Graduation day for Skipper School

After three months of intensive training Broads Tours trainee skippers Oliver, Richard and Phil had something to celebrate last Tuesday having all passed their MCA Boatmaster licence.

The qualification means that they can now take command of Broads Tours double decker trip boats unaccompanied and is the culmination of hours of practical and theory training, as well as individual courses in Personal Survival, Fire Fighting, and First Aid.

Discussing the achievement Oliver, who wasted no time by running a boat trip less than an hour after passing his test, said: |”After getting nearly 90 hours of lessons and accompanied driving experience in my log book it’s fantastic to finally have the Boatmaster licence under my belt and take customers out on the water under my own steam.”

“The exam, conducted by the Maritime and Coastguard Association, was pretty tough and nerve wracking as it took 4.5 hours for us all to be assessed in an oral and practical exam. I’m delighted that all three of us trainee skippers passed together though.”

“On behalf of my fellow trainee skippers, Richard, Phil and myself, I would like to thank our excellent instructor Patrick for all his hard work as well as the other qualified skippers who have given us extra practise and advice. There has been a real team effort from everyone at Broads Tours.”

Barbara Greasley, director of Broads Tours, said: “I am really pleased to have a new crop of three bright new skippers at Broads Tours. The average age of our skippers is very young – around 30 – which goes to show that there is a promising future in Broads boating and people wanting to work in this industry.”

“We are also attracting a very high standard of candidate to be skippers. Richard has a masters degree in Criminology, Oliver has a degree in Environmental Science and Phil is a commercial airline pilot!”

Snow doesn’t stop play as nature takes a home run

two men standing at the front of belle of the broads passenger trip boat

With snow falling on the 26th April it’s hard to believe that we are in late April. Fortunately the cold weather doesn’t seem to be discouraging our abundant wildlife, which is still busily nesting and rearing their young, even if the plant life is a little ‘behind’ for this time of year.

Nesting birds are becoming more prevalent and we are still watching the Greylag and Canada Geese with great expectation. One very cute brood of Greylags are delighting tourists and seem to be spending most of their time grazing the lawns of Wroxham gardens.

two greylag geese with 5 goslings standing on grassgreylag goose with 7 goslings stood on grasscanada goose sitting on nest of dry reeds on riverbank

Animal behaviour is always an exciting topic, and wonderful to see. In one garden, we spied a swan going about nesting behaviour: whether the pair here are building or not is another matter, but it doesn’t stop the birds feeling broody and acting upon it!

swan standing in front of a no mooring sign with a branch in its mouthswan standing in front of a no mooring sign reaching for a branch with its mouth open

We have had high water recently which can play havoc with some nesting birds. Although the Coots and Grebes are not usually bothered by this problem because they build floating nests, one pair of Great Crested Grebes struggled slightly when their nest became suspended. They are back on track now and continue to build up their nest with gusto.

great crested grebe on the watergreat crested grebe on the water close to a tangled of branches

The arrival of migratory birds signals the start of spring (even if the current weather doesn’t) and we recently reported that Swallows were flourishing on Wroxham Broad. This week House Martins have joined the Swallows, although they can be difficult to set apart: look for the white patch on the House Martin’s rump and a forked, shorter tail than on Swallows.

Overcast days seem to be best for seeing both Swallows and House Martins amazing acrobatics as they zoom low over the water, picking up insects. Another aerial acrobat taking to our skies is the Common Tern, which has recently arrived from Africa to make its summer home on Hoveton Great Broad.

Despite being as large as Wroxham Broad, Hoveton Great Broad has been cut off from boat traffic for more than a century and makes a wonderful wildlife sanctuary for Common Terns as well as many other species.

A visit to the reserve is highly recommended. You can spot the Terns nesting on a special floating platform from a bird hide along a kilometre long nature trail. Visiting Hoveton Great Broad is an adventure in its self as it can only be reached by boat, giving it a wonderfully wild feel. We would recommend hiring one of our day boats from Wroxham and mooring up at the reserve about 40 minutes downstream (check Hoveton Great Broad’s opening times with us first.)

common tern in flight with clouds and sky in backgroundswan sitting on nest of dry reeds on riverbank

We have also been taking school field trips to Hoveton Great Broad recently and they have been captivated by this areas abundant wildlife. Hopefully we have done our bit for a new generation of nature lovers!

With the future in mind, The Hoveton Great Broad Restoration Project has recently attracted millions of pounds of European and Heritage Lottery funding to secure this area for many years to come. The project will see the broad, which has been badly silted up, being suction dredged so that plants can take root and to improve water quality. Also to improve water quality, fish will be temporarily removed from the broad because they eat water fleas, which in turn eat algae. With no fish to eat the water fleas their numbers will boom and more algae will be eaten, which will make the water much clearer in a process called biomanipulation.

