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Norfolk Broads Cranes, Geese & Raptors

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

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 varied 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 at award-winning farm barn accommodation near Hickling, with a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse meals assured - and easy access to the best birding spots around the East Norfolk coast.

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
6

Leaders
Mike Crewe

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 Cranes Norfolk Broads 1116 GE Limosa copy resized

Our 9 previous tours to the Norfolk Broads in winter have all produced good sightings of Cranes - including these 8 birds photographed on our November tour © 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 themselves are actually man-made, evolving over centuries from medieval peat diggings that subsequently flooded to form shallow lakes. Today this enormous 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 east coast, a visit to the immense watery wilderness of Hickling and Horsey Broads is a ‘must’ 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 shout at passing birdwatchers from the watery thickets. There is even a small but well-established population of Common Cranes to watch out for! The dunes that protect the adjacent low-lying coast are well worth investigating, too: Stonechat and Snow Bunting are regularly about in winter 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, where quiet boardwalks weave their way through swampy alder carr and tucked away footpaths offer a chance to peek over lonely marshes and lakes.

Britain's largest roost of Rooks and Jackdaws is also to be found here in winter, and can be up to 50,000 birds strong - a dusk spectacle that will linger long in the memory! Little Egrets have a habit of popping up in the most unexpected places and the uncommon Mediterranean Gull favours the deserted east coast beaches. A winter 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. Mammals to watch for Red and Roe Deer, Muntjac and the peculiar Chinese Water Deer - even Otter if we are very lucky! 

A particular highlight of our winter tours to the Broads 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 may be as many as 80), where they are joined by the odd Hen Harrier, Merlin, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and hunting Barn Owl. Norfolk’s population of Common Cranes continues to increase and is often best viewed from here - and few sights or sounds are 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 parties of Whooper and Bewick's Swans and 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, expect to see lots of waders, Teal, Wigeon and White-fronted Geese and maybe Peregrine, too.

We are based in comfort at award-winning converted farm barn accommodation, where a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse breakfast and dinners are assured - and all within just a few minutes drive of key birding spots along 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.

Join us for the wild side of winter 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 birdwatching tour to the Norfolk Broads in Winter 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 Dairy Barns around 2.30pm for farewells and departure home.

Hickling is perfectly placed for getting about the Broads, lying within just a couple of minutes drive of Norfolk's East coast and major wetland sites such as Hickling and Horsey, and with easy access to the Yare Valley wetlands and Breydon Water to the south. A maze of minor roads gives access to some of Broadland's 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. 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 winter 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
HICKLING & HORSEY BROADS, EAST NORFOLK COAST & YARE VALLEY

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 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 Little Egrets and Cetti’s Warblers to Chinese Water Deer and Grey Seals.

To make the most of our birdwatching, our winter 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, 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 (now numbering upwards of 40 birds) has its home here, too. For all their size, these enormous grey birds can often prove elusive - viewed from afar, they can bear an uncanny resemblance to grazing sheep - but our 2017 tour struck gold, seeing a total of 37 birds!

Pink-footed Geese have increased dramatically across Norfolk and large 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, big numbers of winter waders are forced off the mudflats to roost within comfortable range at Breydon Water, and we should see Brent Goose, Pintail and Wigeon here, too. 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 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 Wigeon along with Teal, Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Common Snipe and Ruff. The presence of so many waterfowl and waders attracts wintering birds of prey 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, the major highlight of our winter 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 are regularly joined by Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and often one or two Hen Harriers and Merlins, which assemble in the reedbeds to roost. 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 the Cranes, their far-carrying bugling cries often 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 in winter. 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.

In winter, ‘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 spot 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 trees, 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.

CommonSnipeJTL(2427) copy resized

The Norfolk Broads are a great place to see Common Snipe as they feed in fields or along the edges of ditches © Jo Latham, wildlifephotocards.co.uk

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 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 at award-winning farm barn accommodation near Hickling, with a warm welcome and delicious home-cooked farmhouse meals assured - and easy access to the best birding spots around the East Norfolk coast.

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

100 species

Mammals

We typically encounter 5-10 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  lunch on Day 4.

Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Our lunches will be picnics in the field to make the most of the relatively short winter 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).

 

Rooks Buckenham Brian Small 1

In late November, 1000s of Rooks and Jackdaws gather at their roost near Buckenham - something that has happened for 100s 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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