Rare sightings

Now is a wonderful time to be on the river.

What was suspected to be a pair of ospreys were spotted hovering above Hoveton Great Broad and Woodbastick recently by Skipper Tobi.  The fantastic fish eagles – with a 5 ft wingspan – were extinct in the UK until 1954 until a successful breeding programming on Lake Garten in the Cairngorms (Highlands of Scotland) encouraged them to return to Britain.  Although they do not breed on the Broads, ospreys have been visiting Cookshoot and Ranworth Broad in the spring and autumn for the last few years on their annual migration from West Africa and back.

fish eagle in flight shot from below

It is hoped that ospreys will eventually return to the Broads in greater numbers and perhaps even breed here in the future.  The Broad’s wilderness areas and abundant fish population offer the perfect habitat for the fish eagles and a special nest was even built on Ranworth Broad a couple of years ago to try to encourage them.

Another stunning sight – which we are seeing in increasing numbers at the moment – is the kingfisher.  They are usually seen as an electric blue flash flying fast and low over the water– so you have to be quick to spot them!  Fortunately kingfisher’s shrill whistle gives us some warning to keep our eyes peeled.

kingfisher standing on wooden platform with fish in mouth

One passenger who took a boat trip with us for his birthday and saw a kingfisher said the sighting was the best birthday present he could have had!

Perhaps the most impressive sighting, by our Skipper James, was four kingfishers sitting together on one branch, which is likely to be a pair of adults with two young.  James said: “I saw two kingfishers flying near the entrance to Wroxham Broad so slowed the boat down and gently went up to where they had landed amongst trees so that I didn’t frighten them.  To my surprise there were not two, but four kingfishers, perched one behind the other on a branch, which is a very rare sight indeed!”

Based on this sighting, one theory for why there are so many kingfishers being seen at the moment is that they are having late broods this year.  Kingfishers are also very sensitive to cold temperatures, so the snowy conditions we had in April followed by a hot summer may explain why we are seeing them in larger numbers later in the year.

One interesting fact about kingfishers is that their bright colouring is not due to pigmentation (in fact it is brown) but due to iridescence as light splits into blues and greens by the different layers of kingfishers’ feathers!

Another species of bird we are seeing a lot of at the moment is herons – particularly juvenile birds, which are distinct from their parents due to their greyer colouring.  We think this is because their parents are now pushing them out of the heronry to find their own territories.

heron standing on river bank looking out to water

Adult heron

juvenile heron walking along river bank

Juvinile heron – distinguished by its lighter pigmentation than the adult bird


In previous blogs we have expressed our concern that there doesn’t seem to be as many coots around as in previous years.  Well not anymore!

A large group of coots have flocked to Salhouse Broad as shown in these pictures.  They can be seen diving for freshwater muscles, which seem to be their main food source at the moment.

coots on the water

close up of coot on the water

A quirky sight we have noticed is swans displaying territorial behaviour by fluffing themselves up and seeing off other wildlife and rival swans.  Usually you would only expect this behaviour in the spring when they are breeding, but our theory is that because the daylight hours at this time of year are similar to the spring some of the birds are getting a little confused!

swans flying ahead of passenger trip boat

All of the cygnets in our swan families have done very well this year and many of them are starting to develop white feathers like their parents as shown in the picture below.

cygnet with white feather visible below grey plumage

We expect the cygnets to hang around like teenagers for a couple of years before pairing off and starting families of their own.

The greblets that we have followed in this blog since they were hatched in the spring have really grown up and are starting to become less distinct from their parents.  While the greblets used to look very different to the adult grebes (due to their cute black and white stripy faces and punk hairdos) the only thing that sets them apart now is that they have a slightly less vibrant, more grey head dress with less ginger as shown in the picture below – with the mother to the right and the greblet to the left.  The second picture below shows another greblet, looking quite grown up!

two great crested grebes on the water

great crested grebe on the water profile view

As you would expect, the greblets are becoming increasingly independent and are now spreading out on their own and fishing for themselves. One greblet has even been spotted up at Decoy Staithe, venturing far from his Salhouse hatching ground.

Another real hit with passengers is our growing otter population, which we are continuing to spot on a regular basis, particularly on the section of river between Wroxham and Hoveton Great Broad.  Some of our passengers got an unusually long glimpse of a female otter that emerged from the undergrowth near Hoveton Great Broad, just as Skipper Oli was turning his boat around in the middle of the river – what perfect timing!

Finally our bankside vegetation is providing a lovely splash of colour at this time of year with silver birch leaves turning golden and the berries of our riverside dog roses – rose hips – ripening into a deep red colour

silver birch on river bank

rosehips on river bank

Rose hips are known to be particularly high in Vitamin C and are commonly used as a herbal tea, and an oil is also extracted from the seeds.  While they have a number of medicinal properties they can also make delicious preserves and rose hip wine. Apparently in Sweden rose hip soup is popular!

Written by Oliver Franzen and Tobi Radcliffe

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