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Norfolk & Suffolk Goshawks & Hawfinches

A 4-day birdwatching break to Norfolk and Suffolk

Early spring is the best time to find the specialities of East Anglia’s unique Breckland region - home to some of Britain’s most difficult-to-see resident birds. Displaying Goshawk, Common Crane, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Firecrest, Crossbill, Brambling and Hawfinch among highlights on previous tours. Great Grey Shrike is occasionally about, too. Based at a tucked away village inn on the edge of Thetford Forest - close to all the key birding spots.

Tour Dates





Gary Elton

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 4 Days

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Cost: £615*

Tour starts/finishes at the hotel in Mundford or with collection from/drop off at Norwich railway station

Deposit: £150

Single Supp: £75*

* Prices Provisional (tba)

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Hawfinch, Norfolk © G Elton/Limosa Holidays 0412

Male Hawfinch and Grey Squirrel foraging for seeds beneath the trees at Lynford, Norfolk © Gary Elton, Limosa

Stretching from Swaffham in the north to Bury St Edmunds in the south, the area known as Breckland lies at the very heart of East Anglia. One of the driest parts of Britain, this fascinating region was once a wilderness of windblown sand and heath, where droves of Great Bustards roamed! The nation's demand for timber following the Great War led to extensive Forestry Commission planting during the 1920s and the creation of Thetford Forest - Britain’s largest lowland pine forest - a mosaic of coniferous woodland, clearfell and remnant heathland that nowadays forms one of the most important wildlife areas in Britain. Some of the country’s scarcest resident birds occur here - and March is the optimum time to seek them.

The fine, bright days of early spring are enough to stir Breckland’s early breeders into song. The first Woodlarks will be singing, and troops of ‘chipping’ Crossbills may already be settling down to nest. The Brecks also preserve some fine areas of broadleaved woodland. With the trees yet to break into leaf, this is the ideal time to search for two of Britain’s most elusive resident birds: Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The secretive Goshawk is another Breckland speciality best looked for at this time and we will visit one or two favoured spots, hoping for a sighting of this impressive bird of prey rising up above the treetops in territorial display.

Four of eastern England’s loveliest rivers meander quietly through the Brecks: the Thet, Wissey, Little Ouse and the Lark. Fed by the latter, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s excellent Lackford Lakes reserve is well worth a visit. Kingfisher, Water Rail and Tree Sparrow are usually about and this is a noted haunt of Goosander and Goldeneye in winter. The thousands of gulls and Starlings that regularly gather here to roost on winter evenings can provide a thrilling wildlife spectacle at the end of the day.

Not far away lies one of the UK’s premier wetland sites: the RSPB’s remarkable Lakenheath Fen. This impressive manmade wetland is perhaps the finest example of habitat creation anywhere in the British Isles. Sought after specialities such as Bittern, Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, Crane, Cetti’s Warbler and Bearded Tit are resident and in March we could also be lucky to see a marauding Peregrine.

Other localised Breckland specialities to try for in early spring include Firecrest, Stonechat, Siskin and Brambling. The recent run of mild winters has even encouraged the odd Stone-curlew to over-winter in the forest - who knows, we could strike lucky again this year! The predatory Great Grey Shrike is an irregular late winter visitor to clearings within the forest, and if one is about this year we may have time to try for that, too.  

We stay at a tucked away village inn on the northern edge of Thetford Forest, within an easy drive of all the key birding spots. Guide Gary Elton lives in Norfolk, is a frequent visitor to the Brecks and knows the area well. We have an excellent track record finding the more difficult species on our birdwatching tours to Norfolk / Suffolk, but please keep in mind that weather can be a factor and none of the specialities can ever be guaranteed - nor are they always easy to find!

Firecrest, Norfolk © tour participant Steve Nicklin, 0311

Male Firecrest at Lynford, one of several spots in Thetford Forest where this amazing little gem now breeds © tour participant Steve Nicklin

Our early spring birding tours to the Norfolk / Suffolk borders commence with arrival at our hotel on the evening of Day 1, where we gather at around 7.00pm for an informal get-together in the bar prior to enjoying dinner. The next two days are spent 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 a delicious dinner. After enjoying a final morning of birding and a packed lunch together on Day 4, the break concludes back at the hotel at around 2.30pm that afternoon to allow good time for farewells and departure for home.

