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Norfolk Broads Cranes, Geese & Raptors!

A 4-day, small group, single-centre birdwatching tour to the Norfolk Broads

Watching for Cranes, Barn Owls and Taiga Bean Geese, Grey Seals pupping on deserted beaches and a visit to Britain’s biggest and best raptor roost are among many possible highlights on Limosa’s late autumn birding tour to Norfolk and the Broads... Or will it be the Domesday spectacle of the UK's biggest gathering of roosting Rooks and Jackdaws - up to 50,000 birds strong - that you'll cherish most? Based in comfort at award-winning farm barn accommodation close to the coast, with a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse meals assured - and easy access to all the best spots on this November birdwatching tour to Norfolk.

Tour Dates

2020

Available

Leaders
Mike Crewe

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 4 Days

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Cost: £635

from Hickling (or Norwich)

Deposit: £150

Single Supp: £70

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Cranes GE NOV 2016 BSedit

Our last 9 November tours to the Norfolk Broads have all produced excellent sightings of Cranes - including this group of 8 birds photographed near Hickling © 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. Yet despite their natural appearance the Broads themselves are actually man-made, evolving over centuries from medieval peat diggings that subsequently flooded to form shallow lakes. Today this immense patchwork of rivers, meres and lonely 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 in winter. Marsh Harriers are plentiful in the marshes and seldom out of sight for long, Bearded Tits ‘ping’ in the reedbeds and Cetti’s Warblers chastise passing birdwatchers from the watery thickets. Best of all, there is a small but well-established population of Common Cranes to watch out for!

The scrub-covered dunes that protect the low-lying east coast are well worth investigating at this season, too. Stonechat and Snow Bunting are regularly about and Grey Seals pupping on the deserted sandy beaches are a special highlight here from late November.

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. Little Egrets are a common sight across the Broads nowadays and have a habit of popping up just about everywhere, and the more stately Great Egret has also gained a toe hold in recent years. A late autumn visit to the Norfolk Broads can turn up the odd surprise - like the Cattle Egret we found near the hotel on our 2015 tour or perhaps a party of silken Waxwings feasting on hedgerow berries, while the uncommon, frost-winged Mediterranean Gull favours the deserted east coast beaches. Mammals to watch for include Red and Roe Deer, Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer - even Otter, if we are very lucky!

A particular highlight of our November tours is a visit to Britain’s largest and most famous raptor roost. Impressive numbers of Marsh Harriers are regularly present (typically 30-40 birds but there can be as many as 80), where they are joined by the odd Hen Harrier, Merlin, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and ghostly Barn Owl. Norfolk’s ‘homegrown’ population of Common Cranes continues to increase and is often best viewed from here - with few sights or sounds more thrilling than watching these great birds flying low over the winter marshes, bugling as they go!

Wildfowl are plentiful on the lakes and marshes, and Pink-footed Geese especially have increased dramatically in east Norfolk in recent years. We will check the fields of winter wheat and grass for them, along with parties of Whooper and Bewick's Swans. We’ll also make a special effort to locate one Britain’s rarest and most elusive winter wildfowl: Taiga Bean Goose. Even if the Bean Geese elude us here, expect to see lots of waders, Teal, Wigeon and White-fronted Geese and maybe Peregrine, too. Nearby, is Britain's largest roost of Rooks and Jackdaws - up to 50,000 birds strong! The swirling mass of birds presents a spectacle at dusk that will linger long in the memory.     

We are based throughout at award-winning converted farm barn accommodation, where a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse breakfast and dinners are assured - and all within an easy drive of key birding spots in Broadland and along the east Norfolk coast.

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.

Join us for the wild side of winter in eastern England and let us introduce you to the beauty and bountiful birdlife of the Norfolk Broads!

