14/06/2019
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Motorhome travel: Wildlife spotting in the Norfolk Broads

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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.

Image of a boat on the Norfolk Broads

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.

Image of a butterfly

Top tip

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
norfolkbroadsboathire.biz

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.

Top tip

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
rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z

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.

Top Tip

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

norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/hickling-broad

Image of a pub beside a river in the Norfolk Broads

THE DETAILS

David stayed at:

StrumpshawHall Steam Museum (Camping and Caravanning Club CS), Strumpshaw, Norwich NR13 4HR
01603 717936
strumpshawsteammuseum.co.uk/camping
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
01692 630357
camc.com
Open: 15 March-4 November
Two adults, pitch and electric: from £21

Heath Barn CL, Sutton Road, Hickling, Norwich, NR12 0AS
01692 598534
caravanclub.co.uk
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.

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