Suffolk ranks among the best English counties for the variety of its birdlife and embraces several large coastal reserves where Bitterns, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Reedlings and Avocets feature among the long list of breeding species. These 3-day birdwatching breaks are based at a superbly appointed hotel overlooking the Blyth Estuary and from here our expert local guide will lead excursions to visit a variety of locations in coastal Suffolk including the world-famous Minsmere Reserve, Walberswick Marshes and the River Blyth. The birdlife will vary with changes in season but each outing is sure to produce interesting sightings and locally produced Suffolk cuisine at the hotel will ensure a tasty meal at the end of each day in the field.
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Présente le mardi et vendredi toute la journée
Fri 20th Mar - Sun 22nd Mar - 551 €
Accommodation: Very comfortable hotel, each room with private facilities
Food: Breakfasts and evening meals included in holiday price, allow £5 - £10 per day for lunches
What's not Included?
* These tours are operated by Naturetrek (ABTA Y6206) for which Nature et Terroir acts as agent.
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Toby has been an avid birder, inspired by his father, since childhood, and spent his early years on the Lincolnshire side of the Humber estuary enjoying the thousands of wading birds in Winter, ringing migrants at RAF Donna Nook in the Autumn and day trips to RSPB Blacktoft Sands and Tetney Marshes in the Spring and Summer. After spending nearly 5 years as Assistant Warden at RSPB Saltholme, he is now the Warden of the RSPB's Lincolnshire Wash Reserves of Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh. Toby has travelled extensively and enjoyed birding in North and Central America, Africa, Europe, Australia and South East Asia. As fantastically fun as this was, he never found anything to recreate the thrill and excitement of an east coast Autumn, UK birding at its best!
Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned programme of excursions. However, adverse weather & other local considerations can necessitate some re-ordering of the programme during the course of the tour, though this will always be done to maximise best use of the time and weather conditions available.
Days 1 & 2
We will meet at Saxmundham Railway Station at 1300 hours on Friday (precise details will be contained in the joining instructions issued a few weeks in advance of the tour). Saxmundham is served by trains from Ipswich with roughly one hour intervals between trains.
The picturesque, bucolic charms of Suffolk have made the county a popular destination for discriminating travellers and, with an expert local ornithologist as your guide, you will be visiting many of the very best locations for birdlife during the course of this weekend tour. The itinerary will be entirely flexible to take account of weather conditions, recent bird sightings and other such considerations, but we will be offering a full birdwatching programme exploring a range of coastal habitats. As soon as everyone has assembled the first stop will be to unload luggage and check-in at the comfortable tour hotel, which will be our base for the next two nights. Once these formalities have been completed it will be time to deploy binoculars and telescopes as we set off on an introduction to the delights of early spring in Suffolk. March is an interesting period as resident birds proclaim their breeding territories with song or display and the first few summer visitors arrive back from warmer climes, whilst other avian travellers that have spent the winter months in Suffolk may still be lingering before beginning their journey northwards. The countryside is awakening after the long winter sleep and everywhere there is evidence of the new season beginning. Our activities for the first afternoon, and the following day, will rely on your leader’s local expertise and will involve visits to the locations described below;
Minsmere Bird Reserve
First declared a reserve in 1948, Minsmere has become perhaps the premier RSPB reserve, attracting large numbers of visitors. Techniques of reed-bed management now applied throughout the world, were pioneered at Minsmere by legendary early wardens Dick Wolfendale and Bert Axell. Initially flooded as part of the east coast war-time defences, Minsmere has been shaped into a perfect blend of reed-beds and pools surrounded by a fringe of mature woodland and heath. Comfortable two storey hides overlook a series of ‘scrapes’ carefully designed to provide ample feeding for waders and waterbirds along with nesting sites on artificial islands. The importance of Minsmere to British ornithology cannot be overstated. Fifty years ago, Marsh Harriers were barely extant as a breeding species in this country but regularly managed to fledge young at Minsmere, contributing to the eventual increase in numbers of this handsome raptor and its subsequent expansion in range. Similar success stories can be chronicled for Bittern, Bearded Tit, and maybe in the future, for Spoonbills which could be poised to colonise East Anglia from their growing population on the other side of the North Sea.
