Access: From the beach road in the village of Holme-next-the-sea take Broadwater road which leads east just prior to the public toilets. NOA and NWT carparks, as well as a public layby are on site.
Passage migrants (particularly drift migrants in autumn)
Winter migrants (raptors and Buntings)
Seabirds (particularly in autumn and winter; divers, grebes, shearwaters, skuas etc.)
Icterine Warbler (2)
(NB. This does not include scarcities such as Barred Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Yellow-browed Warbler, Cranes etc. which are almost annual, and is simply a small selection of some of the highlights I have seen since 2002)
Having arrived at the public toilets (see Access), park in the layby and use the following guide to enhance your birdwatching in the area.
Starting off from the west side of the recording area is the golf-course. Park in the public car-park next to the toilet block and walk slowly towards the sea. Opposite to where you park your car is an area of willows and a pay and display car-park. To view the willows walk around the carpark edge and carefully along the edge of the golf-course. Although this area is relatively underwatched, it has good potential, with the area being favoured by spring Redstarts and Nightingales as well as holding good numbers of warblers and other passerines in autumn, which in recent years has included Icterine Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. The pine belt that runs on the north-side of the car-park is also worth checking and is often visited by Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers, especially during minor falls of migrants.
As you walk out onto the golf-course itself (beware of golf balls!) check the putting greens and associated bushes. In spring the first Wheatears in the dune complex usually appear here and it is a reasonable spot for Ring Ouzels. The bunker edges also seem to be favoured by Tree Pipits. In autumn in particular the area seems to be favoured by Redstarts and Tree Sparrows. In the last few winters Waxwings have also favoured this general area, especially on the berry bushes bordering the track.
If you continue to walk north you will reach a large area of sea buckthorn scrub, bordering the dunes. Check this carefully as Wryneck has been recorded here on several occasions and a singing male Sardinian Warbler was present in Spring 2003. The putting green directly to your left is often favoured by spring White Wagtails and it is always a good place to watch for visible migration.
Further along the track is Redwell Marsh NOA which is clearly signposted and contains a boardwalk which leads to a hide. You will need to be an NOA member to access this as the hide requires a key. White Wagtails and, more often, Turtle Doves perch on the telegraph wires while passage waders, such as Green and Wood Sandpipers, often appear in late spring and more readily in summer. Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers are more regular, especially in late spring, when Temminck's Stint has also been recorded. Garganeys also favour this area in late spring and sometimes remain in situ for several weeks, although they are always elusive. During late autumn Pectoral Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope have been recorded. This area is also good in the winter for raptors such as Hen Harrier and Peregrine and owls (Barn Owl being regular and Long-eared Owl occasional, as well as a good assortment of wintering ducks - a female American Wigeon was a great find in the winter 2002/2003. The stream running behind the hide is often a migration route for warblers, with the first Whitethroats there almost every year. Cetti's Warblers are scarce but regular, particularly in late autumn, and Firecrest has been noted. A Rose-coloured Starling was elusive in October 2006 and shows the great potential of the area as a migrant magnet. Yellow Wagtails and sometimes Ring Ouzels or Wheatears can be noted on the marsh and it can sometimes be a good for flyover raptors, particularly Hobby, and other large birds such as Cranes. The habitat here looks fantastic and it will surely produce more good birds in the near future.
Slightly further along the track is an area of sycamores with a public footpath running through them, next to a caravan. It has produced Yellow-browed Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.
Further along the track still is a layby on your left hand side. Preceding this is a pay-hut for the NWT and you will need to buy a permit if you are not a member if you want to go on their reserve. Alternatively if you just want to cover the NOA explain this to the person in the hut and continue driving.
Having pulled into the layby you have a decision to make - to walk left or to walk right. If you choose to walk left you will reach the paddocks - an area of scrub behind the houses. This is an excellent area for Barred Warblers, while the area often harbours a lot of commoner migrants during the migration periods.
If you walk right along the boardwalk you will reach the Forestry, a large area of scrub. On the way you will see interspersed bushes and check these as Barred Warbler was recorded here this autumn and the area has been favoured by Red-backed Shrikes in the last few years. The flat area of grassland in front of the Forestry is often very good, being favoured by Wheatears, Ring Ouzels and the occasional Whinchat, and it has historically hosted several Wrynecks and Bluethroats.
Into the actual Forestry, and it is often a magnet for birds in migration periods. Walking through the Forestry in migration periods look out for warblers, chats, flycatchers and many other passerines, while in winter quite a few finches and Stonechats can be seen. In summer it is a very good area to see Cuckoos and Turtle Doves, while in spring it is excellent for Redstarts, Ring Ouzels, Tree Pipits and Nightingale. Anywhere in the Forestry is worth checking, although favoured areas include the ridge with a small pond in the centre, a crossroads area with another pool on the south side (sometimes called 'flycatcher alley') and 'The Hollow' an area of dead elder trees in the north-east corner. Recent rarities and scarcities here include Greenish Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Wryneck and Corncrake.
Just to the north of the Forestry from the boardwalk is the start of Gore Point. This is where most visible migration watches are done as bird movement tends to be concentrated here. In March look out for Tree Sparrows and Siskins, while at other times of year Redpolls, Bramblings, Grey and Yellow Wagtails and many other fly-overs may be seen, as well as good numbers of common migrants. You may strike lucky with a Richard's Pipit in autumn or a rare continental overshoot in spring. Waxwings are sometimes noted flying west in winter. This point can also be good for seawatching and is especially noted for Long-tailed Ducks, with up to 30 seen in recent years, while you might get a bigger surprise, such as the Red Kite I had flying in off the sea here in March 2007! By walking along the sandy spit that is Gore Point you might find a drift migrant in autumn such as a Wryneck while the area is good for Wheatears and large numbers of roosting waders at high tide.
