It was not to be. The visitor centre was indeed closed, so we had to lunch in a nearby pub before walking across the reserve to the nearest hides. It was bitterly cold in the rather sharp wind. We were very glad to get into the first hide, I can tell you!
Worth it, though, as we saw lots of birds. Marsh harriers, lots of lapwings, a few dozen black tailed godwits, avocets, a few shoveler ducks, lots of teal and widgeon, a scattering of dunlin, a few birds we tentatively identified as golden plovers, a pintail duck and several shelduck.
There were also a few birds I thought were redshank, ignoring the fact that their legs were bright orange, not red. After a bit of quiet discussion between Jenny and me, the guy sitting next to me offered advice, saying they were, in fact, ruff. Now Jenny had thought they might be, but I'd dismissed that, as ruff over-winter in Africa.
Except that the local expert told us there was a small population that over-winters in Norfolk, and we were watching a dozen or so of them, including a male just coming into breeding plumage. That was pretty good!
Jenny was really not well, and in the evening, hardly ate any of the goose I roasted for her. Worse, her sense of taste was affected, and the decent bottle of red I opened was wasted on her. I had to drink most of it myself!
On Christmas day, after opening our presies, we drove to Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham. We knew the gardens and shop would be closed, but figured the nature reserve should be open. Wrong.
It was a beatiful day, however, so we ambled slowly back to Cley, spotting a stoat bouncing across the road at one point, and startling a merlin a few miles later on.
At Cley it was much warmer than the previous day and we sat in the same hides, watching an amazing display. There was a poorer selection of ducks, but the highlight was a vast flock of golden plovers. We're not much good at estimating numbers of birds, but decided there were well over 1000 in that flock, as well as several hundred lapwings. I hope this mpeg movie works in your browser.