A surprise visitor tops wonderful display of wildlife

As autumn marches on we are not only being treated to a blaze of colours on the river banks but a wonderful display of wildlife.

We had an unusual visitor in Wroxham Village last week – a Mandarin duck.  The amazingly colourful bird (which was also spotted in the village earlier this summer) was introduced as an ornamental duck from China but has now become established having escaped captivity.

The RSPB estimates that there are now 2,300 breeding pairs of Mandarin ducks in southern and eastern England, with a total of 7,000 birds wintering here.  Despite the growing numbers they are still a welcome surprise with the males displaying distinctive long orange feathers on the side of the face, orange ‘sails’ on the back, and pale orange flanks. The females, by comparison, are much more drab.

We are continuing to enjoy ever more encounters with otters.  At the time of writing an otter had just jumped onto the bows of a small dingy, very close to passengers who were boarding the Queen of the Broads for a boat trip, before jumping back into the water.

Last week an otter surprised skippers and crew by going underneath their feet on the pontoon to board the Belle of the Broads.  “I could hear the otter snorting as it breathed out and as I looked down and it was right under my feet” explained Krissy, a crew member. “I was really excited to see the otter and watched it swim out from under the pontoon, across the boatyard and underneath a fisherman, who said that it had crawled into a hole in the bank,” she continued.

The dayboat team also believe that there is a family of otters living under Wroxham Bridge and Skipper Oli managed to snap this picture of an otter just a little further downstream opposite the Hotel Wroxham at the start of a boat trip.

“Almost as soon as we had turned out of our boatyard and on to the river I noticed a stream of bubbles coming from under some moored boats outside the Hotel Wroxham.  This is a tell-tell sign of an otter and, sure enough, it appeared out of the water a few seconds later,” Oli explained.

“My passengers and I watched the otter swim passed the hotel, cross in front of our boat and then swim up a boat dyke in the opposite side of the river where I managed to take a slightly blurry picture with my phone.  It was a magical encounter, but an experience we are lucky enough to be seeing more and more frequently.  I’ll make sure I have my big zoom camera with me next time so that I get a better picture!“  Oli continued.

Not everyone has been so pleased to see the otters though, with some fisherman complaining of them stealing fish from their keepnets. But Broads Tours’ James Greasley, had the most unusual story: “I was sitting quietly fishing when an otter suddenly came out of the water and snatched an unsuspecting pigeon from an overhanging branch and dragged it under the water.  It gave me quite surprise as I didn’t know that otters did that,” he said.

On the subject of fisherman and wildlife, we have noticed that more and more herons are sitting by fisherman  in Wroxham hoping for a free lunch.  The birds appear to recognize fisherman and realise that they will often throw them a fish.  This is particularly interesting because herons are usually shy, territorial birds but as Wroxham is quite a busy section of the Broads they appear to have not only got used to people but realised the opportunities they bring!

Another very interesting phenomena is lots of birds acting very territorially as they would in the spring.  This includes swans puffing themselves up and seeing off rivals (see picture below), Great Crested Grebes seeming to fight over mates, Kingfishers chasing each other and even an Egyptian Goose returning to the roof of a summer house where the bird had nested that spring.  Our best guess for this behavior is that there is similar daylight and temperatures in the spring to the autumn and this is tricking the wildlife into acting as they would around breeding season.

One bird that certainly knows that winter is coming is the tufted duck.  These shy diving ducks started to reappear on Wroxham Broad about a week ago and are quickly growing in numbers having been absent all summer.  Although the birds breed on the Broads, they hide away in more remote sections of the National Park until the quieter winter months when they come back out into the open and their numbers are also bolstered by birds migrating from Iceland and northern Europe.

 

 

Similarly, Canada geese are showing up on Wroxham Broad, having been absent all summer.  This is quite strange as you would expect to see Canada geese (which were introduced from Canada and are now sometimes considered a pest) all year round.  One possible explanation is that they found a more productive food source elsewhere in the summer and are returning as winter approaches.

Finally, we will leave you with two contrasting images taken by Oli during a boat trip.  A heron flying gracefully by Wroxham island and a head shot of a Cormorant on Salhouse Broad – not the most graceful bird but interesting in the right light!