The following itinerary is intended only as a guide and we may decide to vary this to take best advantage of weather, local conditions and what birds are about at the time of your visit - or to include visits to other sites not mentioned below. Most of the key Breckland specialities are best looked for on fine bright mornings in late winter, so the prevailing weather will play an important role in determining where and when we go and what we look for...

Day 1

Evening rendezvous at our hotel to the north of Brandon, where we gather for an informal get-together in the bar around 7.00pm, followed by dinner. Night Crown Hotel, Mundford

Days 2 – 3

Lynford Arboretum is one of Thetford Forest’s most productive spots. Conveniently located within a mile of our hotel, it makes a great place to begin our winter birdwatching break. Best known as a regular haunt of Hawfinch in winter, Britain’s largest and most powerful finch is best looked for during February, March and early April, before the leaves are out and when these shy and undemonstrative birds are at their most vocal.

Lynford’s fine mix of coniferous and broad-leaved specimen trees in an open, park-like setting is also attractive to a trio of key Breckland breeding species: Siskin, Common Crossbill and Firecrest. Although finding the latter is a lot like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack (usually, there are only two or three pairs), we have been lucky on many previous visits. If Crossbills are about – they are an irruptive species that may be common one year but absent the next - they often give themselves away by their tell-tale ‘chipping’ calls. Siskins can sometimes be numerous in late winter and we may hear the male’s peculiar song, its fast chattering interrupted by an unexpected mechanical wheeze. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper are resident, and a late winter visit to nearby Lynford Water could reveal Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneye and Egyptian Goose.

Corridors of alder and poplar woodland beside Breckland’s clear rivers and streams are an ideal habitat to look for the much-declined and ever-elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - adults are barely the size of a sparrow. Encouraged by fine weather from mid-February onwards, like the Hawfinch, these diminutive tree-climbers are also at their most vocal in late winter, indulging in bouts of active ‘drumming’ and calling, making this an ideal time to search for them, too.

The Woodlark is one of the UK’s finest avian songsters and has a major stronghold in Thetford Forest’s sprawling coniferous woodlands, which support around a quarter of the British breeding population. Fine, bright mornings during March and early April are the best time to hear this amazing little bird, whose far carrying, fluting voice is outstanding for its clarity. Given in circling song flight, the sound seems to come and go as the birds drift across the clear-fell.

In late winter, the same conditions also stimulate one of Britain’s most secretive and powerful birds of prey, the Goshawk, to indulge in aerial display over the forest. A few pairs are resident in the Brecks and we may be lucky to see this impressive raptor, perhaps swooping and diving at great height over the trees or patrolling its territory in flapping, harrier-like flight.

Unlike the Woodlark and Goshawk, Coal Tits and Goldcrests are numerous and widespread throughout the extensive pinelands, with Red-legged Partridges and Yellowhammers common in the fields. A late winter visit adds the prospect of flocks of Redwing, Fieldfare and Brambling, too.

Breckland is home to a number of other species that are generally scarce in East Anglia and we will be checking likely haunts for some of them: Common Buzzard, Gadwall, Grey Partridge, Grey Wagtail and Stonechat are possible. The recent run of mild winters has even encouraged the odd Stone-curlew to return early to the Brecks, while Great Grey Shrike, a nomadic and erratic visitor to the UK, occasionally appears here in late winter. The latter favours areas of young plantation and clear-fell broken by avenues of pine stumps and brashings, where several of our previous groups have been lucky.

Set beside the River Lark, Lackford Lakes have been transformed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust from unattractive worked-out gravel pits into a wonderfully diverse wetland reserve with meadows, woodland, reed beds and streams. A superb site for wildfowl in winter, Lackford regularly attracts Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and a few sleek Goosander. Cormorants are often to be seen fishing or ‘hanging out to dry’ in the tall trees by the river, and this is one of the best places in the region to see Kingfisher. There is a large winter gull roost (which can hold as many as 28,000 birds), and numbers of Starlings sometimes gather to perform aerial ballets over the reserve before dropping down to roost, making a late afternoon visit to the reserve especially rewarding. Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk are often about, Tree Sparrows are present year-round at the bird feeders and Water Rail is regularly spotted from the hides. Nights Crown Hotel, Mundford

Day 4

Where the westernmost of the elevated heaths fall away into the valley of the Little Ouse and the poor sandy soils of Breckland meet with the darker and much more fertile soil of the intensively cultivated Fens, the RSPB has created its magnificent Lakenheath Fen reserve. Twenty years ago, the land that is now one of Britain's finest nature reserves was predominantly carrot fields, with little to offer in the way of wildlife interest. Now it is a superb patchwork of bird-rich reed beds, grazing marshes and lagoons!

