Norfolk is one of the UK’s most popular birding counties. And winter is one of the best times to visit. Large numbers of wildfowl, waders, birds of prey and owls come here to spend the winter. Some of the gatherings are truly spectacular. Daylight hours might be short, but there’s plenty to see.
Where to visit for winter birdwatching
One of the reasons North Norfolk is such perfect birding territory is the sheer range of environments in a relatively small space. Along the coast from The Wash to Salthouse, you’ll find sand dunes at Thornham, Holkham and Wells, shingle banks at Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse, fresh marshes at Cley and Salthouse and intertidal mud flats a bit further round at RSPB Snettisham. So, what can you see?
One of the most breath-taking sights is that of the flocks of pink-footed geese visiting from Iceland and Greenland. Estimates on numbers vary from 80,000 to 150,000. Either way, the flocks are vast. The driveway up to Holkham Beach is a great place to spot them. They roost here before flying inland to feed each morning. RSPB Snettisham is another fantastic spot to enjoy this spectacle, alongside flocks of wading birds on the mud flats. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot them.
These flocks of pink-footed geese often host other species too. Watch out for white-fronted and Greenland white-fronted geese, barnacle geese and Brent geese too.
The number of geese attracts predators to the same areas. You might spot hen and marsh harriers, peregrines and merlins, all escaping the cold weather further north.
RSPB Titchwell is another fantastic spot to see throngs of geese and waders. You may also be treated to the sight of a flock of snow bunting. These tiny birds can be hard to spot when they’re feeding on the ground as they blend in so well with the pebbles and vegetation. But keep your eye out and you might spot up to sixty in a flock.
Titchwell, and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Cley a short drive along the coast, are two sites which can produce a huge variety of wintering birds. Watch out for bearded tits, pied avocet, ruff, water pipit, water rail, spotted redshank and Cetti’s warbler, amongst others.
Cley Marshes is a must on the list of birdwatching stop offs. The shingle beach, saline lagoons and reed beds support large numbers of wintering waders and wildfowl. See if you can tick off a bittern, marsh harrier or short-eared owl. Large flocks of golden plover and lapwing come in to roost in the evening. Flocks of wigeon can be found grazing on the marshes.
Still need convincing? There are other lesser-known species that regularly visit North Norfolk at this time of year too. Look out for twite, shore larks, waxwings, black brant, great grey shrike, rough-legged buzzard and Arctic redpoll to name but a few.
A visit to Cley Spy
If you’re in the area for the birdlife, a visit to Cley Spy is a must. It’s the largest dedicated optics shop in the UK with binoculars and telescopes galore.
The perfect winter birding break
So, pack up your kit and a thermos of tea and enjoy the sites. What better way to relax after a day out spotting birdlife than to come back to one of our luxury holiday cottages and unwind in warm, comfortable surroundings? All of our cottages are within easy reach of prime birdwatching territory, so those early morning trips out to catch the pink-footed geese leaving their roost for the day will be a piece of cake.