When good Grebes go bad

This is the dramatic moment a Great Crested Grebe entered a vicious fight with a rival male to protect its young on Salhouse Broad.

One of our skippers Oli who saw the unusual behaviour unfold on one of his boat trips, along with surprised passengers and fellow skipper Richard, explained: “A male Great Crested Grebe began to attack a female Grebe and her young. The father of the young had to move fast to protect them and entered into a really serious fight which involved several bouts of ‘face offs’ and attacks. Both Richard and I grabbed our cameras. Richard got an excellent video of the behaviour and I managed to take some still photos (as shown below).

“Over the next few days the other skippers and I witnessed several more fights between the Grebes and sadly one of the ‘Greblets’ was lost in this activity. The good news is that the aggressive male has now backed off and the remaining ‘Greblet’ is doing well.

“This is really unusual behaviour and no-one I have spoken to has ever seen this kind of thing before. We always think of Grebes as peaceful, elegant birds and this has put a whole new light on how we view them! Our best guess for the reason for the fights is that they were based on territory or breeding rights, but we would love to hear from anyone who could offer a better explanation.”

You can view the fight between the two males on this video:-

In more positive news the single ‘Greblet’ at the bottom end of Salhouse Broad is becoming increasingly independent. Earlier in the month we reported that the Greblet was diving and catching fish for itself and it is now venturing further than ever before as it has been spotted fishing a good half mile down river of Salhoue Broad near Woodbastwick Hall.

Our trip boat – The Cordon Rouge – seems to be a real hit with wildlife. Last month we reported that Swallows were feeding their young on top of the boat and now we have had another magical moment aboard this lovely vessel. A huge Brown Hawker dragonfly settling on the Cordon Rouge’s railings as shown on this magnificent picture taken by skipper, Tobi!

We are seeing a lot of dragonflys and damselflies on the river lately due to the hot, sunny weather and this close encounter was the cherry on the cake.

On the subject of Swallows, large numbers of these agile birds are feeding vigorously on Wroxham Broad, in order to build up their calories before embarking on their epic journey back to Africa. We see particularly large numbers on cloudy days, when there are more insects to catch on the water.

We are also seeing more Cormorants than usual on Wroxham Island and Salhoue Broad. These protected sea birds, which have come inland to feed on the Broad’s plentiful fish supply, are being regularly spotted drying their wings on treetops after fishing.

Cormorants exhibit this behavior because unlike ducks, for example, they do not have oil glands to waterproof their feathers and so have to dry them out after fishing. It is thought that Cormorants lack oil glands in order to avoid catching air between their feathers, which would prevent them from diving as deeply or quickly through the water when at sea.

The Broads most majestic bird of prey, the Marsh Harrier, has been spotted around Decoy Staithe in the parish of Woodbastick by our skipper James recently. The largest of the harriers, it can be recognised by its long tail and light flight with wings held in a shallow ‘V’. The bird has made a remarkable comeback after being mercilessly persecuted for many years – but aside from being a magnificent sight – it is always reassuring to see as the raptor as its conservation status remains on the Amber watch list.

Finally Skipper Richard and crew Krissy and their passengers had a lovely view of an otter swimming across the entrance to Wroxham Broad a few days ago. It was a really special moment for Krissy as it was her first otter sighting in the area!

Written by Oliver Franzen

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Sealing the deal for our boat trips!

Excited passengers enjoyed a great view of a special surprise visitor recently – a grey seal!

The magnificent mammal was first spotted in Horning before working its way up river to Wroxham Broad. One of our trip boat skippers, Oli Franzen, explained: “From a distance I saw what appeared to be a huge otter swimming confidently down the middle of the river towards my trip boat. I explained to my passengers that this was very unusual for otters, which are usually a little shyer, and that the last time I saw this kind of behaviour (on the river Waveney at Beccles) it turned out to be a seal. But at the time the surprise visitor dived under the water before I could get close enough to be sure what it was.

