Arctic aura

With arctic conditions upon us causing many Broads to freeze over now isn’t the most obvious time for a boat trip.    But, in the interest of investigation one of our skippers, Oli Franzen, wrapped up warm and headed out in a small day boat to discover what the Broads had to offer at this unlikely time of year.  He found that fortune favours the brave and was rewarded with the waterways teaming with wildlife.

As I donned an extra jumper and thick coat ready to climb aboard my day boat – the weather forecast was broadcast on the radio.  “A high temperature of zero today…but it will feel like minus 5”, they said. Oh great, perfect for a boat trip I thought!

Fortunately I didn’t abandon my plans because it turned into one of the best boat trips of the year.  My route was simple, heading downstream to Salhouse Broad via Wroxham Broad and back again.  It’s a route that I do every day in my double decker trip boat during  the summer season but one which took on a completely different persona in the winter – not just due to the blocks of ice floating downstream set against the stark winter scenery – but because it was alive with wildlife.

What was immediately obvious is how much more wildlife has moved into Wroxham  village than you would see in the summer, perhaps because there’s much less boat traffic to disturb shy species but also because fish tend to shoal up in boatyards at this time of year and  the water birds that feed on them follow their prey.

In addition to an extremely cold and grumpy looking Heron (any suggestions for an amusing picture caption of what this heron is thinking would be gratefully received!)  there was a surprising number of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants fishing.

On Wroxham Broad things got more exciting.  Water birds have flocked together in huge numbers and I had a magical moment, when my boat was completely surrounded by hundreds of Greylag geese, as shown in this panorama picture.

There were also huge flocks of Tufted Ducks, which are shy and rarely seen in the summer:

The Coots had come together in large numbers too, with some diving into the cold water to catch and eat zebra mussels, as you can see in the picture below.

Next I headed back out on to the river towards Salhouse Broad, revealing perhaps the most special moment of the whole trip – lots of Little Grebes which I encountered in pairs every few hundred yards downstream.  Little Grebes are notoriously shy and we hardly ever see them during the summer months, so to see so many pairs feeling confident enough to come out in the open due to the lack of boat traffic was wonderful. I stopped on each occasion to take some pictures of these beautiful, but notoriously difficult to photograph birds.

On reaching Salhouse Broad – one thing was immediately obvious.  Half the broad was frozen solid!  These pictures show somewhat confused Black headed gulls standing on the ice.

In fact, I was reminded later that Salhouse Broad was frozen even more thickly than this in 2010, as shown by this lovely picture featuring a puzzled swan taken by James Greasley.

Elsewhere on the bank rather more sensible Black Headed gulls than the ones on the ice huddled together on a fence for warmth.

By the end of my two hour trip I felt about as warm as those gulls but delighted I had made the effort to head out on the water and can thoroughly recommend it.  Even if you have been out on a boat with us in the summer, you will see a completely different World at this time of year.  So wrap up warm, bring a hot drink and hire a day boat for a couple of hours!

Christmas magic on the Broads

Ho, Ho, Ho. It’s a magical time of year on the Broads.

Santa has been delighting hundreds of children on board the Broads Tours Santa Cruise that has been setting sail since 3 December and has proved more popular than ever this year. In total more than 2,000 children and grown-ups have bought tickets to join the fun!

Our paddle boat, The Vintage Broadsman, has been transformed into a fabulous, festive grotto for an hour long trip to Wroxham Broad and back.

Santa has made us promise to keep the exact details of what happens on board ship a secret but, rumour has it, that Santa’s pixies have been serving mice pies and mulled wine to the grown-ups and a festive cookie to the kids. There are also some great prizes to be won for colouring and drawing competitions.

child with present standing next to santa with elf in background on board festive cruise boat

All the children must have been very well behaved this year as Santa, who was recently spotted circling over Wroxham Broad, has been making flying visits on his sleigh to bring each child a lovely present.

