heritage lottery grant and now boasts new carpark and information boards, but most importantly a little maintenance was done on the building itself, said to be the only Abbey not to be dissolved by Henry VIII. This has to be one of my favourite places in Norfolk, and even when birds are thin on the ground as they were yesterday, one can still marvel at the ruins and enjoy the Cormorants overhead going to roost. We had 1 Barn Owl, 5 Marsh Harrier and just 6 Bewick Swans, although plenty more and a few Whoopers had been seen earlier in the day. I recommend the new website which has a wildlife sightings section. The Norfolk Archaeological Society has an excellent website, too.  Importantly, the 'Birds seen at Historical Sites of Interest' list (will need to shorten that) was off to a good start.
The ruins of St.Benet's Abbey, Ludham

Today, we visited Castle Acre Priory, Castle, and Castle Rising Castle. The weather was pretty dismal, and any thoughts of stopping off for the Pallid Harrier (not seen for the last 2 days) were quickly put to bed. There were gaps in the drizzle though, and we were able to enjoy a breezy walk around the ruins of the priory. The Cluniac Monks who once lived here were well known for their luxury take on architecture, and even today this site is extremely impressive and a must visit. 
The Priory ruins at Castle Acre

Some decent birds here too. Jays called from nearby woodland, Mistle Thrush and Redwing flew overhead, both Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers called and best of all a Little Egret flew down the Nar. This river valley had been an obvious choice to settle many years ago and remains good for birds it seems. Views across the surrounding countryside were good here, and even better at the site of the castle remains on the other side of the village. Greenfinch and Chaffinch were added to the fledgling list. Our final stop for the day was Castle Rising, an imposing stone keep just north-east of King's Lynn. On a clear day, Raptor watching would be essential here and indeed the castle was once a popular hunting and hawking base for the landed gentry and visiting Kings and Queens. 
 Castle rising 
A Corpol at Castle Rising

For those of you not so keen on ruins, barrows and monks, fear not, I will be back on the patch in the morning. 2015 was a record breaking year with 122 species recorded. No surprise, given this was my first complete year living on the patch itself. Happy New Year to all my reader/s, and hope to see some of you out and about in 2016. 


  1. Happy New Year. I'll be reading the historical posts with interest, as we do a similar thing (Cathy being the historically minded one). Re. wildflowers, if you go back to Castle Acre castle over the summer it is the only Norfolk site for Lesser Calamint.
    You can see a lot of birds from Burgh Castle if you take a 'scope, so that might be worth winter and summer visits too - you might get Lesser Yellowlegs at the moment!

  2. And to you James. Yes, Burgh Castle on the list, despite having been before. I recall Castle Acre did have a sign listing a few wild flowers, I'm sure Lesser Calamint was one of them. I wonder if pubs or historical sites are more productive for birds? A very old pub surely the ultimate.

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