“Later in the day the other skippers and I got a much closer look at the seal, which had swum onto Wroxham Broad and confirmed our suspicions!” Norfolk has a large seal population around its coast – particularly at Horsey and Blakney Point where there are large and fast expanding seal colonies – but for one to show up in Wroxham Broad is remarkable as it would have had to have swum 25 miles up the river Bure from Great Yarmouth. What would have driven the seal to do this remains a mystery and the seal has since vanished without a trace.

This is not the first time a seal has been spotted on the Broads this year. In May a seal hit the headlines a little further downstream on the river Bure after local photographer – Clive Eaton – captured a picture of the maritime mammal catching the usually fearsome Pike.

You can read the full story about this in the Eastern Daily Press by clicking here .

Another lovely surprise has been a new grebe family on Salhouse Broad. Visitors were already captivated by two families of Grebes on Salhouse Broad since the spring but a third pair of these delightful divers have now hatched two much smaller ‘Greblets’.

The whole breeding process of Grebes is a wonderful show. Its starts with a courtship ‘mirror dance’ for the birds to bond before they pair off and build a floating nest to lay their eggs on (as the birds prefer not to come to land). When the little ‘Greblets’ hatch their mums and dads then carry them around on their backs, which must be one of the cutest sights on the Broads.

The other ‘Greblets’ on the Salhouse broad are growing up fast. The single ‘Greblet’ at the bottom end of Salhouse Broad, which was the first to hatch and has been followed closely on the blog, is becoming particularly independent and we have seen it not only diving but catching fish for itself.

The family of Coots, which we featured in previous blogs, are also growing up fast as shown in these pictures.

Our families of swans – made up of three sets of six cygnets in Wroxham and Salhouse Broad plus a single cygnet hatched later in the season on Salhouse Little Broad – are also doing well as shown in these lovely pictures taken by Skipper Tobi:

Another striking image taken by Skipper Oli is this Heron perching on the back of a Traditional River Cruiser sailing yacht during Wroxham Week – apparently it wasn’t deterred by being at one of the busiest sailing regattas held on the Norfolk Broads!

Oli also caught this shot of another fish eater – the Cormorant – perching on Salhouse Broad.

Finally, the bankside vegetation is also a delight to behold with hemp agrimony, greater willow herb and purple loosestrife turning the banks shades of pink and purple

Hemp Agrimony Great Willow Herb

Words Oliver Franzen Pictures: Tobi Radcliffe and Oliver Franzen

If you have taken any wildlife pictures on our trips we would love to share them on this blog. Simply send them to info@broads.co.uk or via Twitter @BroadsTours or Facebook by searching Broads Tours or Instagram norfolk_broads_direct

Wildlife abounds

The river is alive with young birds still being hatched late into the spring, while others which were incubated earlier in the season are really starting to grow up.

This is best seen in the ever abundant Greylag Geese. Their goslings are all sizes from tiny bundles of fluff to birds that now closely resemble their parents, depending on when they were hatched in the season.

On the subject of geese, we have been sent this lovely picture of an Egyptian Goose in Wroxham with its young from Carolyn in Brisbane, Australia. In truly international style Carolyn took the picture while on holiday on the Broads and then emailed it to us from ‘Down Under’.

Credit Carolyn

Egyptian Geese are, in fact, in the Shelduck family rather than being true Geese. This is particularly obvious when looking at their young, which closely resemble ducklings.

On the subject of ducks, there is a very cute family of Mallards with fluffy ducklings near Horning as shown in this picture:

Great Crested Grebes are another species that is doing well with its young. In earlier editions of this blog we followed a Grebe family that hatched their chicks near the entrance to Salhouse Broad and, while sadly only one ‘Grebelet’ remains, it is now becoming big and strong as shown in this picture.

We are also watching two new families of Grebes to the delight of our passengers on Wroxham and Salhouse Broad. On Wroxham Broad a single Great Crested Grebe baby is being carried on its Mum’s back near the sailing club, while three newly hatched chicks are doing well at the top end of Salhouse Broad. This lovely picture is of the newly hatched family on Salhouse Broad.

In the last blog we also revealed that a nesting pair of coots had hatched three young on Salhouse Broad. We finally managed to snatch this picture of them showing the babies bright red heads and dark, fluffy bodies.

