Guest Blogger Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours :
Norfolk is well known as one of Britain’s best birding counties. Vast reedbeds and marshlands provide a huge amount of bird habitat all along the north coast right next to the sea, as well as in the Broads National Park in the county’s eastern interior. Freshwater and brackish scrapes and lakes, as well as many rivers and broads, also provide great habitat.
The Norfolk coastline incorporates The Wash with its tens of thousands of waders, winter geese and other birds, the north coast and the east coast – migrants and vagrants are brought in by northerly and easterly winds respectively to these coastlines.
The inland region called The Brecks is a rewarding birding area with heaths and forests, a world apart from the coasts and marshlands, and with a completely different suite of birds.
Snettisham Nature Reserve
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Snettisham Nature Reserve protects a piece of prime habitat in The Wash. The expansive mudflats here support staggering numbers of wading birds such as Red Knot Calidris canutus and Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica and in winter endless flocks of wildfowl such as Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus. During a high spring tide, tens of thousands of birds are forced closer and closer to the beach as the mudflats become flooded, and they wheel around, many of them heading for the lagoons, these occurrences are rightly named “Snettisham Spectaculars”.
Nearby Dersingham Bog, Sandringham is a wonderful, atmospheric place to observe large numbers of European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus and Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola as they display at dusk in late spring and early summer.
Moving east, one of Britain’s best bird reserves, RSPB Titchwell Marsh, hardly needs an introduction. Like its rival in Suffolk (Minsmere), Titchwell has an extremely wide variety of habitats: woodland, reedbeds, saltmarsh, a fresh marsh, a brackish marsh and a saline marsh, and finally the sea/beach/dunes. It’s easy to spend a full day in this reserve, and then to go back the next day too.
Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve
My favourite woodland (although actually far more than only woodland!) birding reserve in Norfolk, Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve (run by the Hawk and Owl Trust) is then in easy reach, a bit inland from Titchwell and the next site, Holkham. This must be the easiest place in the county to find Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula and usually Brambling Fringilla montifringilla among much larger numbers of other finch species. It was famed for holding both Marsh & Willow Tits, sadly the latter has vanished.
Holkham National Nature Reserve
Back to the north Norfolk coastal area, Holkham National Nature Reserve and Holkham Park justify a full day. This is a large area also with extremely diverse habitats which is good year-round. Make a number of winter visits to look for the “Shorelark” form of Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris, Snow Bunting Plectophenax nivalis and scarce seabirds such as Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis and rarer grebes.
Cley Marshes Reserve
Moving yet further east, Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) Cley Marshes Reserve is, like Titchwell, one of the most famous birding reserves in England and hardly needs further introduction. It has one of Norfolk’s best seabirding sites which is also the start of the legendary (for vagrants) long haul to Blakeney Point, and vast wetlands. Sheringham just to the east, is a rival to Cley as a sea-birding site, and boasts nearby venues for Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla and Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata.
Moving south along the coast from there and one reaches Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve which is a great place for newly arriving migrants and vagrants off the east coast.
This brings one into close proximity to arguably the best birding reserve within the Broads National Park, NWT Hickling Broad (one of many great reserves). If you’re only going to visit one broad, this is the one to go to. But there are many other incredible broads to explore and a 2-week holiday visiting different ones will be productive – Rollesby and Ormesby broads being just two of many others well worth a visit.
Moving to south-western Norfolk is The Brecks. Sites not to be missed here are Santon Downham for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendroscopus minor and many others, Lynford Arboretum for Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes and other desirables, Weeting Heath for Eurasian Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus and Cockley Cley raptor watchpoint for Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis.
Welney Wetland Centre
Also in far western Norfolk near the Cambridgeshire county line, is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) Welney Wetland Centre. Winter swans form a real spectacle in the area, as do a large number of other waterfowl and shorebirds.