Motorhome travel: Wildlife spotting in the Norfolk Broads
Words and photos by David Chapman
From barn owls hunting to sharing Strumpshaw Hall Steam Museum CS with Egyptian geese, mistle thrushes, swallows and peacocks, this ‘big sky’ region is rich in wildlife. Cycling to see the vehicle chain ferry at Reedham, I saw brown hares, roe deer and honey buzzards. From the hide at RSPB Buckenham Marshes, I spotted many breeding avocets.
I was amazed by just how much wildlife was so very close to the Norfolk Broads Caravan and Motorhome Club site; the short stretch of permissive path from the site to the river being a particularly profitable spot. Along the ditch we regularly saw a dozen or so Norfolk hawker dragonflies and, on one occasion, a hobby hunting them. In the same patch we found plenty of four-spotted chasers, several black-tailed skimmers and both variable and red-eyed damselflies.
I saw six different barn owls hunting in the rough meadows around Ludham Bridge and, in the River Bure, I had encounters with a great crested grebe and its young, a pair of amorous Egyptian geese, a grey heron and several marsh harriers.
One of my aims was to look for a rare fen orchid at Upton Broad and Marshes nature reserve. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of a floating bog. But photography comes before a clean pair of trousers.
On the River Bure
Undoubtedly our best day for wildlife was when we hired a boat on the River Bure from Wroxham (we paid £120 for a day boat). We saw innumerable great crested grebes, had a fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher and a good view of an otter near the junction of the River Bure and Ranworth Dam. On Cockshoot Broad we saw bitterns, hobbies and swallowtail butterflies. Our last day, paddling in a hired canoe across Hickling Broad, up Meadow Dyke and across Horsey Mere, gave me a good wildlife tally with cranes, swallowtail butterflies, at least three hobbies, one great white egret and a lot of bearded tits.
With a boat you can stop at nature reserves, which are difficult, sometimes impossible, to access from land. There are several boat hire companies in Wroxham.
Riverside Road, Wroxham, Norfolk NR12 8UD
Birdlife at Strumpshaw Fen
Birdlife around RSPB Strumpshaw Fen is excellent with bearded tits, reed buntings, reed warblers, Cetti’s warblers and cuckoos. We heard a bittern booming and I found a Savi’s warbler, now very rare in the UK. Common lizards bask on the boardwalk and, in summer, the meadows are full of rushes, ideal hiding places for mammals. Flowers were not the key reason for our visit, but we saw a few orchids (bee, common-spotted, southern marsh and common twayblade) and, on the Fen boardwalk, some special wetland flowers, including marsh pea and marsh cinquefoil.
Be patient and you can see the pretty Chinese Water deer, accidentally introduced as a result of a zoo escape. Evenings are best for this.
Low Road, Strumpshaw, Norwich NR13 4HS
Cranes at Hickling Broad
Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Hickling Broad has enough trails and hides to keep a nature-lover busy for a full day. Hickling is significant for being the first place in the UK for cranes to breed (1981) after a gap of four centuries. There are now thought to be 75 pairs in East Anglia. It’s also the location of the first breeding record of bitterns in 1911 after a long absence. Even on a very windy day I saw a large number of hobbies and a bittern flying back to her nest to feed her young. Two great white egrets flew towards the Bittern Hide just as we were watching two little egrets feeding.
Pick up one of the Broadcaster visitor guides to the Broads National Park for information about guided nature walks
Stubb Road, Hickling, Norfolk NR12 0BW
David stayed at:
StrumpshawHall Steam Museum (Camping and Caravanning Club CS), Strumpshaw, Norwich NR13 4HR
Open: All year (museum is open from Easter to the first weekend in October)
Two adults, pitch and electric: From £10 (electric extra). Members only, but you may join on site
Norfolk Broads C&MC Site, Johnson Street, Ludham, Great Yarmouth NR29 5NY
Open: 15 March-4 November
Two adults, pitch and electric: from £21
Heath Barn CL, Sutton Road, Hickling, Norwich, NR12 0AS
Open: All year
Two adults, pitch and electric: from £10 (C&MC members only)
This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of MMM magazine - buy a digital edition here.