The Santa Cruise has run for the last two weekends at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and will run on these times on Sat 17, Sun 18, Mon 19, Tue 20, Wed 21, Thurs 22 Fri 23rd December and Christmas Eve.

Due to huge demand The Santa Cruises are virtually booked out, The Christmas Eve Trip sold out in August – but there may be a select few dates available for small groups. Tickets cost £12 each for both adults and children. Call us for details on 01603 782 207.

view of broads tours offices from across the water showing day boats lined up and vintage broadsman with festive lighting
Vintage Broadsman photos take by Mr Boyce staying in Apartment 6

Winter wonderland…and a brazen heron

In the last nature blog we focused on the ‘adventures of the Grey Heron’, both in our boatyard and on the far flung shores of Sri Lanka.  Well, the bird we sometimes call ‘The Harnser’ here in Norfolk is still stealing the show.

While our skippers Tobi and Oli were carrying out checks on our trip boat ‘The Queen of the Broads’ a brazen young heron perched right above their heads on top of the wheel house!  Check out these rather amusing pictures of Tobi and the Heron.

heron standing on the top of queen of the broads passenger boat

The Heron stayed for some time before becoming rather less welcome when it decided to drop off an unpopular surprise that ran down the Queen of the Broad’s windscreen just after Tobi had cleaned it!  Needless to say, Tobi wasn’t amused, and testing the horn soon after meant that the Heron found a new perch….

close up pf heron standing on top of queen of the broads passenger trip boat with man on deck peering up at it

That wasn’t the end of the story though, as our boat builders got quite a surprise when the bold young heron wandered into their workshop.  They duly ushered it out before it hurt itself!

The Heron wasn’t the only wildlife we spotted before in the basin.  Pike were striking young fry fish on the surface, which shoal up in vast numbers in basins at this time of year.  A quick chat with some fisherman also revealed that there are some monster predators lurking in the area – apparently they had caught a 22lb and 25lb pike that morning!

While we only run a few boat trips in the winter they are perhaps our favourites – often revealing far more wildlife than in the summer as the waterways are much quieter at this time of year and many shy species come out into the open.

Our mince pies and mulled wine tour on 2 December proved no exception, revealing the Broads in its wonderful winter cloak.  These pictures of a rainbow framing a fabulous winter scene on the trip seem to summarise the essence of the broads at this time of year.

image of river with rainbow going from one bank to the otherimage of a river bank with a rainbow in the background

Amongst this stark beauty we got really lucky with the wildlife.

Top of the list was two separate sightings of otters.  The first was at the bottom end of Wroxham village where we got a really good view of a female otter swimming along the river, before finally taking cover in the undergrowth when she spotted us.  We saw the other otter sunbathing on the bank a little further down river, close to Hoveton Great Broad.  The first sighting was especially clear, with nearly all of our passengers delighted to have spotted this beautiful mammal.

Tufted ducks are known as a winter species because they usually hide away during the summer before forming in ever increasing numbers through the winter.  That’s certainly the case on Wroxham and Salhouse Broads where there are ever expanding groups of these lovely birds on the water as shown in these pictures.

water fowl swimming next to bank with small hut4 tufted ducks swimming towards banktufted duck fliying close to water with reflection

Interestingly it’s only the males who have tufts on their heads – which one of our skippers Richard jokes makes them a tuftless duck, or maybe just ducks!

two tufted ducks on the water

On Wroxham Island increasing numbers of Cormorants are gathering amongst the trees as shown in these pictures set amongst a stormy sky.

comorants in trees with dark clouds in sky behindclose up of two comorants in a tree with dark grey sky behind

A little further downstream on the river, close to the bottom entrance of Wroxham Broad, there are a growing number of Little Grebes.  These beautiful birds are much less frequently spotted than the larger Great Crested Grebe, but as winter presses on the shy little birds are venturing out more and more.  See 31 October blog for more on Little Grebes.