WAXWING NORFOLK Dr Kevin ELSBY wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

As well as looking for cranes, wild geese and a visit to the UK’s biggest raptor roost, our winter tour to the Norfolk Broads might turn up a few surprises - perhaps a Waxwing feeding quietly in a hedgerow © Dr Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

Our November birdwatching tour to the Norfolk Broads commences with arrival at Dairy Barns, Hickling on the Tuesday evening, where we gather at around 7.00pm for an informal get-together prior to enjoying dinner. Wednesday and Thursday 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 (Friday) in the field, the break concludes back at Dairy Barns around 2.30pm for farewells and departure home.

Hickling is perfectly placed for getting about Broadland, lying within just a couple of minutes drive of Norfolk's east coast and major wetland sites such as Hickling and Horsey Broads, and within easy distance of the Yare Valley wetlands and Breydon Water to the south. A maze of minor roads gives access to some of the Broads’ quieter backwaters 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 (2019). While we can't promise to find you a rarity on every trip, one thing’s for certain - whenever you come and whatever we do, in Norfolk there will always be excitement and lots of birds to see!

Day 1
ARRIVAL AT HICKLING
Our autumn birdwatching break in the Norfolk Broads begins 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
THE BROADS & EAST NORFOLK COAST
Occupying a vast swathe of land sandwiched between Norwich and Norfolk’s low-lying east coast, the Norfolk Broads comprise Britain’s largest and most important protected wetland. Its tranquil rural 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, boasting everything from Cranes and Cetti’s Warblers to Chinese Water Deer and Grey Seals.

To make the most of our birdwatching, our late November tours focus mainly on the area of Broadland that lies to the northeast of Norwich, along the valleys of the rivers Ant, Bure and Thurne, and south to the River Yare which exits into the sea at Great Yarmouth. There is no shortage of wonderful places to explore and within this immense area are to be found some of Britain's rarest birds: Bittern, Great Egret, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Bearded Tit and the noisy 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 increasing population of Common Cranes (now numbering upwards of 40 birds) has its home here, too. For all their size, these enormous grey birds can often prove elusive, however - and viewed from afar, can bear an uncanny resemblance to grazing sheep!  

Numbers of Pink-footed Geese have increased dramatically across Norfolk in recent decades and big numbers are now regularly present in Broadland’s coastal fields. Herds of wild swans - both Whooper and Bewick’s - can put down anywhere at this season, but we'll try one or two favoured spots we know, and Snow Buntings and Stonechats are usually present in the dunes.

On a rising tide, flocks of winter wildfowl and waders are forced off the mudflats to roost within comfortable range at Breydon Water, and we should see Brent Goose, Shelduck, Pintail, Wigeon, Avocet and both godwits here. Small numbers of Purple Sandpiper, Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull are also possible along the coast. Over the years, this tucked away corner of Norfolk has consistently been the most reliable for turning up Waxwing, and we could be lucky to find a party of these - or possibly something rarer, such as the Rose-coloured Starling seen by our 2013 group or the Cattle Egret we found in 2015!

To the south, we’ll search the remote grazing marshes beside the River Yare for one Britain’s rarest winter visitors: the long-necked Taiga Bean Goose. Numbers remain very low and even with the benefit of up-to-the-minute local knowledge, these furtive grey geese are seldom easy to find amid the maze of deep ditches and dykes that criss-cross the expansive grazing marshes - so no guarantees! White-fronted Geese are generally more numerous here (and rather easier to spot!) and we should see masses of grazing Wigeon plus Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Gadwall, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Common Snipe and Ruff. The presence of so many waterfowl and waders attracts wintering birds of prey including Marsh and Hen Harriers, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard - and we have our best chance of seeing Peregrine here.

On winter evenings, up to 50,000 Rooks and Jackdaws flock to roost at nearby Buckenham Fen. It's the largest such gathering in Britain. This amazing dusk spectacle features in Mark Cocker’s book Crow Country - and even gets a mention in the Domesday Book! It’s a sight not to be missed, as thousands upon thousands of ragged black shapes rise up from the fields and swirl over the carr before plunging in to roost in the gathering gloom.

