Winter is a wonderful time to enjoy Norfolk at its best, and our Norfolk winter birding tours at this time are among our most popular with our regular clients. Nowhere else in Britain can match the variety of habitats and species, the numbers of wintering wildfowl, and the number of scarce over wintering and resident species that are difficult to find outside this magical county. Woodland at this time of year can be very rewarding, and in the Brecks in particular we will be looking for the elusive Hawfinch, Common Crossbill and Firecrest among a range of other species such as Brambling, Eurasian Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and in some years Great Grey Shrike. Wildfowl are a major element of winter birding, and with over 60,000 Pink-footed Geese to start us off we won’t be disappointed!
Large goose flocks at Holkham and elsewhere can include scarce Tundra Bean, Snow, Red-breasted, Lesser Canada or Barnacle as well as the Russian White-fronts and Dark-bellied Brents. In Broadland, one of Britain’s only flocks of the very scarce Taiga Bean Goose occurs and we make a special attempt to see these birds on our visit to the Yare Valley. Broadland is in fact a fantastic day of winter birding, with Britain’s only resident flock of Common Cranes a highlight. With up to sixty birds present, we have a good chance of enjoying great views of these incredible birds along with a supporting cast of up to one hundred roosting Marsh Harriers, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl.
Huge flocks of shorebirds over Breydon water, throngs of Eurasian Wigeon on Buckenham Marshes, Great Bittern, Divers, wild swan herds, Purple Sandpiper and Mediterranean Gulls can all feature on this wonderful day. Flocks of Shore Lark and Snow Bunting scurry about the saltings at Holkham some years, where in the bay, flocks of Common Scoter test our skills to pick out a Velvet. Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, scarce grebes and divers may also be present offshore along with more regular Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.
All this before we even visit the likes of Titchwell and Cley reserves, two sites which can produce a stunning variety of wintering birds such as Bearded Tit, Pied Avocet, Ruff, Water Pipit, Water Rail, Spotted Redshank and Cetti’s Warbler. With flocks of Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting in the fields, Little Owl glowering from its daytime roost, Eurasian Woodcock emerging at dusk…who needs any more reason to join our Norfolk winter birding tours!
Check into our accommodation at Briarfields Hotel, Titchwell during the afternoon. You will be met by your guide for drinks and a chat about the birding ahead from 1800.
We head to Holkham this morning where the huge expanse of Holkham Gap offers the chance to look for Shore Lark and Snow Bunting as they feed quietly by the dunes. Large flocks of pipits and larks may be seen in cold conditions, as well as a variety of waders and wildfowl. Moving back to the fresh marsh, large flocks of Pink-footed, White-fronted and Brent Geese may be feeding on the grass along Lady Anne’s Drive. North American Black Brant is sometimes present amongst them and we have also seen Red- breasted, Snow and Ross’s Goose here though a Tundra Bean Goose is more likely. Goose flocks have declined in recent winters due to changes in agricultural practices, but good numbers are normally still present. Flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing feed by the drive alongside vast numbers of Wigeon, joined in some years by their vagrant cousin from America. Black-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Golden Plover, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine are other species likely to be encountered. Nearby Burnham Overy Marshes are great for raptors in the winter, and in recent years Rough-legged Buzzard has been reliable here. Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Common Kestrel and Hen Harrier are all possible, as well as large feeding flocks of geese, Common Goldeneye on the pools and sometimes a Lapland Bunting or two buzzing about. The raptor roost at nearby Stiffkey Saltmarsh may tempt us at dusk, a great site for finding Merlin in particular.
We spend the morning at Titchwell RSPB reserve, which is just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. This famous reserve holds many interesting species at this time, including, in some years, good numbers of Snow Buntings. Bearded Tit is resident and a few Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff remain to brave the often-harsh Norfolk winter along with one or two Spotted Redshank. Sea watching at this time should produce good numbers of birds including Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated Diver and the chance of Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter among the thousands of Common Scoter. Eider, Mediterranean Gull and Guillemot are also usually present. We have an outside chance of Great Bittern here and of course Little Egret has become a regular visitor. Other resident species include Water Rail and Woodcock. We take our packed lunch at Thornham Harbour – a good place for getting close to shorebirds such as Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and wintering Spotted Redshank, while a Barn Owl often hunts the meadows nearby and Peregrine are regular. This is also the only regular wintering spot for Twite in the county and we will try our best to connect with the small and mobile flock. Perhaps another raptor roost will end our day, with Titchwell now hosting up to 50 Marsh Harriers and often at least one ringtail Hen Harrier too.