The continuation of the Forestry spreads out east towards the Firs (white house). This is another area favoured by Barred Warblers and has recorded spring male Red-backed Shrikes for the last three years in succession. In autumn it is a good area to view large numbers of thrushes and crests while in Spring it is favoured by Ring Ouzels (especially in the grassy dips and in the flat area just east of the Forestry) and Whinchats. Keep your eyes to the sky as well as finches and pipits can often be seen passing overhead, as can the occasional Lapland Bunting.
If you are driving from the main track stop and scan every so often as the track itself is surprisingly good vantage point - a Green Winged Teal was present a few years ago on a flood near the road in front of the wind turbine, and if Shrikes are present on the reserve they can often be seen from the road. Yellow Wagtails seem to follow this line regularly in spring as they fly west, while Cuckoos, Turtle Doves and Stonechats can often be seen on the wires.
The marsh to the south anywhere along the track is also worth scanning, especially for raptors such as Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers, Peregrines and Merlins in winter, while Short-eared Owls or even Long-eared Owls can be seen. If you walk along the boardwalk to the Firs keep looking and listening - Cranes and a White Stork have been seen flying west from here in recent years.
Continuing to the car-parks there are two vital areas worth checking- the first is the actual car-parks, especially the large patch of buckthorn opposite the NOA car-park and the two Sycamore trees in the NWT car-park. In the last few years this area has hosted several Barred Warblers, Yellow-browed Warbler, a Great-grey Shrike and a Red-breasted Flycatcher and this year it had 4 Firecrests in spring, while historically it hosted Britain's 4th Ruppell’s Warbler. The second is a set of hills to the west. This is a great vantage point for scanning the marsh and looking for things that are being tracked west around the coast.Continue to walk east and you will reach the NOA staff carpark followed by the NOA reserve itself. This is a great area and another real magnet for migrants in autumn. Particularly good areas to check on the reserve include the sycamores and scrub in front of the heligoland trap on your left, the large clearing opposite this and the elder and scrub 'in the middle' down further towards the obs and the single sycamore opposite the benches just outside the observatory. In autumn 2007 this area hosted at least eight Yellow-browed Warblers and a Radde's Warbler, and in the last few years it has hosted a Greenish Warbler, several Pallas' Warblers and a couple of Barred Warblers. This area is a good place to view the Broadwater (which should have a wide variety of commoner ducks on it and has hosted several surprises in the past such as Long-tailed Duck, Shag and Little Auk), the marsh where raptors and the occasional Bittern can be seen, and to view overhead migration, where good numbers of pipits, finches and thrushes can often be noted with the occasional surprise such as a Waxwing or a Shore Lark.
The dunes to the north sometimes hold migrants such as Whinchats or Redstarts and it is from here that sea-watching is often undertaken. In the winter period divers, grebes and ducks such as Long-tailed Ducks, Wigeon, Eider and Teal can all be seen, sometimes in good numbers, as well as Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Scoters. Scarcer birds regularly noted include Goosanders and Velvet Scoters, amongst others.
In the spring and summer the sea is often quiet, although the occasional Manx Shearwater and Artic Skua liven things up (in August good numbers of Arctic Skuas can be seen in any winds), and as August hits any northerly blow can produce lots of birds such as Kittiwakes, Little Gulls, Fulmars and Gannets, while scarce but annual (or almost annual) visitors seen in northerly winds include all 4 species of Skua, Leach's Petrels, Grey Phalaropes, Sabines Gulls, Balearic, Sooty, and more regularly Manx Shearwaters . Rare visitors in recent years include two Surf Scoters (one drake, one female), a European Strom Petrel and several Cory's Shearwaters.
As late autumn approaches more northerlies may bring a flurry of Little Auks and associated northerly species such as Grey Phalaropes, as well as good numbers of Pomarine Skuas. Gannets and Little Gulls can continue right through the year and occasional Skuas will still be seen, while Fulmars become scarce. Incredible movements of birds can occur, such as in November 2007 when excellent numbers of Pomarine Skuas (150+) and good numbers of Grey Phalaropes (5+) where seen as well as a great flurry of Little Auks, and in February 2007 when up to 200+ Kittiwakes could be seen on some days.
Walking out towards Thornham harbour along the bank you may hear or see Lapland Buntings flying. This area is a good place to scan the marsh for Short-eared Owls and raptors. As you approach Thornham Coal Barn good numbers of Brent Geese can be seen and are always worth scanning through for Black Brants, while the fields may hold Lapland Buntings amongst a medley of commoner passerines. As you near the barn you may see some Twite: this area is one of the best in Norfolk for this fast declining species. They can be seen in the fields, saltmarsh and more usually just buzzing around overhead, and they can sometimes be seen perching on the coal barn roof and in the weedy area just opposite. The creeks behind the barn are superb for Rock Pipits and commoner waders, with Spotted Redshanks and Greenshanks being occasional in the winter. The Lesser Yellowlegs of the winter 2007 will live long in the memory of Holme regulars and visitors alike! Again this area is good for raptors, and is one of the best areas for Peregrine in the vicinity. This is the eastern boundary of Holme dunes and concludes my patch description.
Useful links and contacts:
The Norfolk Ornithologists Association (Holme Bird Observatory) (site includes latest sightings, pictures and details of observatory activities.)
Peter Tilley - the moths of Holme
Holme Birding by Connor Rand
More contact details can be found by accessing the sites linked.