Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer
It surely is an ill wind that blows no good. The winter storms that resulted in the devastating sea surge during December 2013 caused extensive damage to the North Norfolk coast, and Cley Marshes suffered too. And yet...
There is more shingle now, piles of it; powered 100 metres inland by the uncontested might of the rampant North Sea. This mass of eroded rock fragments has covered some grassland where skylarks used to sing their sweet song and has smothered small pools where starlet anemones once dwelled. But it has also created opportunities for those birds that love to nest on these exposed expanses, as well as allowing NWT reserve staff to fence off tracts of the extended habitat to safeguard these pioneers. And the carpets of yellow horned-poppies sprouting from seeds dispersed by the flood are to die for.
New pools have been created on the area where East bank adjoins the coast road. These were dug on an area of reed smashed flat by the floods and which didn't seem in any hurry to regenerate. Almost instantly black-tailed godwits, ruff and redshank exploited the shallow water which they obviously found much to their liking. Herons use the area in their prenuptial gatherings and little egrets are regular visitors. Already new reed has enveloped the margins and the islands which will no doubt prove attractive nesting areas for a variety of wildfowl and warblers as it develops further.
The cinnabar moth colony that once festooned the thistles and ragwort along the south side of the raised shingle ridge was eradicated at Cley, but at Salthouse they thrive to still decorate the flowers of both plants. When I visited the area a couple of weeks ago every flower head had insects supping nectar, some had multiple visitors jostling for position. A joy to see. It was also heartening to see many Essex skippers enjoying the wealth of pale purple thistle flower on offer all along the East Bank.
But for me the most fascinating bonus from the storm damage can be seen at Gramborough Hill, just east of the Salthouse beach road. Here the sea has sliced a chunk off the north face of the small hillock to create a low sandy cliff which has been chosen as a nesting site by a colony of sand martins.
Some newly fledged birds were also honing their aerial skills whilst younger nestlings gathered at the entrance to nesting burrows waiting for the next mouthful of juicy fodder. I snapped away at these incredibly fast moving hirundines trying to capture them in pursuit of flying insects invisible to me. My hit rate was ridiculously low, but a few shots bore fruit and showed some fascinating postures, attitudes and habits. Some images captured birds preening mid-flight with their heads turned upside down to facilitate easy access to their tiny sharp claws. Several caught birds with throat pouches crammed full with insects showing what wealth of prey items are available to them within 100 metres of their summer homes. Others simply illustrated what graceful masters of the air these diminutive migrants are. There is no way I would have been able to properly observe these nuances without being able to freeze the action at 1/5000 of a second. Even then their movements were so swift that only a handful of images were acceptably sharp. Lovely birds, sadly one we seldom get a chance to look at closely nowadays. However these plucky ones have quickly exploited a new resource and hopefully will be a feature here for many years to come.
An ill wind indeed blew 18 months ago, but it has, in unforeseen ways, blown much good.
Visit Barry's blog at: www.easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk