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Norfolk Broads Birds, Butterflies & Dragons

A 4-day birdwatching & wildlife tour to the Norfolk Broads

Protected from the sea by a barrier of low dunes that provide a welcome landfall for migrant birds, the Norfolk Broads are at their loveliest in spring and summer - and home to rare breeding birds such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Common Crane and Bearded Tit. On our May tour, the birds will be singing, waders will be moving north, Hobbies hunt for hirundines and the first Swallowtail butterflies should be emerging. In July, waders will be returning south again, Nightjars are churring, Swallowtails are still on the wing and the first Purple Hairstreaks should be out. Based in comfort at award winning farm barn accommodation close to the east Norfolk coast - and within easy access of the best wildlife spots.

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
6
Available

Leaders
Gary Elton

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 4 Days

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Cost: £595

from Hickling (or Norwich)

Deposit: £150

Single Supp: £65

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Common Swallowtail Hickling GE BSedit resized

Swallowtails - Britain's largest and most spectacular butterfly, as well as one of its rarest and most localised - should be emerging in late May and are still on the wing in early July © Gary Elton, Limosa

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!

willow warbler suffolk Brian Small copy resized

Though numbers are in decline, the Norfolk Broads are still a great place to see Willow Warblers and to hear their beautiful lilting song from sallows in the reeds © Brian Small, Limosa

Our birdwatching tours to the Norfolk Broads commence with arrival at Dairy Barns Hickling on the Monday evening, where we meet at around 7.00pm for an informal get-together prior to enjoying dinner. Tuesday and Wednesday provide two full days in the field, with packed lunches and flasks of tea and coffee available on demand. We return to the hotel each evening in time for dinner. After spending the best part of our final day (Thursday) in the field, the break concludes back at Dairy Barns around 2.30pm for farewells and departure for home.

Our hotel is perfectly placed for getting about the Broads, lying within just a couple of minutes drive of the coast and major wetland sites such as Hickling and Horsey, and with easy access to the Yare Valley and Breydon Water to the south. A maze of minor roads gives access to some of the Broads’ quieter backwaters and during our stay we may explore one or two tucked away spots that, even today, remain largely undiscovered by visiting birders.

As with all our Norfolk breaks, we may vary the below itinerary to take best advantage of the weather, local conditions and what birds and other wildlife are about at the time of your visit.

Limosa has been operating birding tours in Norfolk for 34 years. While we can't promise you a 'rarity' on every trip - highlights over our last three Broads tours include Spoonbill, Great Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Little Gull and Savi's Warbler - one thing’s for certain: whenever you come and whatever we do, in Norfolk there will always be excitement and plenty to see!

Day 1
ARRIVAL AT HICKLING

Our birdwatching tours to the Norfolk Broads begin with an evening rendezvous at our converted farm barn accommodation near the village of Hickling, close to Norfolk's east coast. We gather for an informal get-together at 7.00pm, followed by dinner. Night Hickling

Days 2 – 3
EAST NORFOLK BROADS & COAST

Occupying a vast swathe of low-lying land between Norwich and Norfolk’s east coast, the Broads comprise Britain’s largest and most important protected wetland area. Its landscape of windmills, winding rivers, wetlands and waving reeds, mixed with wet woodlands, grazing marshes and arable fields is unique. The whole creates a mosaic of wonderful habitats that are exceptionally rich in wildlife, with everything from Cranes and Cetti’s Warblers to Swallowtails and Chinese Water Deer.

To make best use of our time, our spring and summer tours focus on the area of Broadland that lies to the northeast of Norwich, along the valleys of the rivers Bure, Thurne and Ant, and south to Breydon Water on the River Yare, which exits into the sea at Great Yarmouth.

There's no shortage of places to explore! Within this immense, low-lying basin are to be found some of the UK’s rarest breeding birds: Bittern, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Bearded Tit and the vociferous but ‘oh-so-difficult-to-see’ Cetti’s Warbler are resident and Barn Owls are perhaps more numerous here than anywhere else in the UK. Norfolk's small but slowly expanding population of Common Cranes has its main home here, too - although for all their size, the great grey birds can often prove elusive!

Great Crested and Little Grebes, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Garganey are among many species of waterfowl to nest locally. In May, we should hear the Cuckoo calling, the reedbeds are alive with the songs of Reed and Sedge Warblers, and there are Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs to listen for, too. While a late May visit is best for bird song, Grasshopper and Cetti's Warblers are among a surprising number of species that continue singing well into July.

Both May and July are good months to see the energetic Hobby hawking over the marshes, chasing down the abundance of Swifts, Swallows, martins and dragonflies on which it preys. Both periods can be excellent for passage waders - heading north to their breeding grounds in May and returning south again to their winter quarters in July. If we are lucky to catch a rising tide at Breydon Water, we'll find that shorebirds are forced off the expansive mudflats to roost within comfortable range. The beaches nearby often hold one or two Mediterranean Gulls.

Britain's largest and most spectacular butterfly, the Swallowtail, emerges in late May and we'll watch for them flying strongly over the reeds. This first brood remains on the wing in Norfolk until mid-July, so we should also see them then (if the weather is fine, of course). Our July tour adds the prospect of the localised Dark Green Fritillary at the coast and the season's first Purple Hairstreaks should also be emerging now - we'll look down on them from a sturdy viewing platform in the tree tops beside Hickling Broad. The tower is easily ascended via a steel staircase and - even if the butterflies don't oblige - it's well worth climbing up for the bird's eye views across the marshes from the top are unrivalled.

