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Suffolk Coast NEW! Secret Suffolk

A 4-day, single-centre birdwatching tour to Suffolk

May is a brilliant month to go birdwatching along the Suffolk coast! Resident birds are busy nesting and newly arrived summer visitors are establishing territories, while wader migration is in full flow - and regularly brings a few surprises. Travel by minibus, visiting less well-known birding spots - including an exclusive tour of Snape Warren and the new RSPB-managed area (where David is warden) - and of course their flagship reserve, Minsmere... All while enjoying great food and accommodation at the delightful Westleton Crown.

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
David Fairhurst

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 4 Days

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Cost: £650*

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

Deposit: £150

Single Supp: £130*

* Prices Provisional (tba)

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An indigo-and-maroon male Dartford Warbler chatters from within a gorse patch on a Suffolk Sandlings heath © Brian Small, Limosa

What could be more enjoyable than spending a few days birdwatching along the glorious Suffolk coast in spring? From the local reedbeds Sedge and Reed Warblers fire out their subtly different songs, whilst the far-carrying boom of a Bittern resonates through your body and a family of Bearded Tits “ping” as they scurry across the reed tops. On shorepools, the cacophony of breeding Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns intermingle with aggressive Avocets defending nests. For sheer birding spectacle, east Suffolk is hard to beat!

As spring creeps towards summer and the days lengthen, many summer migrants have arrived, filling the air with song as they proclaim their territories and settle to breed. Days begin with the beautiful (and never-to-be-forgotten) operatic song of Nightingales – here in Suffolk they are at their most vocal at this time of year. And if that's is not enough to get you out of bed, then how about the thrill of watching an indigo-and-maroon male Dartford Warbler singing from a patch of citrus Gorse or the lilting song of a Woodlark in display flight above the heather.

Along the southeast coast of Suffolk are a few hidden gems. Hollesley and Boyton are two new RSPB reserves, near to the village of Shingle Street. Grasshopper Warblers reel from ditches and on the flooded fields many spring waders and duck cavort. Boyton Marsh RSPB in May has breeding Avocets and bright Yellow Wagtails that feed in the flooded meadows. This is one of the best places to find Turtle Doves in Suffolk as they purr from the wires.

Exclusive to our tour is the opportunity to go with David to the new RSPB-managed reserve at Snape - which is not open to the public - as well as nearby Snape Warren, of which David is the reserve manager!

Of course, no visit to the Suffolk Coast would be complete without a visit to the RSPB flagship reserve at Minsmere. Established in 1947 for the protection of the local Avocets, it is ever-expanding and managed to create an impressive mosaic of habitats. Reedbeds meet stony pasture and mature woodland abuts heathland, while bird-rich flooded wetlands and the world-famous ‘scrapes’ (Minsmere's pioneeering manmade shore pools) are alive with so many species it can be hard to know what to look at first.

At this time of year, we’ll also check favoured spots along the coast for migrants such as Ring Ouzel, while the sibilant song of Willow Warblers floats across the landscape from birch scrub. Garden Warblers and Blackcaps are often hard to tell apart but our guide will take you through the differences; Yellowhammers call for their simple lunch and Firecrests now breed locally, too. Spring birdwatching is always full of surprises, but even more so in coastal Suffolk: rare waders, Black Terns on passage – even a Roseate Tern, and Bluethroat occur most years...

Our spring tour is based at the highly regarded Westleton Crown, renowned for its comfortable accommodation, friendly service and great food - and within a ‘stones’ throw’ of many of our favourite birding spots... just down the road in fact from Westleton Heath and Minsmere!

Whether you are new to birdwatching or more experienced, guide David Fairhurst will be on hand throughout, to take you to the best spots and ensure you have as much fun as possible whilst seeing lots of great birds and wildlife.

Limosa has operated numerous bird tours to Suffolk over the past 30 years... Join us in May and treat yourself to the very best of British birding!

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The reedy dykes at Shingle Street can be a great place to try for Grasshopper Warbler in May © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

Our Suffolk birdwatching tours commence with arrival at the hotel on the evening of Day 1, where we gather for a welcome drink and informal get-together in the bar around 7.00pm prior to enjoying dinner. The next two days are spent in the field, with packed lunches and flasks of hot tea and coffee available on demand. We return to the hotel again each evening in time for a delicious dinner, followed by the day’s log call over coffee and the chance to relax and chat informally about the day’s events. After enjoying a final morning of birdwatching and packed lunch in the field 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.

Destinations will be chosen from the following outline programme to ensure your visit is both worthwhile and rewarding. We leave the final choice of places to visit to the discretion of our guide, according to the weather, local conditions and what’s about at the time.

BIRDS & PLACES

The Westleton Crown is the perfect base for our birdwatching tour, offering comfortable rooms, great food and being close to local heathlands and coast. Indeed, we have lots of wonderful habitats right on our doorstep, with little driving required.

North of Dunwich village are the extensive reedbeds of Walberswick, where breeding Marsh Harriers and Bitterns are often found. The old windmill in the reeds is one of the very best places to get views of moustachioed male Bearded Tits. Nightingales sing from bushes fringing the reeds and Water Rails squeal from deep in the marsh. The shingle beach hosts numerous singing Skylarks and is a protected area used by Ringed Plovers and the delightful (but decreasing sadly) Little Tern as nesting sites. All in all, this really is a terrific area for birds... If we are lucky a Savi’s Warbler may have taken up territory and will be reeling from reeds, while in 2016, a Honey Buzzard took up territory nearby and was seen regularly over the trees. Who knows what 2018 might bring?

