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Marsh harrier

Top 10 wildlife in Spring

Spring is the time when Norfolk bounces back to life, and the county's fauna and flora does the same. Here David North of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust gives us the Top 10 natural spectacles to look out for during the Spring months...

Details of NWT reserves 

Woodland Spring flowers

Spring bluebells at Foxley Wood by Matthew Tebbutt

Visit one of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s ancient woodland nature reserves in spring and you are guaranteed to enjoy a spectacular range of colourful wildflowers. In March and early April look for the brilliant yellow of Marsh Marigolds growing in the wetter areas or spot purple violets, yellow primroses or the white stars of wood anemones.

Look for stunning displays of bluebells in late April and early May. Follow your nose to find carpets of Wild Garlic. Treading on the leaves creates an overpowering smell of garlic but its white flowers, often in their thousands, are spectacular. NWT reserves to visit include Foxley Wood, Thursford Wood, Ashwellthorpe Wood, Honeypot Wood and Wayland Wood. Each one of these reserves has a very different character but in all of them you can be sure to find spring flowers in profusion.

Amorous amphibians

Frogs and frog spawn by David Knight
Spring is the time when frogs and toads sing for love – listen at night in March and April for their night time serenades or during the day look for masses of jelly spawn and later wriggling tadpoles around pond and lake edges. NWT Thompson Common for pingo pools.

Peewits or plovers?

Lapwing by Dave Kilbey

Whatever you chose to call them the aerial displays of lapwings over coastal marshes in March and April are a great spring spectacle. Lapwings are surely one of our most beautiful birds. They may look black and white in the distance but take a closer look – in sunshine their plumage shines myriad shades of glossy purples and greens. Did you spot the orange feathering under their tails? And at the other end that fantastic crest – slightly longer in the males than the females.

Combine all these showy colours with what has to be one of the most amazing of spring displays – spring is lapwing show-time. They tumble, twist and turn, throwing themselves headlong towards the ground and then skywards, calling as they perform. You can enjoy all this and more on an early spring morning at NWT Cley Marshes, NWT Holme Dunes, NWT Hickling Broad or on the grazing marshes at NWT Upton Broad and Marshes.

Marsh harriers doing mid-air flying stunts

Marsh harrier
April and May are the months to watch male marsh harriers passing food in mid-air to females. The male will call the female off her nest and either drop food for her to catch in mid-air or they will grapple talons with one bird flying upside down! Amazing to watch. NWT Cley Marshes, NWT Hickling Broad, NWT Holme Dunes.

Meadow magic

Bee orchids by Peter Mallett
June is the month to spot orchids: Bee orchids on coastal sand-dunes, marsh and common spotted orchids in wet meadows. Visit: NWT Upton Broad and Marshes, NWT Booton Common, NWT Lolly Moor, NWT Scarning Fen.

Nightjars at sunset

Nightjar by Martin Sutton
May and June at sunset on heathland is the time to hear possibly Norfolk's weirdest bird song, the churring nightjar. They can sing for 5 minutes without stopping and produce up to 2,000 notes a minute! NWT Roydon Common.

Small things with wings!

Swallowtail by Brian Francis

Spring is a time when all sorts of flying insects appear. Many are very beautiful. Marvel at the sheer diversity and exuberance of Norfolk’s many butterflies, dragonflies, moths, ladybirds and mayflies this spring. If you can find a hand-lens or magnifying glass to look at some of our smaller winged creatures you will discover a whole new, world of colour, pattern and extraordinary structures.

For butterflies and dragonflies including two rare species, Swallowtail butterfly and Norfolk hawker dragonfly visit NWT Upton Broad, NWT Hickling Broad or NWT Ranworth Broad.

Sea swallows

Common tern by Dave Kilbey
Around the Norfolk coast and on some of Norfolk’s Broads look out for nesting terns. These elegant long distance migrants arrive in April and have young in May and June. They hover over the water then close their wings and plunge dive for small fish. Visit NWT Ranworth Broad this spring to watch the nesting common terns on specially built floating which they breed on. At NWT Cley Marshes and NWT Holme Dunes look for tiny little terns and the larger sandwich terns flying along the shore.

Screaming swifts

Swift by Julian Francis
Arriving in late April and May, shouting 'Summer’s coming!' Once you have seen that first stunt party of swifts screaming their way down village streets, hurtling round buildings, and screaming 'we're back' in the way that only swifts can, you know that warmer days are on their way. May is the month to listen out for the arrival of one or the world’s most remarkable birds. Visit NWT Cley Marshes and NWT Holme Dunes to spot early arriving swifts in April.

Mad March hares

Hare by Mark Ollett
One of the great spring mammal sights, boxing hares. Brown hares are quite common across much of Norfolk thought nationally they have declined. Look for them in fields of spring wheat and barley or on coastal marshes and heathlands. Females box to drive away over-attentive males. Gatherings of up to 30 hares take place and late afternoon and evening is a good time to look out for this behaviour. NWT Thompson Common, NWT Upton Broad and Marshes and NWT Weeting Heath are top sites to spot brown hares.

And listen out for bird song...

Female cuckoo by Nick Appleton

Open your ears as well as your eyes this spring. Listen out for the unmistakeable voice of the cuckoo from mid-April or the diva of the bird world, a nightingale in full song, in early May. Both these species have declined so let us know where and when you hear them by phoning the NWT Wildline on 01603 598333. Bird song is all around us in spring but make a resolution to get up one morning, even if it's just in your garden, and enjoy the dawn chorus. For details of NWT early morning bird walks visit the website.

Details of NWT Reserves 

Norfolk's Natural World