This is really good news as Coots – which were once common throughout the Broads – seem to be disappearing. If anyone has any theories on why this might be the case then we would love to hear from you and share the ideas on the blog. Simply email info@broads.co.uk.

The swan family that this blog followed nesting on Salhouse Broad are thriving and, despite the cygnets growing up quite a bit, they are periodically returning to their nest. This is shown in the picture below where, if you look closely, you can just see one cygnet popping its head over the nest.

The two swan families in Wroxham village are also doing well despite continued territorial behaviour from the males in each group. The males are regularly seen puffing themselves up and patrolling invisible lines in the river half way through Wroxham village to separate territories. In fact they have been so aggressive that they have even swum at the bows of our 60ft trip boat a few times. Now that is bold!

Elsewhere on the river in Wroxham village we have spotted a Moorhen with a pair of newly born chicks. Interestingly, the babies are completely black even though their parents are black with a red head. By contrast the coot chicks that are pictured above have black bodies and a red head, even though their parents do not.

On Wroxham Broad itself we have spotted a pair of Grey Herons carrying sticks to a remote corner of the Broad, which we can only assume is for a heronry. Watch this space for any more information.

Other birds we have spotted in and around Wroxham Broad include electric blue Kingfishers, which flash low across the water at around 40mph, the majestic soaring Marsh Harrier, the pint sized Kestrel, the amazingly agile common tern and the pitch black Cormorant, which is coming in from the north sea in increasing numbers as fish stocks there become depleted.

Words and pictures by skipper Oliver Franzen

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This blog features a fantastic picture of an Egyptian Goose taken by one of our passengers – Carolyn from Australia. If you have taken any wildlife pictures on our trips we would love to share them on this blog. Simply send them to info@broads.co.uk or via Twitter @BroadsTours or Facebook by searching Broads Tours or Instagram norfolk_broads_direct

New arrivals delight passengers and otter makes remarkable appearance

The river seems to have exploded into life in the last few weeks with an abundance of young opening their eyes to the world for the first time to the delight of our passengers.

By far the most common – but no less popular– species are Greylag geese with their goslings which seem to be everywhere – both through Wroxham village and further along the river. Notably we have seen several families of Greylag geese out on the water together, with dozens of young all in one group. Greylag geese are very protective parents and this certainly seems to be paying dividends for the survival of their young.

We are following two families of swans, both of which are exhibiting interesting protective territorial behaviour – swimming adjacent to invisible lines on the river and puffing themselves up to warn off others.

We have also spotted a family of seven tiny cygnets on the river in Wroxham riding on their mother’s back. This delighted a party of school children from Hethersett, who we were taking out on a school trip to discover the Norfolk Broads.

On Salhouse Broad the first pair of grebes has successfully hatched their young. These elegant diving birds are well known for carrying their babies on their backs – which makes one of the loveliest of sights at this time of year.

But the most incredible sighting lately – which has certainly divided opinion among staff at Broads Tours – is an otter hunting Greylag Geese in the Broads Tours boat basin.

Last weekend I couldn’t believe my eyes when an otter hunted and killed a full sized Greylag goose before dragging it under bank pilings where its den and young are presumably located. I ran and grabbed my camera and took a video and pictures of the whole thing, which amazingly happened in broad daylight on a busy Saturday afternoon. This was the second week in a row, in which it had displayed this remarkable behaviour.

Firstly it surprised me that an otter, which are usually a shy species, would reveal its self in such a busy place and secondly that it would hunt such large prey. In the animal kingdom predators will usually select the easiest and weakest prey to reduce the risk of injury and avoid wasting unnecessary energy.

When there are so many smaller birds and their vulnerable young on the river, not to mention an abundance of fish, it seems very strange behaviour for an otter to attack a goose which is two thirds of its size.

As an ecologist I found watching this behaviour a remarkable experience, although many people at Broads Tours felt for the unfortunate goose. At any rate it shows just how much otters are expanding their territories, how brazen they can be and what powerful predators they are.

You can watch the Oliver’s video of the otter attacking the goose at the YouTube link below. Please be warned that the video is an accurate account of an otter hunting a goose so do not watch it if you might find it upsetting.

Spring swoops into life

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.

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!

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:

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.

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.

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