Otters and Kingfishers in Britain’s Magical Waterland

Passengers are being treated to a wonderful display of wildlife – with otters and kingfishers being regularly spotted aboard our trip boats.

David Seaford, a passenger aboard the Queen of the Broads, took this lovely picture of an otter during his trip on 30th August and was kind enough to send it in to us for the blog.  (If you have taken any wildlife pictures on our trip we would love to see them e-mail info@broads.co.uk!)

queen-of-broads-otter

Perhaps our most amusing encounter with these lovely mammals came when a female otter popped up right underneath Skipper, Tom, in his small dingy. “I was tying up my Punt having been using it to clean the outside windows of our trip boats in our boatyard.  The otter suddenly appeared from underneath the Punt and gave me quite a surprise,” Tom explained.

Shortly after this the otter made a second appearance in front of lucky passengers who were queuing up for a boat trip on the Belle of the Broads.

On another occasion skipper, Oli, and his passengers managed to get a great view of an otter on Wroxham Broad.  “I was excited to see an otter just in front of my boat as I turned into the upstream entrance to Wroxham Broad.  I followed it for at least 200 meters as it swam across the broad towards some houses, giving my passengers a magical encounter for several minutes.  I was particularly pleased as they had braved a trip on a bit of a rainy day but the lack of other boat traffic due to the weather probably meant that the otter felt confident enough to come out in the open.”

On the same day several other otters were spotted including two playing together on the river just before skipper Tom turned his boat into our marina at the end of a trip.  This area, close to our dayboat hire point, has proved a hotspot for otter activity in recent years, and James Greasley managed to take this lovely picture of an otter with a fish in its mouth their early this year.

otter-on-the-norfolk-broads

Electric blue kingfishers have been adding a splash of colour to many trips.  A family of kingfishers are raising their two youngsters on the river at the downstream entrance to Salhouse Broad.  While we usually see them flashing past low to the water, on occasions the young birds have been happy to remain perched on a fallen tree branch as we quietly pass them – giving a wonderful view.

Another hotspot has been on the river between Wroxham Broad and Wroxham village where two kingfishers are regularly chasing each other.  This is likely to be either parents pushing this year’s young out as autumn approaches or a territorial dispute.

We were very pleased to be sent this unusual picture of a kingfisher by George Walker, who hired a holiday cruiser from our sister company Norfolk Broads Direct.

norfolk-kingfisher

George said: “What a marvellous site, this beautiful Kingfisher was using the front rail of our boat as a taking off and landing point to fish.  We were moored up in a boatyard on Fair Commissioner when he suddenly appeared.  We watched the coming and goings for several minutes, not daring to move so as not to miss out on this wonder of nature!”

Several other enigmatic birds, synonymous with the Broads, have also been spotted.  Majestic marsh harriers have been gliding over the reed and sedge beds around Horning reach, while Skipper Oli was lucky enough to see a Little Egret.  “The beautiful white wading bird with a long dark pointed bill and long dark legs flew out in front of my boat from the reed beds, where it had presumably been feeding on invertebrates. My passengers and I watched it fly upriver for several magical moments after it crossed in front of our bows,” Oli explained.

Our trips pass Hoveton Great Broad and the reserve’s ranger, Elaine, was really pleased to spot a Bittern there for the first time recently, flying very close to the bird hide she was in.  The highly endangered bird which is related to the heron with brownish striped plumage, providing perfect camouflage as it hunts in reed beds, is one of the Broads most revered species but also one of the most rarely seen.  Despite this we were also lucky enough to spot a Bittern on two separate trips this summer around Horning reach (see previous blog.)

Coots may be a rather humbler bird but are no less synonymous with our National Park having been the inspiration for Arthur Ransome’s fifth Swallows and Amazons book – Coot Club, which was set on the Broads.

