Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Monday, December 17, 2012
An exotic and very hungry visitor to the north Norfolk coast has had heads turning in the local pub but is failing to ruffle the feathers of dedicated bird enthusiasts.
A Sacred Ibis has been resident in Norfolk, around Cley and Salthouse, for several months now and was spotted at the weekend feeding about 15 yards from the A149 between the two villages by wildlife photographer Steve Plume.
Ipswich-based Mr Plume said he spent a fascinating hour at sunrise on Saturday watching and photographing the bird as it feasted on large quantities of frogs.
He estimated that in just 90 seconds it gobbled eight, taking them one by one in its powerful bill from a small, grassy knoll.
“It would be easy to see why a larger number could have an impact on the local food chain,” said Mr Plume.
“These birds are voracious feeders, will eat a wide range of food from invertebrates to eggs and chicks, and they will scavenge,” he added.
The Sacred Ibis, a native of Madagascar, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, is a wading bird and grows to a length of about 75cms.
Colonies, believed to have begun with zoo escapes, are now established in Belgium and France.
“They are moving north and east through Europe and I believe have made it as far as the Loire Valley and northern Brittany so not too far from the UK,” said Mr Plume.
“From a UK perspective it’s a most unusual visitor, but it is seen yearly and is no stranger to Norfolk.”
But Mr Plume warned that many naturalists viewed the bird’s arrival as a possible harbinger of doom. If Sacred Ibis did become more common in the UK they could pose a threat to many birds, including terns.
They were known to destroy tern colonies by disturbing the nesting birds and then removing all the eggs and chicks.
Jonathan Clarkson, manager at the nearby Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes Visitor Centre, said the Sacred Ibis had occasionally given drinkers at the Dun Cow pub in Salthouse something to watch while they downed their pints, but had not brought flocks of twitchers to the north Norfolk coast because it was thought to have originally come, via France, from a zoo and was not therefore a worthwhile “tick” for their lists.
By contrast, this time last year an extremely rare Western Sandpiper had brought birders from across Britain and Europe in their thousands to the Cley reserve.
Mr Clarkson joked: “What we want is another one of those. I’ve got one on order but it hasn’t appeared yet.”