The latest wildlife updates from our tour skippers
Welcome to Broads Tours’ Nature Blog, where we keep you in touch with what’s happening on Britain’s magical waterland – the Norfolk Broads.
All of our trip boat skippers have the privilege of being out on the river Bure – between Wroxham and Horning – every day and seeing a wonderful tapestry of nature unfold through the seasons. Whether you have been on a trip with us before, are thinking about visiting the Broads or just love nature, don’t miss the Broads Tours Nature Blog. They’ll keep you in touch with everything from nesting swans to some of our rarer species like Kingfishers, Marsh Harriers and Otters.
Our regular timetable of river trips may have finished for the season but you can see the Broads transformed into a winter wonderland by joining our Festive Mince Pie and Mulled wine cruises (on 8 & 15 December) or hiring a dayboat or heated day cruiser (Monday to Friday, daylight hours, weather permitting) from us.
The Broads become a starkly beautiful wilderness with very little other boat traffic at this time of year. Better still, this encourages shy wildlife to come out into the open – making it a great time to spot these species as well as overwintering wildfowl.
One of our favourite things to watch is a family of Little Grebes living near the downstream entrance to Wroxham Broad. Little Grebes (known as Dabchicks in Norfolk) are a much smaller relative of the more common Great Crested Grebe. As they are very shy birds we never see them during the main tourist season but they return to the same spot each year in the winter.
One of our skippers, Oli, explained: “We got our first sighting of Little Grebes in early November. It’s always a great feeling when you see them again after they have been hiding away all season.
“Throughout November the Little Grebes have been getting braver and increasing in numbers. We are now spotting groups of at least six Little Grebes fishing in the downstream entrance to Wroxham Broad and the nearby S Bend on the river.”
Another welcome change is a growing number of Coots on Salhouse Broad. In last month’s blog we reported that, having been almost entirely absent from the area throughout the summer, the first few Coots had returned to the broad (a big relief since their population has crashed in recent years).
The great news is that the population of Coots on Salhouse Broad has continued to grow and there are now dozens of the birds on the broad. This is especially welcome as the birds have a special place in our hearts because they were immortalised in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons book ‘Coot Club’ that was set on the Broads.
We are also pleased that more and more Tufted Ducks are returning to Salhouse Broad. The deep diving and rather shy ducks migrate to Salhouse Broad each year from Russia, Siberia and other places in northern Europe to avoid the freezing conditions. They stay with us until the spring and then return home to breed.
Tufted Ducks are also interesting birds to watch. While the male Tufted Duck looks splendid with black and white plumage and a wonderful tuft on their head, the females are rather drab and lack the tuft all together!
As mentioned in our previous blog the quieter conditions are continuing to encourage two of our passengers’ favourite species – otters and kingfishers – to come out into the open. We are also getting good glimpses of birds of prey including a buzzard flying across the river just in front of our boat, marsh harriers gliding over reedbeds and kestrels hovering over Wroxham Island.
To book your place on a festive cruise or for more information on hiring day boats book online.
With Autumn upon us the Broads is being transformed from a hub of holiday activity to a colourful oasis for wildlife. We are being rewarded with some fantastic nature spotting, so with our daily boat trips continuing until 31 October come and see for yourself!
A case in point is a recent boat trip with skipper Oli, whose passengers were lucky enough to spot “The Holy Trinity” of an otter, a kingfisher and a marsh harrier all on the same boat trip. The tour aboard the Queen of the Broads was on one of the wettest days of the year, but this meant that the rivers were much quieter and the wildlife came out into the open (while the passengers stayed dry inside our heated trip boat.)
Oli said: “Our passengers really reaped the rewards of coming out on a rainy day. First of all we got close to a kingfisher sitting on a tree by the entrance to Salhouse Little Broad. We managed to quietly creep up to the kingfisher, which usually fly off very quickly, but this one remained on the branch due to the rivers being quiet – so everyone got a great view.
“Next we turned on to Salhouse Broad where large numbers of greylag geese had gathered in open water. They suddenly flew up in the air fleeing a female otter that had swum out into the middle of the broad to ambush them. Failing to catch a goose the otter had to swim for a couple of minutes back to the bankside vegetation and our passengers enjoyed a privileged view of it crossing the open water.
“To complete the ‘Trinity’ we enjoyed another fantastic sighting of a marsh harrier which crossed the river right in front of our boat on Woodbastick Reach, which is a hotspot for these birds because of the reedbeds nearby.”
Not to be outdone skipper Roy also enjoyed a “Red Letter Day” last week spotting several otters in the same day, as well as some great sightings of kingfishers plus herons seemingly around every bend.
While you have to be lucky to spot an otter or kingfisher at any time of year, now is one of the best times to try. A hotspot for both species is close to the entrance to Salhouse Little Broad – so keep your eyes peeled in this area if you join us for a trip!
