Frenzy in the surf

Sand dunes tower over us, the green tussocks of grass buffeted by a strong wind. Through a gap that provides a moment’s rest bite from the roar of the wind, the beach spreads out in either direction, an endless expanse of yellow sand, driven by the wind and bathed in a golden light from the late afternoon sun. Beyond the beach the sea, a steely grey blue flushed with white caps, meets the cold, pale blue sky.

Set against this wild windswept landscape of the North Norfolk coast, is a frenzy of bird activity. In the surf zone, where foaming white waves crash, washing up onto the sand, hundreds, maybe thousands of waders gather; turnstones, dunlin, knot, oystercatchers and sanderling all feeding along the waters edge. Above a hundred more gulls wheel above the waves, buffeted by the wind, wings bent back to keep them hovering in one place, before dipping down to grab a small morsel of food amongst the rolling surf.
The feeding frenzy in and above the surf zone

By far the most numerous wader is the sanderling; small, grey, white and black with the fastest legs in the wader world. Squadrons of these tiny energetic birds rush down the beach as the waves retreat, probing the exposed sand for crustaceans, marine worms and molluscs before hurrying back up as the next wave rolls in. Their continuous chatter reaching a crescendo as they all rush back up the beach in one synchronised movement, chased by the swirling waves.

Sanderlings heading up the beach (Photo Lee Barber)

All too soon the sun drops behind the dunes, setting the sky alight with a golden glow and sapping the warm colour from the beach, turning the scene to an almost black and white canvas. The frenzy in the surf continues, tied more to the tides than to daylight. But the cold, wind swept observers are forced from the beach in search of shelter and the warmth of a cup of tea.


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