The Cley area can provide some excellent birding in the winter months as anything can and does turn up here. Large numbers of waterfowl over winter and should be scrutinised for the more unusual, while a Glaucous Gull may appear along the shingle. Snow Buntings frequent the shingle ridge and the saltings to the east provide further opportunities to look for Short-eared Owl. In some winters Purple Sandpiper is available on the coastal defences at nearby Sheringham, and if present, we will definitely work these into the itinerary. At Wells, Brent Goose flocks can again be checked for Black Brant and perhaps a roosting Tawny Owl will be available in the pines here, a good place to break for lunch and check the boating lake. Wintering Smew, Goosander and Greater Scaup have all been recorded but are all rather more scarce than they used to be. We should build some flexibility into the itinerary to look for any wintering local rarities such as Great Grey Shrike or Coue’s Arctic Redpoll, both of which are regular. Otherwise local birding around our base gives us the chance to look for species such as Little Owl, Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow and Grey Wagtail.
We head to the East Coast of Norfolk visiting various sites. Common Crane is our target bird with the small resident population of up to 60 being easiest to see in winter. They often feed quietly in the fields in family groups and we know their favourite spots well, though they can be surprisingly difficult to find for such a large bird!. At Strumpshaw Fen we have probably our best chance of encountering a Bittern, while Cetti’s Warblers sing their explosive song from waterside vegetation and Marsh Harriers quarter the reeds. This site also represents our best chance of encountering an Otter, and we have had some memorable views of them here over the years. At nearby Buckenham, Water Pipit often over winters, as well as spectacular numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Raptors are subsequently a major feature here while wild swans or a Green Sandpiper may also be present. Cantley is an adjoining reserve also owned by the RSPB and it is here that we will look for the regular wintering flock of Taiga Bean Geese, one of only two flocks in Britain. Only small numbers are usually present, and they are shy and surprisingly good at hiding in long grass. Russian White-fronted Goose is also regular here. At Great Yarmouth, we may call in at Breydon Water if the tide is suitable for viewing large congregations of shorebirds. Otherwise we may check favoured spots for wild swans or Short-eared Owl, or perhaps a wintering flock of Waxwings. The finale to our day in east Norfolk will be provided by our visit to a raptor roost in late afternoon when large numbers of Marsh Harriers will be coming in to roost. Up to one hundred birds can appear here and we should also see Hen Harrier, Merlin, Barn Owl and Chinese Water Deer, with hopefully a group of Cranes bugling overhead as they gather at their roosting spot for the night. Add flocks of Golden Plover, huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading to roost on Horsey Mere, large numbers of Red-throated Divers offshore and you can see why this could be the highlight of our week in Norfolk!
Heading south into Breckland today, we visit the vast tract of Thetford Forest in search of some specialised woodland birds. At Lynford Arboretum we take a very pleasant stroll around the lake to the paddocks where large numbers of Redwing and finches could be feeding. Sometimes these flocks host the spectacular Hawfinch, feeding quietly under the trees and only revealing itself when alert birds fly up to perch high in the treetops. Siskin and Redpoll are likely in the alders and in some years large numbers of Crossbill can be present. The gravel workings here host Goldeneye and the occasional Goosander. At Santon Downham, we have more opportunites to look for more similar woodland birds, including Marsh Tit, European Nuthatch and Firecrest as well as large flocks of Brambling and sometimes Great Grey Shrike. Perhaps if we find ourselves in the forest on a nice clear, sunny day, then the first displaying Goshawk of the year could be seen, powering up with undertail coverts fluffed out, plunging in dramatic switchback loops above the treetops. On these fine days, Woodlark often sing too and early signs of spring emerge with drumming woodpeckers and gathering flocks of Redpolls sporting raspberry flushed plumage. At this time of year rare birds can often occur in Norfolk and have included Coue’s Arctic Redpoll, White-tailed Eagle, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Ross’s Gull and many more. Perhaps one of these gems will provide a finale to an excellent week on winter birding. We conclude the tour around 1500 to allow for the onward journey home.
Briarfields Hotel at Titchwell with all rooms en suite.
Five nights accommodation, meals from dinner on day one to lunch on day six, transport, services of leader and reserve entrance fees.
Transport to/from Norfolk, travel insurance, drinks, tips and all items of a purely personal nature.
“The knowledge of the guide was quite unbelievable and this was the best so far of the four tours I have been on with you. Additionally, the new accommodation was far better than expected”
“I enjoyed the entire experience; a magical oasis in the depths of winter”
M. C. Edinburgh