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.
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 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!
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.
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:
We spotted a pair of Great Crested Grebes, gathering foliage for their floating nest on Salhouse Broad.
Crows have been gathering goose feathers to build their nests in the trees, as shown by this picture taken by Tobi:
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:
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.