We have seen growing number of these birds on Salhouse Broad, with around 14 spotted together last week.  This is promising news as we have seen far fewer coots on the Broads in recent years, with their mysterious decline most likely to be associated with increasing predation from growing otter numbers.

coot-on-the-broads

Herons are another bird we have seen in large numbers recently and Oli managed to take this picture of one perched up a tree.norfolk-broads-heron

Finally, we will end the blog with this picture taken by Laura Greasley on her phone after an evening cruise.  If you look closely there is a deer peering out of the hedge from a riverside Garden in Wroxham – it’s surprising what may be watching as you head down the river!

deer-norfolk-broads

Written by Oliver Franzen

Rare species delight passengers in the height of summer

With the height of the summer season in full swing and school holidays kicking off we are still enjoying some wonderful wildlife sightings of our rarest creatures.  A fitting tribute to the excellent water quality and sustainable tourism we enjoy today.

Top of the list is the enigmatic Otter – which years ago were highly endangered and hardly ever seen – but now are appearing with increasing regularity on the Broads.

A few days ago, an Otter popped up in our boat basin behind the Vintage Broadsman as passengers were boarding.

otter swimming in water

Undoubtedly the best otter sighting came on a 4pm boat trip with skipper, Tobi.  An Otter popped up in front of his boat near the downstream entrance to Wroxham Broad.  Remarkably Tobi managed to follow the Otter for about a quarter of a mile as it swam upstream towards the start of Wroxham village, presumably unconcerned by the boat.  It was a wonderful opportunity for passengers to get a really good view of this amazing animal!

Perhaps even more excitingly, we had two separate sightings of a Bittern landing in the reedbeds near Horning reach by skippers Tom and Oli only a few days apart.  Despite being one of the best loved and most iconic birds on the Broads – Bitterns are hardly ever seen as they are very rare, secretive and well camouflaged so to have two sightings in the middle of the day when the river is busy is quite remarkable.  Maybe this Bittern is a particularly brave!

We have continued to have wonderful sightings of Norfolk’s iconic Swallowtail butterfly on Horning reach, but perhaps the most special encounter came while taking Ashley Primary School students around Hoveton Great Broad Nature Trail.

swallowtail butterfly in long grass

Skipper Oli, who was leading the group said “I led a group of children around Hoveton Great Broad to watch a colony of common Terns nesting from a bird hide but we got more than we had bargained for as Britain’s biggest butterflies – The Swallowtail – emerged from the reedbeds and one even landed on one of the children’s brightly coloured hats.  It was a magical experience that will hopefully inspire the children to continue to enjoy Norfolk’s wonderful wildlife. “

The Children’s teaching assistant, Megan Sayer, managed to take these lovely pictures of the Swallowtail (above and below).  The amazing butterfly is only found on the Broads and nowhere else in the world because its caterpillar can only eat a plant called milk parsley, which will only live in Norfolk’s reed and sedge beds.

swallowtail butterfly sitting in long grass

Another majestic sight is the increasing number of Marsh Harriers we are seeing on our boat trips, particularly around Horning reach.  These large birds of prey were almost extinct in the 1970s (down to their last pair) but are now an increasingly common sight on the Broads despite being nationally still rarer than Golden Eagles.

Aside from our endangered species we have also had some unusual encounters with more commonly seen animals.

Oli spotted a Cormorant catching a huge eel of at least two feet long, battling it in the water and then gulping it live down its throat in sections.  “I tried to grab my camera to capture the moment but by the time it was safe to take a picture the Cormorant had just swallowed the Eel.  But I managed to take this picture showing the Cormorant looking extremely full and unable to dive away from our boat as a result,” Oli said.

cormorant swimming

Tom also saw a juvenile heron trying to catch a fish in open water.  “The Heron was flapping around in middle of the river and the fish was jumping out of the water to try to escape from it,” Tom said.  “It’s something I have never seen before as Herons usually stand very still and fish in the shallows.  Maybe it was just a young bird learning the ropes,” Tom said.

Another interesting sight is a hybrid goose, crossed between a Greylag and Canada goose.  The goose, which is shown in the far left of the picture below looks very similar to the Greylags that surround it but has a white stripe across its face, presumably relating to the white chin strap on a Canada goose.