For many however, the major highlight of our late November tours to the Norfolk Broads is an afternoon visit to overlook the UK's most famous winter raptor roost. Here, upwards of 30 Marsh Harriers assemble each evening to roost in the reed beds, where they are regularly joined by Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and often one or two Hen Harriers and Merlins. 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 over the marshes.

This is also one of the best places to watch and listen for Norfolk’s Cranes, their far-carrying bugling cries often being the first sign of their approach as they fly majestically across the wild marshes to roost. And as the light begins to fade, the shadowy forms of Woodcock may appear too, flighting out from the tangled woodlands to feed on the wet grazing marshes. Our birding over for the day, it's just a short drive back to the comfort of our warm and welcoming accommodation. Nights Hickling

Day 4
THE BROADS & COAST
We'll keep our options open today, perhaps returning to the coast or maybe paying a visit to the tucked away marshes of the River Ant or the River Bure, where boardwalks wind through wet woodland (or 'carr') and leads out to the edge of open water overlooking Barton and Ranworth Broads respectively. Great Crested Grebe and Cetti’s Warbler are resident, with Goldeneye also likely at both sites at this season. In the fringing alders, we should find a good selection of woodland birds such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Marsh and Long-tailed Tits.

‘Continental’ Cormorants, Tufted Duck and Pochard frequent the open water, while Teal bleep and Water Rail squeal from the swampy margins. With sharp eyes and a little luck we may even catch sight of the latter, picking its way nimbly between one patch of cover and the next. Looking up, we can watch for parties of restless Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and Goldfinches feeding quietly in the Alders, while the winter fields and hedgerows are a good place to see Redwing, Fieldfare and occasionally Brambling.

After enjoying a final picnic lunch in the field today, our Norfolk Broads break concludes with our return to Hickling at around 2.30pm this afternoon, for farewells and journeys home.

eur wigeon 3 buckenham 190117 BSedit copy resized

Masses of grazing Wigeon are always a highlight of our visits to the remote Yare Valley marshes © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

Watching for Barn Owls, Cranes and Taiga Bean Geese, Grey Seals pupping on deserted beaches and a visit to Britain’s biggest and best raptor roost are among many possible highlights on this winter birding break centred on the Norfolk Broads... Or will it be the Domesday spectacle of the UK's biggest gathering of roosting Rooks and Jackdaws - up to 50,000 strong - that you'll cherish most?

Based in comfort at award-winning farm barn accommodation close to the coast, with a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse meals assured, plus easy access to all the best spots on this November birdwatching tour to Norfolk.

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 November average 4-9C (39-48F). It can feel cooler near the coast when an onshore breeze is blowing. Norfolk averages one of the driest parts of the UK, but some rainfall is possible at any season, so do bring rainwear just in case.

Wrap yourself warmly with lightweight layers of wind and waterproof clothing - and join us for some of the best winter birding in Britain!

Birds

90-110 species

Mammals

0-5 species

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. 

Farmhouse breakfasts and home-cooked dinners will be taken at the hotel; lunches will be picnics to make the most of the relatively short late November days.

Walking

Easy. Short walks (ca. 1-3 miles) at a gentle pace over mostly flat terrain. Wear sturdy waterproof walking shoes or boots. Wellies are recommended in wet weather (and can also be handy first thing, when the long grass on some paths can be damp after overnight).

Travel

Ground Transport  Daily excursions will be 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 Tuesday 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 Friday afternoon. 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).

 

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In late November, thousands of Rooks and Jackdaws gather at their roost near Buckenham, in the Yare Valley - an amazing spectacle that has happened for hundreds of years © Brian Small, Limosa

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1 CB, Norfolk Broads tour Here are 4 images [shown above] of the Cranes we saw last week... Thanks again for a really terrific few days birding. I really appreciated your patience and willingness to answers questions, your flexibility in changing plans to show us the best of what that area of Norfolk has to offer. You did of course do wonders with the weather but perhaps you need to work on your temperature spell a little! [empty string]
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