Encompassing an area of some 300 sq. km, the Norfolk Broads are the UK’s largest protected wetland and a National Park in all but name. Despite their natural appearance the Broads are actually man-made, evolving over centuries from medieval peat diggings that subsequently flooded to form shallow lakes. Today this vast patchwork of rivers, meres, marshes, reed beds, meadows and wooded fens is outstanding for wildlife of all kinds - and a haven for many of Britain’s rarest wetland animals and plants.
Lying close to Norfolk's tranquil east coast, the immense watery wilderness of Hickling, Horsey and Martham Broads is a ‘must’ to visit during the spring and summer months. Marsh Harriers are plentiful in the marshes and seldom out of sight for long; Bearded Reedlings ‘ping’ in the reedbeds; and Cetti’s Warblers shout at passing birdwatchers from watery thickets. Barn Owls are perhaps nowhere more numerous in the UK than here - and there is a small but increasing population of Common Cranes to watch for!
The scrub-covered dunes that protect the low-lying coast are well worth investigating, too. Nightjar, Hobby and Stonechat breed and this underwatched stretch of Norfolk's coastline is always worth checking for migrant birds. While not far to the south, the tidal waters of Breydon Water are an important rest and refuelling stop for resident, wintering and passage waders.
Much of Broadland lies well off the beaten birding track and we may find ourselves exploring one or two less well-known spots - perhaps the recently created wetland at Potter Heigham or the valley of the River Ant, where quiet boardwalks weave through swampy alder carr and tucked away footpaths offer a chance to peek over hidden marshes and lakes. Bitterns should be 'booming' in May and busy feeding young in July, while Little Egrets have a habit of popping up just about everywhere and Great Egrets were seen on both our spring and summer tours in 2018. Mammals to watch out for include Muntjac, Chinese Water Deer and Otter.
One special highlight of both our spring and summer tours to the Broads is our visit to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Hickling Broad. Marsh Harriers and Common Cranes are regularly seen - and few sights or sounds are more thrilling than watching these enormous grey birds flying low over the marshes, bugling as they go! We'll also enjoy a delightful boat trip out onto Hickling Broad, giving access to hides that are otherwise impossible to reach and overlooking pools that are attractive to waders and waterfowl on spring and summer passage.
On our late May tour, the first Swallowtails - Britain's largest and most spectacular butterfly, as well as one of its rarest and most localised - should be emerging and we'll watch for them flying strongly over the fresh green reedbeds. With Cuckoos calling, there'll also be plenty of bird song to enjoy in the marshes. We'll help you to distinguish between the similar songs of Reed and Sedge Warblers, Blackcap and Garden Warbler, and have good chances of seeing and hearing the skulking Grasshopper Warbler, too.
Our early July tour can be a terrific time to see Bitterns, now busy ferrying food to their young in the reedbeds. We'll look for Little Terns at the coast and passage waders already making their way back south at this time include Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank. Perhaps surprisingly, not all bird song is over - Nightjars and Grasshopper Warblers sing well into July and fine summer evenings offer chances to see and hear both. First brood Swallowtails, Dark Green Fritillaries and the scarce Norfolk Hawker dragonfly should all be about, and the first Purple Hairstreaks should also be emerging in the oak woodland.
Both tours are based at award-winning converted farm barn accommodation near Hickling, where a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse breakfast and dinners are assured - and all within a few minutes drive of key birding spots on both the east Norfolk coast and Broads.
Whether you are new to birdwatching or more experienced, our guide will be on hand to take you to the best spots and ensure you have as much fun as possible whilst enjoying seeing lots of great birds and wildlife.
Limosa has been operating birding tours in Norfolk for 34 years now. Take your pick of our May and July departures - and let us show you the beauty, bounty and birdlife of the Norfolk Broads!