Both trips can be good for dragonflies, but if it's the scarce Norfolk Hawker you're after, July is perhaps the more reliable month to come. With its clear wings, green eyes and yellow triangle on the body helping to separate it from the more common Brown Hawker, East Anglia is the only part of the UK where this localised speciality occurs.

As dusk falls over Hickling and Horsey Mere, Chinese Water Deer emerge from their daytime hideaways to graze in the fields and Barn Owls drift silently back and forth across the marshes. An unexpected treat for participants on our July 2018 tour was seeing Barn Owl chicks being ringed at Limosa HQ!

While there's plenty to occupy us within the Broads, the east Norfolk coast also lies within a few minutes drive of where we stay. The scrub-covered dunes that protect its low-lying shores from Waxham south to Winterton are attractive to migrants and have a long history of turning up rare and unusual birds. Stonechats and Meadow Pipits nest in the dunes and we'll pay an evening visit here to look and listen for Nightjars, which also breed. Sandwich, Common and Little Terns fish along the shore, and seabirds passing might include Gannet. Nights Hickling

Day 4
HICKLING BROAD BOAT TRIP *1

A special highlight of our May and July tours will be a boat trip this morning on to Hickling Broad, largest of Norfolk's broads, to visit the hides overlooking Swim Coots and Rush Hills scrape. Hemmed by reeds, these large shallow lagoons are attractive to passage waders in May and July. Avocets, Lapwings and Common Terns nest, one or two Garganey are often about and passage waders regularly include Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Whimbrel and Little Stint. Scarcities such as Spoonbill and Little Gull also drop in from time to time - and a couple of our groups have been lucky to see Otter here!

After enjoying a final picnic lunch at Hickling, our break concludes with a return to nearby Dairy Barns at around 2.30pm this afternoon, for farewells and journeys home.

*1  Please note the boat trip is subject to weather and availability, and may be rescheduled to run on a different day of our tour.

Great Egret Hickling GE BSedit resized

We've been lucky enough to see Great Egret on our last three spring and summer tours to the Norfolk Broads - including this one at Hickling on our May 2018 trip © Gary Elton, Limosa

What To Expect

Led by Limosa’s friendly expert guides, our Norfolk holidays are suitable for birdwatchers of all levels of ability, interest and experience. Just bring your bins and enthusiasm for birds - we’ll do the rest!

The UK climate is famous for its unpredictability. In Norfolk, temperatures in May average 8-16C (46-61F); July is warmer 11-20C (52-64F). It can feel cooler near the coast when an onshore breeze is blowing. Norfolk is one of the driest parts of the UK, but some rainfall is of course possible at any season so do bring rainwear just in case.

Birds

90-110 species

Mammals

We usually see 5-10 species

Butterflies

Britain's largest and most spectacular butterfly, the Swallowtail, emerges in the second half of May and we'll watch for them flying strongly over the reeds. This first brood remains on the wing in Norfolk until mid-July, so we should see them again then - provided the weather is fine, of course!

Our July tour adds the prospect of the localised Dark Green Fritillary along the coast, and the season's first Purple Hairstreaks should also be emerging about now - we'll look down on them from a sturdy viewing platform in the tree tops beside Hickling Broad.

DRAGONFLIES
Both trips can be good for dragonflies, but if it's the scarce green-eyed Norfolk Hawker you're after, July is perhaps the more reliable month to come.

Accommodation

3 nights accommodation in Norfolk at the award-winning converted Dairy Barns, on a working farm betwixt the sleepy village of Hickling and the east Norfolk coast close by. Beautifully converted to provide warm and comfortable accommodation, and with good old-fashioned farmhouse breakfasts and evening meals to look forward to. All rooms en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the price, commencing with dinner on arrival at the hotel on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with a packed lunch on Day 4.

Excellent farmhouse breakfasts and dinners, while lunches will be picnics to make the most of our time in the field.

Walking

Easy. Short walks (1-4 miles) at a gentle pace over mostly flat terrain. Sturdy trainers will suffice if the weather is dry; if not, wear comfortable waterproof walking shoes or boots. Wellies are recommended in wet weather, and can be handy first thing when the long grass along paths can be wet with dew first thing.

Travel

Excursions are by minibus.

Participants arriving in Norfolk by car will be sent a map and joining instructions to find Dairy Barns, Hickling. We meet for an informal get-together at around 7.00pm on the first evening.

For those without their own transport, we pick up at Norwich railway station at approx 4.45-5.00pm on the Monday afternoon (most routes arrive into Norwich just ahead of this time), and are able to drop off there again by about 4.00pm on the Thursday evening. There is no extra cost for pick-up and drop-off as outlined above.

Please note: if you intend to travel by rail and wish to spend an extra night or two at the hotel before or after the tour, we are unable to offer return transport to/from the station. Instead, it will be necessary for you to arrange a taxi from Norwich to Hickling or vice versa (a distance of approx. 20 miles) or to the nearest branch line at Wroxham (approx. 12 miles).

Boat Trips

Our tour price includes the cost of reserve entry fee and a 2-3 hour boat trip at Hickling Broad NWT Reserve, visiting private hides with an experienced naturalist boatman.

Four spotted Chaser Hickling GE BS edit resized

Is it just us or someone can't count?... Four-spotted Chaser is one of a number of Broadland dragonflies on the wing during May and July © Gary Elton, Limosa

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