6 greylag geese standing on grass grooming

We are keeping tabs on our water bird families, with the Grebes on Salhouse Broad and Swans in Wroxham and Hoveton doing well. The three families of swans have two, three and five cygnets respectively.  The male swans in the families have been acting very territorially, driving each other out of their specific territories recently and even bullying the geese to boot.

cygnet swimming close to bank with lily pads

swan swimming next to a boat with 2 cygnets

Some of the birds seem to be exhibiting some mating ritual behaviour – grebes doing their mirror dance – which makes us think that they may try nesting again before the summer is out. The ducks, as ducks do, just keep on going through the summer and Salhouse Broad yielded a family of twelve fuzzy ducklings!

The bankside colours are extremely striking at present, awash with pinks in the form of Hemp Agrimony, Purple Loosestrife, Greater Willowherb and Himalayan Balsam. The latter is an invasive species that was brought in by the Victorians and is a bit of a problem plant here in the Broads as it takes over and outshades other native species. It does have beautiful flowers though, and unless it has been pulled up by the Broads Authority and their volunteers, you’ll see it growing up taller than all the other flowers with its pink orchid like flowers.

long grass and plants with pink flowers

Each year we are seeing more and more lilies along the riverbank and this year is no exception.  In addition to the more common yellow water lilies we have quite a few native white water lilies.  These are not only Britain’s largest native flower but are also very rare as they are very sensitive to any kind of water pollution.  So, the fact that we have so many of these in the Broads these days shows just how good the quality has become.

white water lillies

On another note the fishing season kicked off a month ago and there have been plenty of fisherman out and about. From the river trips we have managed to spot a successful catch with a 20lb pike being held aloft, the wolf of the waterways with their sharp teeth present quite the formidable opponent!

This picture shows Skipper Oli, with a 16lb pike he caught on Rockland Broad two weeks ago.

man holding large pike while sitting in a small boat

On a final note, the Broads’ open skies are a feast for sore eyes for colourful reflected sunsets. Here’s a photo Oli, captured on an evening charter.norfolk broads sunset

Remember to email us your sunset and nature photos to info@broads.co.uk

 

With so much to see on the river why not bring all the family on a Broads Tours boat trip, or hire a dayboat and explore on your own! Tel: 01603 782 207.

Otters make an appearance and grebelets hitch a ride

 

With the arrival of June we have ever more newly hatched young to spot and Otters are making an appearance with surprising regularity.

Three out of the five Great Crested Grebe pairs that we reported were nesting on Salhouse Broad have now hatched delightful little “Grebelets”.  Our passengers have loved seeing the Grebelets being carried around on their mother’s back – as shown on this picture.

grebe swimming with grebelets on back

There are still two Grebes sitting on their remarkable floating nests on Salhouse Broad – a sight that is also capturing the imagination of our passengers.  It’s surprising how many materials are used to build the nest – from lily leaves to reeds and even a gold chocolate wrapper that one has collected as decoration.  The male Grebes work really hard collecting these materials and then pass it over to the female on the nest who carefully decides where to arrange the “furniture”.

This picture shows a Grebe nesting on the nearby Hoveton Great Broad, which is located just opposite Salhouse Broad but can only be reached via a special nature trail, accessible only by boat. It’s an important nature reserve that has been closed to boat traffic for over a century and is well worth a visit by day boat.

grebe sitting on a nest on the water

A highlight on Hoveton Great Broad is a large number of Common Terns arriving from Africa to nest on a specially designed nesting platform (shown below).  The population is being carefully surveyed by Natural England, as fewer Common Terns had arrived in recent years but things are looking more positive for 2017.

common terns standing on nesting platform

It’s not just the Common Terns using the nesting platform.  This picture shows a Black Headed Gull nesting amongst the terns as well as a cormorant peering over.  This situation is being monitored by Natural England as Black Headed Gulls can outcompete the Terns, but also offer more aggressive protection against predators.  In short, it’s hard to say whether the Black Headed Gulls are a good or a bad thing for the Terns but we will keep you posted!

black headed gulls and comorant on nesting platform

On the subject of Cormorants, very large numbers of the sea birds are arriving on Hoveton Great Broad and this picture shows them seeming to hunt in packs – although in reality they could all just be following a large shoal of fish.

