One of winter's stunning sights

One of winter's stunning sights


Posted 13th Dec 2017


Winter will see some truly stunning gatherings of wildlife in East Anglia's flatlands

On the mudflats, you will see great clouds of waders which will swirl as the tide turns - on the beach, grey seals are having their pups, and in the fields, thousands of pink-footed geese feed side by side, warily watching the horizon. Over the reeds you will get to see the marsh harrier will be hunting, hoping to snatch a rabbit or moorhen.

As the day draws to a close, head to Hickling Broad in Norfolk and aim to be in place an hour before dusk. It's during this magical hour, as the sun heads for the horizon, that for a few precious minutes, the reeds will transform with a warm fiery glow, that one of the greatest of wildlife gatherings taking place.

Looking over the marshlands, there's always a marsh harrier, that solitary hunter which will quarter back and forth. However, as the shadows stretch, more birds will start to materialise, silently drifting on spread wings across the marsh in the mid-distance - first in ones and twos, and then more and more, with as many as a dozen sometimes appearing in a single binocular view at one time.

As some birds settle in to the top of the small hawthorn bushes, others will appear, and before you know it, there will be harriers everywhere.

Over 50 of these magnificent birds will regularly present themselves during an evening, and in some cases, over 100 have been seen.

It's not only the marsh harriers who gather here - they are usually joined by one or two hen harriers, with peregrine, merlin, sparrowhawk and barn owl all anticipated visitors, alongside another famous local resident - the common crane.

An evening spent at this viewpoint will be among the finest wildlife spectacles on offer during winter.

How to do it

Winter in East Anglia will be a damp, chilly time, particularly if you stand around, waiting for birds to come in to roost. Wrap up warm, and consider wearing wellies or good waterproof boots - they can help for negotiating the typically muddy track.

If you can't get to the special places listed below...

Winter is a great time to find raptors wherever you are. Both marsh and hen harriers, the occasional rough-legged buzzard, peregrines and the diminutive merlin all head to the fields and grazing marshes of the southern and eastern coasts to spend the winter. Elsewhere, red kites and common buzzards are more obvious in the leafless wintry landscape, while in our gardens, this is the time of year when sparrowhawks are most likely to turn to the birds attracted to your bird table for a midwinter snack.

Special spots

The most accessible winter raptor roost is at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Hickling Broad reserve. The Stubb Mill viewpoint will be around 1km from the visitor centre and car park, along sometimes muddy tracks. As many as 50 birds will gather here on a good night - sometimes more. You'll also have a good chance of seeing a barn owl, bittern or a flypast by the local cranes, along with the possibility of Chinese water deer grazing in the fields.

Cambridgeshire, The Great Fen

Somerset, Westhay Moor

Image courtesy of © Amy Lewis - text courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts





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