During our visit we will see what is on view from each of the hides and will doubtless be entertained by a fine selection of birds. Black-headed Gulls create a noisy spectacle on their nesting islands as they prepare for the new season, with much display posturing and territorial bickering between pairs. Avocets will also be anxious to lay claim to their nesting spaces on the islands and if we are lucky we may witness their finely choreographed display dances. Gadwall and Teal swim in the open water, sometimes joined by late departing Wigeon, Pintail or Shoveler from the wintering wildfowl. A selection of waders could include Snipe probing the muddy margins, Redshank, Dunlin and maybe less predictable migrants such as Spotted Redshank, Greenshank or Ruff. The extraordinary deep booming call of the Bittern is one of the most distinctive spring sounds of the marshes and we will hope to maybe see one fishing at the edge of the reeds or perhaps in flight, as aerial excursions are not uncommon at this time of year, prompted by courtship or disputes between rival males. The resident Marsh Harriers should be much in evidence, circling above the reserve or quartering over the reeds, and will be quick to challenge any passing Hen Harrier or other raptors that might drift over such as Sparrowhawk, Peregrine or Common Buzzard. As we walk between hides, the pinging calls of Bearded Tits could draw our attention to these exquisite little birds working through the reed stems, whilst another characteristic small bird of this specialised habitat is the Reed Bunting, the males resplendent in summer plumage as they pour out their repetitive song from the top of a reed. There is always a lot to see at Minsmere and the regular breeding species are augmented daily by passing migrants which might stay a few minutes, a few days or even a few weeks depending upon their imperatives. Even though the list of species recorded at Minsmere is long and impressive it would be unrealistic to expect too many rare visitors in March but birdwatchers are always optimists and one unusual visitor to look out for is a Great Egret, another species like the Spoonbill which seems to be occurring with increasing frequency in East Anglia.
A few miles down the coast from Minsmere, Walberswick Nature Reserve, encompasses an equally impressive expanse of reeds surrounded by woodland and heath. The range of birds found here is broadly similar to the more famous reserve but there are no hide facilities and limited access. Birds of prey are sometimes to be seen over the valley and looking out from a suitable vantage point can often be rewarded by views of several species circling together. In former winters, numbers of Rough-legged Buzzards sometimes occurred along the Suffolk coast and although such invasions have not taken place for many years, the appearance of one or two birds in March is always a possibility. After checking the marsh, a walk along the beach at Walberswick may bring views of Snow Bunting and Twite whilst a scan of the sea could reveal a raft of Scoter or a few divers.
Dunwich and Westleton Heaths represent remnants of a vanishing Suffolk heath-land habitat. Later in the season, the glorious song of Nightingales and the mechanical purring of Nightjars fill the night air but the sounds we will be listening for include the scratchy notes of Dartford Warblers, a fairly recent colonist of the Suffolk coast, and the rich fluty tones of a singing Woodlark. Other species we will look for in the heath-land and surrounding farms include newly arrived Stone Curlews, Common Redpoll and with good fortune, a Great Grey Shrike. These striking, grey, white and black predators are only very occasional visitors to Suffolk and it is always a special moment to spot one perched atop a bush on the lookout for any passing prey. Depending on the weather conditions we might see a hint of warmer days to come in the form of an adder or Grass Snake catching the sun rays in a suitably sheltered hollow or a Brimstone butterfly fluttering over the ground.
Benacre Broad and Pits
Not far south of Lowestoft, Benacre provides yet another splendid example of a coastal reed-bed and marsh with a series of freshwater pools nearby which attract an interesting selection of birds. At varying times, divers, grebes, diving ducks and other waterfowl occur on these pools and they are always worth including in any Suffolk itinerary. The fishing activity around the port of Lowestoft will sometimes attract visits from Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, whilst the pier and harbour area should yield views of Kittiwakes and Shag.
Mudflats exposed at low tide along the River Blyth offer rich feeding areas for waders and in winter several hundred Avocets, thought to be of Dutch origin, are to be found here. Some may still be present in March and we will also look out for Black-tailed Godwits and Little Egrets whilst there is always the chance of other less predictable visitors such as a passing Osprey or Spoonbill.
Further south, near Thorpe Ness, are a network of rough grazing meadows intersected by reedy ditches and these are favoured in winter by flocks of wildfowl including geese and wild swans. Many will have left by March but a scan over the fields could reveal a few lingering White-fronted Geese and possibly one or two Bean Geese.
Depending upon the areas visited on the preceding days, and local reports, we have a choice of venues for this final morning before returning to Saxmundham Station for the conclusion of the tour at 1400 hours. We hope that during this action-packed weekend we will have demonstrated why the Suffolk coast is so highly rated among birdwatchers and also given a good reason for participants to plan a return visit at another season.