multiple comorants swimming

In amongst the jungle-like carr woodland at Hoveton Great Broad nature trail we have been enjoying watching a Woodpecker feeding her chicks in a hole in a tree – as shown below.

tree with woodpecker hole

Back out on the river near Wroxham Broad we took these lovely pictures of a Heron hunting in the margins and a Gadwall duck.  Take a close look at this endangered duck, which is on the RSPB Amber list, and you’ll see that it’s grey colour is made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling.

heron standing in water up to body next to bank

gadwall duck on the water

Back in Wroxham we now have three families of swans with their delightful little Cygnets.  The swans seem much less territorial than last year and seem to be crossing over territory within the river without too much squabbling.

swan looking at the camera with one cygnet

two swans with 8 cygnets

Excitingly, our boatyard is proving a hotspot for otter activity. Years ago Otters would have been a very rare sight indeed but we are now seeing them with remarkable regularity.  One of our day boat lads, Joe, managed to film a dog otter walking across our car park while our skipper Oli, had an Otter come up right under his feet while filling up the water tank on one of our trip boats.  He managed to grab his camera in time to show the otter swimming away across our boat basin.

otter swimming away from camera

Some passengers have also been lucky enough to see Otters on our boat trips.  Perhaps the most amusing sighting came when an otter ran behind a lady tending to her riverside garden in Wroxham village without her even noticing it – though all our passengers did!  The best sighting, however, came just outside Barton House in Wroxham, where a female otter swam right beside our trip boat – so everyone got a great view!

Another great sight in our boat basin, pictured by one of our skippers Tobi below, is a beautiful Eyed Hawk Moth in our boat basin.  If provoked the insect flashes its hindwings, which are decorated with intense blue and black ‘eyes’ on a pinkish background.

3 images of hawk eyed moth

But perhaps our favourite sighting of an insect is Norfolk’s iconic Swallowtail butterfly – which we have seen on some of our trips on Woodbastwick reach.  It’s Britain’s largest butterfly, with a swallow like forked tail, but is only found on the Broads because its caterpillar can only eat a plant called milk parsley, which will only live in Norfolk’s reed and sedge beds.

Words and pictures – Oliver Franzen

With so many wonderful sights on the river why not join us for a boat trip or hire a dayboat and explore on your own.  Tel: 01603 782 207.

All go on the spring front

We are now over a week into May, and the changes are happening daily. Gone are the yellow flowers of daffodils and marsh marigold, replaced by whites of hawthorn and elder on the banks with delicate flowers of Jack by the Hedge appearing where clearance work was carried out in the winter.

From the vantage point of the wheelhouse on our trip boats, the skippers have a good view of our nesting birds and have been keeping an eye on a few. In particular, there are seven Great Crested grebes nests along the banks and sheltered in the broads.

grebe sitting on a floating nest

However, it was none of these to hatch first.

At the beginning of the week, on Salhouse Broad in a distance corner, two grebes were seen swimming around with well camouflaged small fuzzy little shapes around them. Upon closer inspection, it turned out there were three ‘grebelets’, so tiny and stripy, looking for protection on mother’s back. One of our day boat lads, Matt, managed to capture them on camera whilst out exploring.

grebe and two ducks on the water

Grebes spend about four weeks incubating their eggs, so we should see some of the other nesting grebes hatch out some young soon.

Perhaps some of the cutest young birds out right now are the cygnets. First spotted on Saturday, a small family of swans bearing two cygnets near Decoy Staithe were being most adorable as we passed; one cygnet was already sheltered between mum’s wings and as we watched from the Queen of the Broads, its sibling struggled and kicked to join it in the comfort of the feathery enclosure.

Just a few days later, our skipper Richard spotted the largest family of cygnets we have seen for a while emerging from one of the dykes in the village. Here the swans have successfully hatched out eight cygnets! They seem to be using the same territory as a family of six last year, so we’ll keep an eye on them and see how they do. On Wednesday skipper Tobi reported only three of this family swimming around, but that’s because the other five were all hitching a ride on mum’s back!

Adult swan with 4 cygnets on the water

Adult swan with 8 cygnets on the water