On the subject of unusual wildlife, we spotted a grass snake swimming across the river toward our boat at the downstream end of Wroxham village.
Another interesting sight at this time of year is cormorants working together to herd fish into the corners of broads and river banks and then feasting on them once trapped. In the summer months cormorants tend to hunt fish alone, but in the autumn and winter the numbers of these birds coming inland from the coast not only swell but they often change their behaviour by grouping up and working together to hunt.
We are pleased to report the return of a handful of coots to Salhouse Broad, which have been almost entirely absent from the area all summer. As a regular customer put it “Salhouse Broads used to be like Coot City ten years ago but now we are lucky to see one.” While the reason for their population crash remains uncertain, it’s at least reassuring to see a few coots back on the broad.
Great Crested Grebes are doing far better on Salhouse Broad. We spent the spring watching around half a dozen pairs building floating nests around the edge of the broad and raising their young, which we are delighted to say have survived very well.
The young grebes are now about the same size as their parents but a little greyer in colour. The birds have now ‘flown the nest’ and are making their own way in life, hanging around in groups of “adolescents” a bit like teenagers in a park!
Finally we are being treated to a blaze of colour on the riverbanks – with flowering reed heads turning purple, the mild pink of hemp-agrimony and the deep red of rose hips. We will leave you with this picture – look carefully and you can spot a heron flying and cormorants up a tree.
Our water birds’ hard work nestbuilding and egg laying has started to come into fruition with the first of their young now being hatched – and passengers are swooning over their adorable offspring.
A favourite sight is two sets of newly hatched Great Crested Grebes being carried on their parent’s back’s on Salhouse Broad to keep them warm and protect them from predators.
Several pairs of grebes started building floating nests around the edges of the broad for their clutches of two to three eggs last month. After a month of incubation, the first two pairs to nest have been rewarded with two ‘greblets’ each.
Interestingly each parent has a ‘favourite’ offspring so the male is starting to teach one particular youngster to swim and dive while the female will teach the other ‘greblet’. We managed to capture the moment that a male grebe fed his favourite ‘greblet’ a fish, who was swimming in the water while the sibling remained on mum’s back.
We are still enjoying spotting other grebes that are later in nesting around the edge of the broad. Grebes can be quite fussy about building the perfect ‘family home’ which can easily be washed away by speeding boats, high tides or trampled by geese. As a result it can sometime take several attempts before they get it right, meaning we will have ‘greblets’ hatching right into the summer.
Another adorable sight is newly hatched cygnets being led around by their proud and protective parents. Our first cygnets hatched in Wroxham village about two weeks ago while a second family was hatched only a few days ago from our pair of swans nesting on Wroxham island.
We have another pair of swans still nesting on Wroxham Broad, which will hopefully have their own young soon.
The waterways are alive with goslings of all shapes and sizes. By far the most common are the Greylags but the Canada Goose goslings also started hatching a week ago. Interestingly, this was about a month after the first Greylags hatched, showing the differences between the two species.
We are regularly watching Common Terns performing their aerial acrobatics while fishing over Wroxham and Salhouse Broad. Unfortunately though, the birds (which migrate all the way from Africa each year) are showing little sign of breeding on their special nesting platform on Hoveton Great Broad for the second year running.
Of course our river trips are about more than young birds, with many rarer species being spotted recently too including otters, marsh harriers, buzzards, kestrels and kingfishers.
We are all very excited that the Easter Bunny will be laying its chocolate eggs on the Vintage Broadsman this bank holiday weekend. It’s all part of our Easter Special boat trips running from Good Friday until Easter Monday – which include a free chocolate egg for every child plus lots of fun to keep the kids entertained including a special nature quiz and colouring competitions. Now is also an egg-cellent time to be out on the river as we hope to spot all kinds of wonderful wildlife.
One of our swans has started nesting on Wroxham island and others are puffing themselves up and competing for territory.
The first ducklings and greylag goslings are being hatched in Woroxham village and look adorable following mum.
There are also lots of Greylag and Canadian geese nesting on Wroxham Island. Being cut off from the mainland, the island offers a great place to protect the geeses’ eggs from ground predators.
One of our favourite spots is a nesting greylag goose who has been incubating its eggs at the base of a tree on Salhouse Broad. The goose is really well camouflaged – but we can show you where to find it!
Perhaps the most magical bird to watch at this time of year is the Great Crested Grebe. The grebes are doing their ‘mirror dance’ to find a mate – where they copy each other’s movements facing one another.
The first of the grebe couples have now built a floating nest along the edge of Salhouse Broad. The female has laid her eggs on the raft and will remain on them for the next month until they hatch (with the male feeding the female and adding to the nest throughout the month).
When the eggs finally hatch the female will carry her little greblets around on her back as they are too small to go straight into the water. Perhaps the cutest sight of the spring!