Classic reedbed species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit are firmly established, along with the furtive Cetti’s Warbler, a bird whose spontaneous, loud shouted song may be heard at anytime during the late winter months. Grey Heron and Little Egret are likely beside the river. Common Cranes have also bred at Lakenheath in recent years and on settled days from February onwards, we may be lucky to hear their evocative bugling calls echoing across the marshes. Although for all their size these great grey birds are seldom easy to see; we missed them last year, but our 2016 group's timing was perfect as two flew right past them at the watchpoint and were later picked up ‘on the deck’!

All in all, our visit to Lakenheath should make an exciting finale to our birding tour to Norfolk / Suffolk's Breckland. The break concludes with a return to our hotel at around 2.30pm this afternoon, for farewells and journeys home.

Common Crossbill, juvenile, Switzerland © Brian Small/Limosa Holidays 0612

Crossbills are resident in Thetford Forest but their numbers can vary dramatically from year to year. Our birding tours to Norfolk / Suffolk in early spring provide an ideal opportunity to look for them © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

A 4-day birdwatching tour to the Norfolk / Suffolk borders focusing on the specialities of East Anglia's unique Breckland region - home to some of Britain’s most difficult-to-see resident birds. Goshawk, Crane, Water Rail, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Firecrest, Crossbill and Hawfinch possible, as well as winter visitors such as Fieldfare, Brambling and occasionally the erratic Great Grey Shrike.

Led by Limosa’s friendly expert guides, these holidays are ideal 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. Late winter temperatures at Thetford, in the heart of the region, are typically in the range of 0-9C (32-48F). Breckland is one of the driest parts of the UK, but rainfall is of course possible at any season in the UK, so do bring rain wear just in case.


80-100 species


5 species


3 nights accommodation at the Crown Hotel in Mundford, a comfortable and traditional Norfolk village inn at the edge of Thetford Forest, and perfectly situated for easy exploration of this unique region. All rooms are en suite.


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. Portions are generous and the food is good. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Lunches will be picnics in the field to help maximise our birding time.


Easy walks (approx. 1-3 miles) at a gentle pace over good trails and mostly flat terrain. Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or boots recommended. Wellies will be useful in wet weather and can be handy first thing, when the grass can be damp after overnight.


Daily excursions will be by minibus.

Participants arriving in Norfolk by car will be sent a map and joining instructions for the hotel. We meet for an informal get-together in the hotel bar at around 7.00pm on the first evening.

For those without their own transport, we pick up at Norwich railway station at 4.45pm on the Friday afternoon (most routes arrive into Norwich by about that time), and are able to drop off there again by about 4.45pm on the Monday 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 at the hotel, we are unable to offer return transport to/from the station. Instead, it will be necessary for you to arrange a taxi between the station and the hotel - for this reason you might look into travelling to/from Brandon or Thetford stations, which are ca. 15 minutes journey by taxi (rather than travelling to Norwich, about an hour away).

Bearded Tit, male, Norfolk © Jo Latham/www.wildlifephotocards.co.uk 2010

A visit to the RSPB's excellent Lakenheath Fen reserve adds the prospect of reedbed birds, such as Bearded Tit © Jo Latham, wildlifephotocards.co.uk

1 Tony Charles, Norfolk & Suffolk Tour ... What can I say about Gary? Absolutely great as usual. As good if not better than any I have met ever!... Norfolk & Suffolk Tour
2 Johnnie Powell, Norfolk & Suffolk Tour ...Gary had great knowledge of the area and up-to-date information on where to find the target species. He had very good hearing. As a result we found nearly all the birds I had hoped to see... Norfolk & Suffolk Tour
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