Birdwatching in Norfolk
Norfolk is widely regarded as one of the best counties for bird watching in Britain. This is due to its
location, long unspoilt coastline and large variety of different habitats. It also boasts some of the most
famous and popular nature reserves in the country, including Titchwell RSPB and Cley NWT. Resident species
include such specialities as Bittern, Little Egret, Egyptian Goose, Marsh Harrier, Golden Pheasant, Common
Crane, Avocet, Barn Owl, Cetti’s Wabler, Firecrest and Bearded Tit. Rare breeding birds include, Montagu's
Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Stone Curlew, Woodlark and Golden Oriole.
Another great attribute of Norfolk is you can go birding on any day of the year and always see something of
interest. Winter is a great time to be here – our summer breeding birds have long departed for warmer climes
but are replaced by northern birds moving south to shelter from extreme weather in Scandinavia and further
north. Large numbers of wildfowl arrive, including approximately one third of the world's Pink-footed Geese.
Birds of prey are well represented with Hen Harrier, Merlin and Peregrine replacing our summer visiting
birds. The Broads communal roost can be spectacular – with over 80 Marsh Harriers and 'honking' Cranes,
it can make a truly memorable end to a good day out. In the west of the county, the Wash attracts huge
flocks of waders with its bountiful supply of food. Offshore, Divers and Grebes gather with the odd 'white winged'
Gull from the Arctic thrown in. Back on land, Thrushes, flocks of Finches, Snow Buntings and Waxwings all
arrive to take advantage of our relatively milder climate and food supplies. Owls can be very
conspicuous – in a good year large numbers of Short-eared and smaller numbers of Long-eared Owls over-winter
in the county, with short daylight hours Barn Owls tend to be easier to see, and this is also the best
time to find Tawny Owls on their favoured winter roost sites.
In March, a visit to the inland Breckland area is essential. Stone Curlews tend to arrive mid-month, Goshawks
display throughout, Hawfinches can be more conspicuous, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are in full display and
other good birds like Woodlark, Firecrest, Crossbill, Willow Tit and Golden Pheasant are active. The end
of the month sees the beginning of spring migration, with Swallows, Martins, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers
the first to arrive in the south of the county.
Spring is about migration and breeding, with birds arriving in Norfolk to nest or stopover on their journeys
north. April is one of the best months to be in the county – it’s not difficult to see over 100 species in a
day. Birds return from Africa to breed, including Warblers, Terns, Cuckoos, Turtle Doves & Nightjars. Wading
birds pass through heading north to Scotland, Scandinavia or the far Arctic, whilst some also stop to nest
in Norfolk. April and May are also great months to catch up with scarce migrants and vagrants from the
near continent and much further afield.
June, especially the first week can still be very good for scarcities including Marsh Warbler, Common
Rosefinch & Bee Eater. The occasional rarity still turns up – in 2013, a Roller spent several days on
heathland near Holt. This month is also a good time to hear and hopefully see Golden Orioles. They are one
of our rarest breeding birds and the traditional site for these birds is just over the border in Suffolk,
but the population here has been declining and we hope they continue to return here to nest. Their song
sounds very tropical and quite out of character with the surroundings. If you are lucky enough to see one,
the males are vivid yellow with black wings and tail and are about the size of a Blackbird.
July and August is a good time to look at birds of prey including our two rare breeders, the Montagu's Harrier
and Honey Buzzard. Other interest is usually provided by wading birds, return passage begins early and scarcities
and the odd rarity are normally discovered amongst the flocks.
Moving in to autumn, September is a great time for migration, with birds heading south en masse from their
breeding grounds in Scandinavia and further north. If the ‘right’ weather conditions prevail significant
falls of migrants can occur. Large numbers of Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Wheatears can be seen along
with scarcer birds such as Red Backed Shrikes, and Wrynecks. Seabirds and Shorebirds can be seen in large
numbers along with the odd rarity. As the month wears on Yellow-browed Warblers arrive on easterly winds
and the Geese return to Norfolk to over winter. Migration carries on all through October and into early
November, and just about anything can turn up, ranging from Hoopoes from the near continent to far flung
vagrants like Pallas's Warbler all the way from Eastern Asia. From mid to late November a chill in the air
usually signals the return of winter.