While everyone knows birding in Britain is brilliant in spring, it’s a popular misconception that summer birding is quiet and uneventful. Nothing could be further from the truth! For with noisy parties of young birds about and ‘return' migration already well underway, June and July is a cracking time to get out in the field.
In Norfolk, the long summer days and light evenings present an unrivalled opportunity to seek out many specialities. Our guide will also help you get to grips with the more familiar British birds as well as unravelling the mysteries of Garganey and other duck as they moult into their more perplexing ‘eclipse’ plumages. Balmy summer evenings offer the optimum chances to see and hear Nightjar - and Woodcock may still be roding then, too.
Our Breckland summer birdwatching break commences with arrival at our hotel on the first evening, where we gather for an informal get-together in the bar at around 7.00pm prior to enjoying dinner. We spend the next three 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 a delicious dinner - and the option to nip back out into the forest around dusk in search of Nightjars and Woodcock. After enjoying a final morning of birding and packed lunch together on Day 5, the break concludes back at the hotel at around 2.30pm that afternoon to allow good time for farewells and departure for home.
Please note the following itinerary is intended only as a guide and we may vary this to take best advantage of the weather, local conditions and what birds are about at the time of your visit, or to include visits to other sites. Unfortunately, we can’t of course guarantee that all of the special birds will perform - or even be present in any given year! But one thing’s for certain: wherever we go and whatever we do, with the benefit of Limosa’s unrivalled local experience there will always be plenty to see...
ARRIVAL AT OUR HOTEL, DINNER & POST-PRANDIAL NIGHTJARS
The break begins with an evening rendezvous at our hotel north of Brandon, where we gather for an informal get-together in the bar at around 7.00pm.
If conditions are right (ideally, we'd like a warm, fine and still evening), after dinner tonight we'll take a short drive into the surrounding forest to try for our first Nightjars. While the peculiar ‘churring’ song and wing-clapping displays are remarkable enough, nothing quite compares with the thrill of watching these mysterious crepuscular birds floating silently over a forest clearing in the fading evening light!
At dusk, Muntjac deer are often to be seen along the roadside verges in the forest and we may occasionally be startled by their sudden and very loud bark! With luck, we will also hear the telltale croaking call and high-pitched explosive whistle of an approaching Woodcock, and watch as a ‘roding’ male flies a circuit or two over the treetops within his territory. Night Crown Hotel, Mundford
Days 2 - 4
BRECKLAND & THE NORFOLK COAST
In addition to its nationally important population of Nightjars, Breckland is home to some of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, holding more than two-thirds of all the Stone-curlews breeding in Britain as well as being a major stronghold for Woodlark and Crossbill. We will devote some time over the next few days to looking for these three special birds, with visits to some classic Breckland heathland habitats. By June and early July, all three species should have fledged young about, which can sometimes make them a little easier to find. Green Woodpecker, Little Owl, Turtle Dove, Northern Wheatear, Mistle Thrush and Spotted Flycatcher are all regularly present, too.
Lynford Arboretum is one of the forest’s most productive spots. Conveniently located within a mile of our hotel, it makes a great place to begin. Best known as a regular spot for Hawfinches in winter (please note we are most unlikely to see Hawfinches here in summer), the mix of mature coniferous and broad-leaved specimen trees in a parkland setting is also attractive to three key Breckland breeding species: Siskin, Crossbill and Firecrest. Finding the latter can be a lot like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack (there are only a handful of pairs), but we have been lucky on many previous trips. Little Grebe, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Treecreeper are also resident at Lynford, while Great Crested Grebe and Egyptian Goose nest on nearby Lynford Water. In summer, we could also find Little Egret, Oystercatcher and Sand Martin.
Coal Tits and Goldcrests are numerous and widespread throughout the extensive pinelands of Thetford Forest, and Red-legged Partridges scurry across the arid fields. This region also harbours a number of other birds that are generally scarce in East Anglia and we will be checking some likely haunts for some of them. Gadwall, Mandarin Duck, Stonechat, Tree Pipit, Grey Wagtail and the now rare Redstart are among notable species to watch for.
High summer can be great for butterflies in the forest and a highlight for participants on several recent June tours was the opportunity to see the moth trap being 'opened' at Lakenheath Fen. The Flame, Dark Arches, Burnished Brass, Angle Shades and Setaceous Hebrew Character have been among varied delights present in the trap!
On one day, we’ll travel up to the North Norfolk coast. The RSPB reserve at Titchwell is well known to birdwatchers and always a productive spot for wetland birds. Red-crested Pochard, Little Egret and Mediterranean Gull are usually about in summer, along with a good range of shorebirds including Avocet, Black-tailed and Ruff.
Red Kites now breed in West Norfolk and, as a possible bonus, the elegant Montagu’s Harrier is sometimes present around the coast in summer. This is now the rarest of all Britain’s birds of prey, with barely a dozen pairs in the whole country in recent years. In the event this graceful predator has returned to the area again this year, and the weather is fine, June and July generally offer the best chances of seeing them.
If weather conditions are right and we haven’t been successful before, in the evening we can look again for Nightjars and Woodcock - perhaps trying a different spot this time. Or we may opt instead to take a pre-breakfast trip in search of one or two of the forest’s trickier species, which are often most active first thing. Three further nights Crown Hotel, Mundford
BRECKLAND & LAKENHEATH FEN
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 more fertile soil of the intensively cultivated Fens, the RSPB has created its magnificent Lakenheath Fen reserve.
Just twenty years ago, the land that is now nature reserve was predominantly carrot-fields with little to offer in the way of wildlife interest. Now it is a patchwork of bird-rich grazing marshes, lagoons and extensive reed beds. Classic reed bed species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit are now firmly established here and June-July is an excellent time to look for them, for the adult birds are generally most active and visible then, ferrying food to hungry broods. Common Cranes have recently started to nest at Lakenheath, too - although for all their size, the great grey birds are notoriously difficult to find in the summer grasslands!
In spring and early summer, Lakenheath Fen is still a wonderful spot to see and hear the much-declined Cuckoo. Cormorant, Curlew, Common Tern and Kingfisher are among a range of other wetland species we could encounter on our visit and the extensive reed beds support sizeable populations of Reed Buntings, and Reed and Sedge Warblers, together with a few pairs of Cetti’s and Grasshopper Warblers. The scarce Hobby is a late breeder and adults are frequently seen hunting here at this time of year, drawn by the large numbers of Swifts, Swallows, Sand Martins and especially dragonflies that gather to feed over the marshes and pools. The ‘flash’ is an excellent spot to check for Hobby, and with sharp eyes we might also be lucky to pick out Garganey here, now in its eclipse plumage.
All in all, our visit to Lakenheath should make for an exciting finale to our Breckland holiday, which concludes with return to our hotel at around 2.30pm this afternoon for farewells and journeys home.