Finding Nature on England’s Norfolk Coast: Titchwell Marsh

Bird blinds at Titchwell Marsh. The older abandoned model is in the foreground, new ones in back and a flock of Brent Geese is in the water between.

Titchwell, I was told by the pair of local birders I’d met while watching spoonbill courtship (see my previous blog), was THE place to ‘twitch’ (birdwatch) along the Norfolk Coast. Given the parking lot was filled with people carrying binoculars and spotting scopes, it was clear they were not the only birders to feel this way. I joined the procession down a small wooded trail, through a bird lover’s dream giftshop, past an array of bird feeders and nest boxes, and beyond signs for trails to varied habitats that I’m sure were lovely but were clearly not the main attraction. The pack led on to a levee, flanked by wetlands to either side and the open ocean in the distance. It was here that people spread out; some stopping to gawk at a godwit, others seeking a warbler flitting in and out of reeds, one group audibly gasped as a marsh harrier clawed at some unidentified prey in the grasses and tisked as it came up empty, and all had an impeccably behaved dog at their side. An old, wooden bird blind was covered in nesting gulls and its replacement were the fanciest bird blinds I’ve ever seen. Educational signage lined the cleverly human-shielding walkway that kept birds in the water on the opposite side unaware of human approach. The blinds themselves were bright and spacious, two buildings designed for optimal views of saltwater habitat from one and freshwater from the other. They looked more like cafes than blinds. I found myself scanning the back wall for the possibility of an espresso machine. Titchwell was undeniably a place designed for people to enjoy birds, but one bird seemed intent on enjoying the people too.

Robin perched atop a spotting scope.

It was a robin. A beautiful bird with trilling song but one too common to draw much local attention, except for this one. This robin stalked the picnic tables beside the shop’s food concession. Whereas other birds mobbed the feeders, this one stole crumbs from under sloppy eaters. One man generously crumbled bits of bread into his palm and the robin hopped right onto the table to snatch from this spread. When no other crumbs were to be had, the robin landed on an unattended spotting scope. It seemed to puff its chest and sing slightly more exuberantly from this prime position, as if boasting about the most state-of-the-art perch it had ever found. Perhaps it too was seeking a cappuccino at its posh people-watching site.

Robin perched atop a spotting scope.

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