Back on the river, our plants are doggedly coming to life despite the inclement weather. The white flowers of Black Thorn and Hawthorn are now being set against the bright yellowy-gold of the marsh marigold (come on you yellows!) which is also known as ‘King cup’ due to it’s almost goblet shaped flowers.

marsh marigold on the river bank surrounded by dry reeds

Other trees are starting to leaf too, with the fresh pale green leaves of oak, joining the willow, sycamore and birch. Soon the banks will be more green than brown and offer valuable cover for wildlife.

river bank lined with trees

Spring swoops into life

two men standing at the front of belle of the broads passenger trip boat Tobi Radcliffe (left) and Oliver Franzen (right)

Spring is swooping into life with the arrival of Swallows on Wroxham and Salhouse Broads. Tobi reported three Swallows on Salhouse Broad on 6 April which is, according to his sightings record, about six days earlier than last year. Now the area is scattered with these lovely little birds flitting low over the water to drink mid-flight and catch insects.

A wonderful matrix of trees and plants are coming into leaf and our river bank greenery includes willow, sycamore, wild raspberry and wild blackcurrant. All this is giving nesting birds a little more shelter, coverage and camouflage – so we are keeping our eyes peeled to spot them.

There are at least four active pairs of Grebes on Salhouse Broad, which are going about their majestic courtship dances and building their fantastic floating nests at the water’s edge.

two grebes one on a dry nest on the river one swimming next to the nest

We are keenly watching a pair of swans that have returned to their favourite nesting spot. Waterfowl tend to be quite habitual and will usually return to the same places to build a nest each year. It worked before, so it will again!

swan sitting on a nest over the waterswan sitting on a nest on the riverbank

In Wroxham village six gorgeous, newly hatched ducklings took their first steps, and will be eagerly watched over the coming weeks to see how they progress. Egyptian geese are also rearing their new families as shown by this gorgeous picture:

two egyptian geese paddling in shallow water with two goslings

One interesting fact about Egyptian geese is that they are not a goose at all and are, in fact, a shelduck. On the subject of geese, we are enjoying watching a Greylag and two pairs of Canada geese nesting on Wroxham Island as well as a few more further downriver.

canada goose in dry nest on river bank

Some birds have yet to nest, which leaves something to look forward to. Herons have been spotted flying overhead with twigs in their beaks heading for a secretive heronry.

We also spotted the only bird of prey that doesn’t build its own nest – the Kestrel – as shown in this photo taken over Wroxham Broad.

kestrel in flight over wroxham broad

Instead of building a nest Kestrels will take over old nests from other birds or use suitable sites in trees, on cliff edges or even in man-made structures. Keep an eye on our social media feeds and blog to remain up-to-date on the river happenings… Better still join Tobi or Oliver on one of their daily boat trips!

Pictures taken by Oliver

Magical waterland springs to life

With spring on the way, now is a really exciting time on the Broads. The first leaves are beginning to bud on the trees and some of our birds are pairing up and thinking about nesting. We have even had a visit from a large dog otter which popped up in Broads Tours’ Boat Yard in Wroxham. Not a bad view from the office!

To have an otter appear in the middle of the day so close to people really highlights how these beautiful creatures, which not so long ago were threatened by extinction, have recovered and expanded their territories.

Moving on to birds, now is a great time to see both overwintering and summer species. There is a full complement of ducks and geese on the river: a few Canada, Greylag and Egyptians dotted around in territorial pairs- some more territorial than others (Egyptian geese, we’re looking at you), and our glossy Mallards resplendent with bright green-blue heads showing off their colours for the beginning of breeding season.

mallard ducks swimming on water

The ducks that are more visible in winter are still about and showing us a little more variety; droves of Tufted Ducks on Wroxham and Salhouse Broads, and then, tucked away in a quiet corner on Salhouse, two pairs of Russet Headed Pochards. These two types of duck prefer to secret themselves away for courtship rituals and nesting duties.

There are also other early signs of nesting. A Greylag goose is already building its nest close to Wroxham Broad, as shown by these fantastic pictures taken by Tobi:

greylag goose sitting on nest of dried reeds on river bankgreylag goose on dry nest stretching neck forward

We spotted a pair of Great Crested Grebes, gathering foliage for their floating nest on Salhouse Broad.

two great crested grebes swimming next to each other

Crows have been gathering goose feathers to build their nests in the trees, as shown by this picture taken by Tobi:

two crows in a tree with a silhouette of a nest

Finally, there are hundreds of Black Headed Gulls on Wroxham Broad, but we couldn’t resist posting a picture of this one – looking postcard perfect on a sign for Wroxham Broad in the sunshine, taken by Oliver:

black headed gull standing on Wroxham Broad sign

Want to see the wildlife for yourself? Then come along on one of our daily boat trips!

Our Skippers will point out the wildlife in their entertaining live commentary and you are welcome to ask them any questions about the Broads.