Another good spot close to this area was the elusive, yet brightly coloured kingfisher sitting on a branch and we also saw an acrobatic kestrel hovering over the reeds before perching on a tree.

A welcome sight in this area was the single cygnet that was hatched as an ‘only child’ during the summer on Salhouse Little Broad and which we have followed closely on this blog.  As all the other cygnets hatched in the spring in groups of six, this single cygnet has been the smallest and most loveable on the river this year.  It’s size doesn’t seem to have held it back and, as shown in the pictures below, it is doing well.

adult swan with almost fully fledged cygnet

On Salhouse Broad we were lucky enough to spot Gadwell ducks flying close to the much more populous tufted ducks.  The Gadwell is a pretty rare grey coloured duck with a black rear end, but if you get the chance to see it close up it becomes apparent that its grey colouring is made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling.

Overall everyone on our 2 December boat trip was delighted to see such a wide variety of wildlife and, while we run far fewer trips at this time of year, it underlined our view that the winter is a great time to be out on the water.

river and river bank from the view of queen of the broads

Cordon Rouge lifted out

With the main boating season winding down it’s that time of year we lay down our skippers shirts, don our overalls and pick up a paint brush. Our fleet of trip and day boats all need to be maintained and ñ as these pictures show – we have just craned out our popular trip boat, the Cordon Rouge. We will be working on it until Christmas to ensure that itís spick and span for next season.

We plan to replace the port (left) side propeller shaft and repaint the top, front and back deck. We will also be cleaning the hull and painting it with a special paint called antifouling that prevents weeds growing on the bottom of the boat.

We will update you on other work being carried out throughout the winter season.

The adventures of the Grey Heron

Spotting a Grey Heron is one of the highlights of a holiday on the Broads.  But it seems that this familiar sight on our waterways can also be seen in rather more unfamiliar locations – as one of our skippers Oli discovered while on safari in Sri Lanka.

Here we have two pictures of Grey Herons perched on holiday cruisers in our boat basin.  The second picture shows two birds together– which is quite unusual as they are usually solitary birds.

grey heron standing on top of broads holiday cruiser

two herons stand on top of a day cruiser in Wroxham


But it seems that Grey Herons can be seen in even more exotic locations than our boat basin!

One of our skippers Oli was surprised to see a Grey Heron at the world’s largest gathering of elephants in Sri Lanka.  Oli explained: “More than 300 elephants come together in the dry season to drink from and bathe in a lake close to Minneriya National Park in what is known as ‘The Gathering’. Initially I was spellbound by the sheer number of these jumbo beasts enjoying the water at sunset but then noticed a rather smaller and more familiar creature fishing amongst them – The Grey Heron.”

brown elephants on grass with grey heron in foreground


close up of grey heron standing in water with brown elephants in background


close up of grey heron standing in water with two brown elephants in background

A few days later Oli spotted a grey Heron amongst Pelicans and surrounded by large Crocodiles at a lake in Yala National Park in the south east of the island!

grey heron standing in water with crocodiles laying on bank and pelicans

grey heron in flight over water with pelicans in foreground

There was also another favourite Broadland bird fishing from a branch precariously close to Crocodiles – The Common Kingfisher.

kingfisher standing on bare branch over water

crocodile laying on grass

It’s a little known fact that although we only have one type of Kingfisher in the UK there are actually 90 species of Kingfisher in the world – seven of which live in Sri Lanka.  These are the Pied Kingfisher (pictured below flying above the crocodile pool), the Common Kingfisher, the Ceylon Blue-eared Kingfisher, the Three-toed Kingfisher, the Stork-billed Kingfisher, the White-breasted Kingfisher and the Black-capped Purple Kingfisher.

pied kingfisher in flight

It’s not just Sri Lanka that is home to many of our favourite birds found on the Broads though.  Another of our skippers, Tobi, spotted Grey Herons on Safari in Tanzania, East Africa a few years ago.