Did you know that the Great Crested Grebes need to build a floating nest for their eggs because they are related to a Penguin? Like a Penguin, Great Crested Grebes’ feet are located on the back of their body. This makes them excellent divers under water but useless at walking on the land. As a result Great Crested Grebes rarely come to land, preferring to lay their eggs on floating raft!
The Easter Special Trips run from Friday 19th April to Monday 22nd 2019
At 11:30am and 2pm both for 1.5 hours
Adults are £9.50 and children are £6.00, with children under 5 going free
We have been treated to some wonderful wildlife encounters this year– from the rare to the remarkable and downright bizarre. As 2018 draws to a close we look back on our top ten spots of the year.
1) Bittern Flyover
Our most booming marvellous spot of the year came when a Bittern flew inches above the heads of passengers on the top deck of the Cordon Rouge on Horning Reach this October.
The Bittern is one of the rarest and most iconic species on the Broads. Their elusive nature and excellent camouflage mean that they are only occasionally glimpsed among the reed beds (although the males are more often heard booming to attract a mate). So, imagine our excitement when one almost skimmed over our heads!
2) Kayaking Otter Enjoys a Picnic at the Wroxham Regatta
Spotting an otter climbing onto a kayak to eat a fish amongst the noise and medley of Wroxham Regatta sounds like a fishy tale…Fortunately we have the photograph to prove it (taken by one of the competitors, Hilary Franzen)!
We have had many other remarkable encounters with otters including one swimming in front of our trip boat carrying a huge pike in its mouth that was the size of the otter!
But perhaps the biggest surprise came when a very large dog otter slid out of the water and stood behind crew member Donna, while over 100 people were boarding the Queen of the Broads.
3) Swallowtail Butterfly Lands on the Queen of the Broads
The Swallowtail butterfly – is not only Britain’s largest butterfly but a Norfolk icon as it is only found in our fine county. Spotting these rare creatures, even in the wildest Broadland reedbeds is a very special moment to be savoured.
So when a Swallowtail landed on the back deck of the Queen of the Broads while we were boarding passengers in our boat basin we were frankly astounded!
Our crew member Donna, helped the Swallowtail to a quieter spot in the sunshine, where we were able to take this picture to prove our unlikely tale!
4) Marsh Harrier about to Enjoy Lunch
Spotting a marsh harrier soaring over reedbeds is becoming an increasingly common sight. But taking a good photograph of the bird in flight is a rather more difficult challenge.
So we were really impressed when a customer sent this terrific photograph of a marsh harrier carrying a rabbit in its talons that they took while on holiday with us!
5) Family of Kingfishers on one Branch
A pair of kingfishers reared their young near Salhouse Broad this spring and the whole family could often be seen perching together on a fallen tree and using it as a diving platform to catch fish!
Kingfishers are very shy, but for these few weeks of the year they seemed to tolerate us watching them fishing from the branch without flying away.
6) What the Duck
First prize for amusing spots goes to this duckling, which was raised by greylag geese at Irstead Staithe near Barton Broad this spring. The mother goose seemed quite unaware that the duckling wasn’t one of her own goslings despite the size difference!
7) Coots on the Comeback
The birds made famous by the Swallows and Amazons book ‘Coot Club’ used to be a very common sight on the Broads. Sadly, the population of Coots crashed a few years ago but we are very pleased to report that their numbers began to recover again in 2018. We particularly enjoyed watching Coots successfully rearing their ‘Cootlings’ on Salhouse Broad.
8) Surprise Appearance from a Mandarin Duck
We had an unusual visitor to Wroxham Village this summer. This very colourful mandarin duck appeared in the gardens for a few weeks before disappearing as mysteriously as it had arrived. The birds were introduced as an ornamental duck from China but a few escaped and are beginning to become established in the wild.
9) Nesting Great Crested Grebes
Spring 2018 was an excellent time to watch lots of pairs of Great Crested Grebes building their floating nests along the water’s edge – particularly on Salhouse Broad. Better still when the eggs hatched there was plenty of opportunities to watch them carry their young greblets on their backs!
10) Little Grebes – a Winter Treat
While spring is the most delightful time of year to watch Great Crested Grebes this winter has offered some excellent sightings of Little Grebes, particularly on the S bend just downstream of Wroxham Broad. These shy little bids, sometimes called ‘dabchicks’ due to their small fluffy appearance, only venture out into the open when the river traffic starts to die down.
Bonus Spot – GoGo Hare Warden Willow at Salhouse Broad
While not strictly wildlife, this GoGo Hare – Warden Willow – made quite an appearance at Salhouse Broad this summer as part of the GoGo Hares charity art trail. The hare sailed on the back of a wherry from Wroxham to Salhouse Broad and spent the summer by Salhouse Beach attracting thousands of visitors!