Woods birdlife top 12
Away from the big skies of its coast, Norfolk boasts an impressive rural landscape dotted with large areas of deciduous woodland. These include: NWT Foxley Wood, between Norwich and Fakenham, Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland; NWT Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe; NWT Wayland Wood near Watton, the supposed setting for the ‘Babes in the Wood’ legend; and NWT Thursford Wood just outside Fakenham, which contains some of the oldest oak trees in the county.
As well as their impressive trees, these sites also have wonderful displays of spring wildflowers (such as bluebells and ransoms), large numbers of butterflies and other insects, and secretive mammals such as foxes, deer, and even a few badgers. However, Norfolk’s woodlands are a great place to go looking for birds, and although it can sometimes be hard to spot them among the leaves it’s definitely a challenge worth taking on!
Nuthatches are similar to treecreepers in that they spend much of their time moving vertically along tree trunks – though nuthatches tend to move down rather than up! In appearance they are pretty easy to identify, with their slate-grey upperparts and chestnut underparts. They also have a neat black stripe through their eye and possess a sharp, dagger-like bill. Shape-wise they’re rather squat-looking, particularly in flight, when their short tails give them an unusual silhouette. Nuthatches are noisy birds and, as well as their loud calls, can often be heard tapping gently on trees. They have quite a patchy distribution around the county, but where they do occur they can be very confiding – try Sandringham or Sheringham Park, where tame individuals can even be seen from the café.
Great spotted woodpecker
A spectacular woodland bird that – once you learn its short, sharp ‘tcheck’ call – is actually easier to spot than you’d think. ‘Great spots’ (as they’re often known by birders) are black-and-white in plumage and about the size of a blackbird. Both sexes have a bright scarlet undertail, with males sporting a subtle red patch on the back of their neck; young birds have a bright red cap, and are more buff in their overall colouring. ‘Great spots’ are increasing visitors to bird tables and feeders though their smaller, sparrow-sized relative, the lesser spotted woodpecker, has undergone massive recent declines across the country. As a result any pied woodpecker that you see in Norfolk is likely to be great spotted. Listen out in spring for the distinctive ‘drumming’ of the male bird – actually him hammering with his powerful beak on a tree trunk or branch – which he performs in order to attract a mate.
These striking birds are actually members of the Crow family. They’re similar in size to jackdaws, but very different in appearance. Their plumage is mainly pinkish-brown in colour, with a paler, black-streaked head; they also have a distinctive black moustache and tail, with both pale-blue and white patches on their mainly black wings. In flight their striking white rumps really stand out. Jays are found in woodlands and parks, as well as being increasingly common garden visitors. Their calls are distinctive, hoarse screeches. Like other crows, jays are thought to be extremely intelligent; they have an excellent memory, which they use to remember the whereabouts of the acorns that they store and bury for leaner times.
The marsh tit is a dapper, but rather monochrome, member of the Tit family. It’s mainly a woodland species, though a few do visit suitably located gardens. Marsh tits have a glossy black cap, white cheeks and a small black moustache, which contrast with the rest of their buffy-brown plumage. The species is very difficult to distinguish from the similar willow tit – ornithologists didn’t even recognise them as different species in Britain until the end of the 19th century – though in Norfolk most are likely to be marsh as willow tits have almost disappeared from the county. The best way to tell the two apart is by their calls: listen out for the distinctive sneeze-like ‘pitchou’ call of the marsh tit. The smaller coal tit can be distinguished by the white stripe down the centre of its black cap.
Birds on the coast top 12
Norfolk has the best birdwatching in the UK, and a wide range of coastal nature reserves from which to observe.
Birds in the Broads top 12
You can spot Herons in the unique man-made Norfolk Broads National Park - maybe even an elusive Bittern.
Birds in the Brecks top 12
With its own unique microclimate, the Brecks attracts a range of birds, from Hobbies to Nightjars.