As well as guiding for Limosa, David is the Reserve Manager at the newly established RSPB area at Snape. Though closed to the public, as a special treat on our tour, he will arrange access to the reserve and nearby Snape Warren. This picturesque area, with fine views across the River Alde and famous Snape Maltings, holds numerous Woodlarks and Dartford Warblers, plus is being carefully managed for breeding waders. We have a good chance of seeing the season's first Turtle Doves along with Cuckoos and maybe a Spoonbill or two on the estuary.

Nearby is another hidden village, remote Shingle Street (famed for its wartime Nazi conspiracy theories), where we can listen for Grasshopper Warblers reeling from ditches, watch for quartering Marsh Harriers and perhaps walk out to the new reserve at Hollesley Bay. Boyton Marsh RSPB, just to the north, also has breeding Avocets and in May can host bright Yellow Wagtails. The narrow lanes are one of the best places locally to find Turtle Doves purring from the wires.

Our visit to Minsmere is going to be busy! From the visitor centre we head out past the Sand Martin colony (sometimes buzzed by a Hobby), and the north bushes - where Nightingales can sometimes be found walking about on the ground. Scanning the fields we may be lucky to find a Stone-curlew strutting about or even to spot one squatting on the ground, while on the North Bank we have a chance of Bearded Tits and Bittern, Reed Buntings and warblers. Walking south past the old tank blocks, relics from the Second World War, we can view the sea and looking inland, glimpse the hive of activity over East and West Scrape – we will have already heard it even before we see it!

Entering East Hide in May, one is confronted by a wall of sound as numerous nesting Black-headed Gulls display – joined each year by a few pairs of elegant Mediterranean Gulls, with their bright red bills, black hoods and frosted wings. Aggressive adult Avocets feed in the shallows, chasing off all-comers that get too close; Common Terns breed on the islands and may be joined by passing Sandwich Terns and cute Kittiwakes. Breeding-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits feed belly deep in the water and can ‘pull in’ Whimbrels, boldly coloured Ruff and Dunlin as monochromatic Greenshanks strut about. There is so much more - this really is British birding at its best - and our guide will spend time helping you with your shorebird identification skills.

Moving into the relative calm and quiet of the reedbed, our senses may be accosted by one of the many local Cetti's Warbler, 'shouting at us' from a watery thicket. A Bittern might lift up and bound across the reeds in search of a new feeding area, while Cuckoos call softly from a distant patch or might be seen quietly watching the Reed Warblers, waiting for an opportunoty to steal in and secretly deposit their eggs.

Tides and weather on the day will all have a bearing on the number and location of the birds, of course. But in addition to those species previously mentioned, Oystercatchers, Curlews and brick-red male Bar-tailed Godwits feed in fields alongside Whimbrels; handsome black-bellied and silver-backed Grey Plovers, Red Knot, Redshank and Spotted Redshanks linger in the pools, while the adjacent freshwater scrapes might host Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Most will be migrants, northbound to their High Arctic breeding grounds.

If conditions are good, an early pre-breakfast start one morning (optional for those who wish to participate) will allow us to experience the special magic of spring bird song. Rich-voiced Nightingales lead the chorus of local Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins, and not-so-local Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers - after which breakfast will taste even better!

At the opposite end of the day, as dusk descends over the fields, Barn Owls drift silently over the marsh, Little Owls yelp and Tawny Owls call from the woods.

As with all our Suffolk breaks, we may vary the above itinerary to take best advantage of the weather and other local conditions, as well as what birds happen to be about at the time of your visit. And while our guides can't promise to find you a rarity on every trip, one thing’s for certain - whenever you come and whatever we choose to do, in Suffolk there's always plenty to see!

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Male Stonechat looking an absolute picture in spring... and just down the road from our Westleton hotel © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

What To Expect

Enjoy your very own own ‘Suffolk Springwatch’ with Limosa on this super 4-day break discovering the birding secrets of the Suffolk coast. May is an exciting time: resident birds are busy nesting and newly arrived summer visitors are establishing territories, while migration for waders is still underway and regularly brings a few surprises! Travel by minibus, visiting less well-known birding spots - including an exclusive tour of Snape Warren and the new RSPB-managed area - plus of course their flagship reserve at Minsmere... all while enjoying great food and comfortable accommodation at the lovely Westleton Crown.

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! Our friendly and helpful guides are there to help you improve your identification and birdsong skills.

The UK's climate is famous for its unpredictability, but extremes are rare. Expect a mix of sunshine and showers along the Suffolk coast in spring, with May temperatures in the range of 7-20C (45-68F). It can sometimes feel chilly if there’s an onshore wind blowing at the coast. Suffolk is one of the driest parts of the UK, but some rainfall is of course possible at any season so come prepared with rainwear and lightweight layers of clothing, just in case - and join us for some of the very best birding in Britain!

Birds

90-130 species

Mammals

5 species

Accommodation

3 nights accommodation at the comfortable Westleton Crown, close to the Suffolk Sandlings heaths and Minsmere - and perfectly situated for easy exploration of the glorious Suffolk coast. All rooms are en suite. (Who knows, you might even end up in the room where Prince William and Kate stayed!)

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 a packed lunch on Day 4. Breakfasts and dinners will be taken at the hotel. Lunches will be picnics in the field. The hotel's restaurant has a long standing reputation for excellence.

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 with overnight dew.

Travel

Daily excursions will be by minibus.

Participants arriving in Suffolk 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 7.00pm on the first evening.

For those without their own transport, we pick up at Darsham railway station (on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line) at approx. 5.30pm on the first afternoon. We are able to drop off there again by about 3.30pm on the last afternoon (currently, the next train departs to Ipswich at around 3.50pm). 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 Darsham Station to Westleton or vice versa (a distance of approx 3 miles/10 mins by taxi).

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Mediterranean Gulls are now regular breeders on the Scrape at Minsmere, with up to 80 pairs - and a very fine sight in summer! © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

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