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Norfolk & Suffolk Nightjars, Brecks & Coast

A 5-day single-centre birdwatching tour to Norfolk and Suffolk

Extended summer birdwatching break centred on East Anglia’s unique Breckland region, with evening excursions to look and listen for Nightjars in Thetford Forest and day trips in search of some of Britain’s rarest breeding birds. With young broods to feed and migrant shorebirds already on the move, June is the perfect time to visit. 2018 tour highlights included Red-crested Pochard, Bittern, Red Kite, Hobby, Stone-curlew, Woodlark, Firecrest and Tree Pipit - plus some great views of Nightjars churring!

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
Gary Elton

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 5 Days

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Cost: £785

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

Deposit: £150

Single Supp: £100

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European Nightjar, Breckland, Norfolk © Gary Elton/Limosa 0710

Birding is full of surprises... this remarkable daytime photo of a Nightjar was taken on a previous Nightjars, Brecks & Coast tour © Gary Elton, Limosa

Straddling the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk, the complex of dry sandy heaths and coniferous woodlands known as 'Breckland' are at their best for birding in summer. The largest lowland pine forest in Britain - Thetford Forest - is also to be found here, planted on the windblown cultivated heaths - or ‘brecks’- during the 1920s to address the country’s chronic timber shortage following the Great War.

It’s an area we can justly claim to know as well as anyone for Limosa groups have been regular visitors to the Brecks for more than 30 years, seeking Stone-curlew (known locally as the ‘Wailing Heath Chicken’), Woodlark, Crossbill and the many other scarce breeding species which make this unique region their home. Tree Pipit, Stonechat and Siskin nest and, with luck, we may also find Firecrest and, occasionally, the beautiful Redstart - the latter a species that's now all but disappeared from most of its former haunts in eastern England. High summer in the forest is also an excellent time to see butterflies, moths and dragonflies.

Breckland is the most important area in Britain for Nightjars, and June-July is the optimum time to hear their curious ‘churring’ song. On past trips our groups have enjoyed marvellous views of ‘singing’ birds, often seeing them both at rest and in moth-like display about our heads. One group even had the amazing good fortune to come across a Nightjar in broad daylight, sitting right beside the trail - where our cover photo was taken! In years gone by, Nightjars were often referred to as 'goatsuckers', a name which derived from the curious ancient belief that they sucked milk from the teats of goats - a myth that's perpetuated today in the Latin name for Nightjar, Caprimulgus.

We combine our exploration of Breckland’s dry heaths and forests with a visit to Titchwell, on the North Norfolk coast. An excellent spot year-round for waders and wetland species, highlights from our June 2018 trip here included Red-crested Pochard, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff in breeding plumage; Avocet, Little Tern and and Mediterranean and Little Gulls. Red Kites are slowly increasing in number and the elegant Montagu’s Harrier - the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey - is sometimes present along the North Norfolk coast in summer, too.

A visit to one of the country’s premier lowland wetland reserves - RSPB Lakenheath Fen - is always a highlight. Situated on the western edge of Breckland, this remarkable reserve is surely the finest example of habitat creation anywhere in the British Isles and well worth seeing in its own right. But the prospect of Bittern, Garganey, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Cetti’s Warbler and Bearded Tit among an outstanding list of special birds should ensure an exciting visit. We have even been lucky enough to see Common Crane.

We visit in high summer, just as the breeding season for Britain’s rarest species is reaching its climax. With young birds either well grown in the nest or already safely on the wing, and the adults busy ferrying food to their demanding broods, June is the ideal time to look for them.

We stay at a tucked away village inn hotel, conveniently located on the northern edge of Thetford Forest and within an easy drive of the key birding spots. Guide Gary Elton lives in Norfolk and has led the majority of Limosa’s tours there over the past ten years.

Join us for a superb summer break that’s not only different, but crammed full of great birds - including more than its fair share of Britain’s rarest breeding species!

Firecrest, Norfolk © Jo Latham/www.wildlifephotocards.co.uk

Firecrests are now well established in Thetford Forest, but this tiny bird can still be tricky to find © Jo Latham, wildlifephotocards.co.uk

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...

Day 1
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

Day 5
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.

Kingfisher, Worcestershire © Dr Kevin Elsby/www.wildlifeontheweb.co.uk 0511

The clear, slow-flowing rivers of Breckland provide a happy hunting ground for Kingfishers © Dr Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

What To Expect

Extended summer birdwatching break centred on East Anglia’s unique Breckland region, with evening excursions to look and listen for Nightjars in Thetford Forest and day trips in search of some of Britain’s rarest breeding birds. With young broods to feed and migrant shorebirds already on the move, June is the perfect time to visit. 2018 tour highlights included Red-crested Pochard, Bittern, Red Kite, Hobby, Stone-curlew, Woodlark, Firecrest and Tree Pipit - plus some great views of Nightjars churring!

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's climate is famous for its unpredictability but extremes are rare. Summer temperatures in Norfolk are typically in the range of 11-25C (52-77F). Some rainfall is of course possible at any season, so do bring rain wear, just in case.

Birds

100-120 species.

Butterflies

If the weather is sunny and warm, this can be a good time for butterflies and dragonflies, too. Scarce Chaser is among a good selection of dragonflies we've recorded on past June tours.

Another highlight for participants on several recent June tours has been 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.

Accommodation

4 nights accommodation in Norfolk, based 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.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at the hotel on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with lunch in the field on Day 5. Portions are generous and the food is good. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Lunches will be picnics in the field.

Walking

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.

Travel

Ground Transport is 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 (approx.) 4.45-5.00pm on the Monday afternoon (most routes arrive into Norwich by about that time), and are able to drop you off there again by about 4.45pm on the Friday 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/s 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).

Stone-curlew, Hortobagy National park, Hungary © Janos Olah

Stone-curlews have their UK stronghold in Breckland's fields and heaths © Janos Olah

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1 SS, Norfolk Brecks Tour Gary was very impressive. Very knowledgeable and inclusive. Another tour with just the right pace. [empty string]
2 BP, Norfolk Brecks Tour As always it was a pleasure to be in a group led by Gary, knowing his expertise and the care he takes with his clients. [empty string]
3 ST, Norfolk Brecks Tour A masterclass in birding! Gary’s vast knowledge of birds and their habitats, his enthusiasm and kindness made it superb! [empty string]
4 CG, Norfolk Brecks Tour The hotel was very comfortable. All the staff were very friendly and helpful, and most welcoming. Gary was excellent with the songs and calls of all the birds. [empty string]
5 P&HS, Norfolk Brecks Tour Gary appears to have the vision of a raptor and the hearing of a Soprano Pipistrelle Bat! Enjoyed the birds we saw - whether “old favourites” such as Song Thrush or Avocet or personal firsts: Montagu’s Harrier, Nightjar, Woodcock, Stone-curlews and Bearded Tit. [empty string]
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