Day 1: Saturday - Meet and birding on the Suffolk Coast
We meet in Norwich, travelling 45 minutes to Suffolk, where our birding begins. Here any number of vast, rich wetlands are broken up by heathland on one side and the sea on the other. Birds are everywhere, and we may begin with a look offshore where Red-throated Diver and Great Crested Grebe will be particularly numerous as well as seaduck including Common and Velvet Scoter, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Long-tailed Duck. Any patch of mud or beach can support large wader flocks with Knot and Dunlin both common, and we may see our first Avocets and if lucky a Bittern in flight to finish the day.
Day 2: Sunday - Minsmere
Minsmere RSPB is one of Britain’s most famous bird reserves. Internationally recognised and instrumental in the successful colonisation of scarce breeding species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Avocet, Minsmere also provides extensive habitat for Water Rail, Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler to spread their range. We’ll hope to see all these during our visit with several well managed scrapes and lagoons overlooked by good quality hides where great views may be obtained. A variety of wildfowl and waders will be present and if water levels are favourable Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Spotted Redshank can occur on the scrapes or perhaps Smew and Greater Scaup on pools. For gull enthusiasts there’s the prospect of trying to pick out Yellow-legged, Caspian, Iceland, Glaucous and Little in the roosts and Mediterranean Gull are frequent these days. Water Pipit can sometimes be found in winter, Snow Bunting and Twite frequent the beach with Stonechat and Linnet common in the dunes, and Kingfisher and Otter are seen daily at the large Island Mere lagoon.
Later in the day we have a range of options, perhaps heading north to nearby Dunwich Heath where Dartford Warbler is a possibility in mild winters or perhaps to Walberswick or Benacre Marshes. Alternatively, just to the south lies Sizewell which is often home to a wintering Black Redstart and a high tide roost of Purple Sandpiper, while Boyton Marshes, Orfordness and Thorpeness are all good birding locations in their own right.
Day 3: Monday - The Brecks
A change of scenery as we head inland to investigate different habitats including dry heath and woodland. Dipping into Norfolk, we spend the day in the Brecks where passerines will feature more than they have so far. In the woods we listen out for Common Crossbill and mixed finch flocks might well contain Siskin, Lesser (or even Mealy) Redpoll and Brambling. On the forest edges Woodlark will be starting to sing and it’s a good time of year for displaying Goshawk. A visit to the famous Lynford Aboretum will hopefully give us views of Hawfinch but we’ll need luck on our side as the birds can be elusive and tricky to find. Occasional Great Grey Shrike take up winter territory and Parrot Crossbill have been recorded recently, while we could encounter Tawny Owl, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Firecrest, Great Spotted or even (very rare) Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Nearby Lakenheath RSPB also offers good birding though we’ll be hopeful of good weather to concentrate on finding the aforementioned species.
Day 4: Tuesday - Coastal birding
Today we leave Suffolk, working our way north but not before some birding at sites not yet visited or perhaps even a second look at favourites such as Minsmere. As we relocate now might be a good time to chase a rarity or two, call into towns and villages recently frequented by Waxwings or perhaps test our identification skills at a known Redpoll flock in the hope of picking up a Mealy or Arctic! By the afternoon we’ll have reached the Broads where we hope to get lucky with another communal roost. This time we are likely to hear the comical bugling of Common Crane some distance away before we see them! Raptors will be prominent too with the potential for large numbers of Marsh Harrier gathering for the night. Hen Harrier, Merlin, Barn and Short-eared Owl are also all possible while we have the added benefit of staying in the area for two nights to maximise our chances.
Day 5: Wednesday - The Norfolk Broads
After the previous evening's taster, we set aside a full day for exploring the Norfolk Broads, with a range of great wetland sites available to us. Taiga Bean Goose will be one of the top targets, this area supporting one of only two wintering British flocks. Among the flocks of swans and Pink-footed Goose come chances of ‘tag-along’ species such as Bewick’s Swan, White-fronted or Barnacle Goose and we look for Common Crane again, this time as they feed in the fields. The expansive reedbeds here offer further chances to see Bittern, Water Rail, Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler, and Otters frequent the Broads too. There will also be plenty of wildfowl to scour through, Lapwing, Golden Plover and other waders in the fields and of course hunting raptors to keep us entertained. A great day out.
Day 6: Thursday - North Norfolk Coast
The remainder of our time will be spent birding the excellent North Norfolk coast. The Cley area may be where we spend today but we plan to remain flexible to respond to any immediate bird news. A series of scrapes and pools here and at nearby Blakeney fresh-marsh should hold wildfowl and wader species while the area is renowned for rarities year-round. Offshore sea-watching can be as good as anywhere on the East Anglian coast and on the beaches Ringed and Grey Plover can be found roosting as Sanderling sprint above the tideline. We’ll search these areas and the adjacent saltmarsh for pipits, Twite, Shorelark, Snow and Lapland Bunting. Little Egret are now commonplace and with increasing numbers of Great White and Cattle Egret being seen and Spoonbill breeding nearby, white birds might not be swans! Grey Seal breed in large numbers on Blakeney Point so we’re likely to see plenty, and there is an outside chance of cetaceans offshore, and Otter on the pools. Other local sites such as Stiffkey Marshes, Salthouse, Kelling Water Meadows or Sheringham may also be visited on this day.
Day 7: Friday - North Norfolk Coast including Titchwell
Today our time will be spread between coastal sites and visits to local farmland. Forays a few hundred yards inland into the latter habitat will hopefully give us Little Owl, Grey Partridge, Skylark, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Linnet and maybe Corn Bunting, all welcome additions to our checklist. At Titchwell RSPB, it is worth walking to scan the sea where Red-necked and Slavonian Grebe or scarcer divers might be found. Waders such as Grey Plover, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit could be found and there should be the usual abundance of wildfowl and more chances of East Anglian specialities. The surrounding area is particularly good for geese, field after field can be full to bursting point with Pink-footed while on the adjacent saltmarsh Dark-bellied Brent Goose are numerous too. We’ll spend time today searching through the flocks where possibilities include Tundra Bean, European or Greenland White-fronted, Snow, Ross’s, Barnacle, North American Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent, Red-breasted or even a true, small race Canada! Who knows what we may find!? We’ll be on the lookout for raptors, allocating time to search for Rough-legged Buzzard if one is wintering. Marsh and Hen Harrier may appear as the day comes to an end and we’ll plan to finish with the truly spectacular dusk flight of thousands upon thousands of calling geese as they head to roost! A perfect ending to the day.
Day 8: Saturday - Final birding and departure
A final chance for birding, mopping up any species we might not yet have seen, or possibly visiting a new site such as Snettisham or Holme. Depending on train and departure times we’ll drive back to Norwich where the holiday ends.