Winter is the best time to see wildlife in Norfolk. At this time of year particularly, Norfolk is the UK’s birdwatching capital, but there are other things to see too. Take your pick from these…
Whooper and Bewick’s Swans
You think it’s cold here? Norfolk is the Caribbean compared to where the wild Whooper and Bewick’s swans have come from. Whoopers fly non-stop from Iceland and the Bewick’s travel across Europe from Siberia, stopping off for breaks on the way. At Wetlands Wildlife Trust Welney you can see these magnificent creatures in their thousands. Feeding in fields and marshes during the day, as dusk falls the noise builds to a crescendo as, one by one, groups take to the air and head to the deeper water, conveniently just in front of the warm and capacious visitor hide. Nice one! Watch them being fed by floodlight – and maybe ask if you can give it a go yourself.
Dawn and dusk are the times to see thousands of migrating pink-footed geese in flight at RSPB Snettisham. At the day’s beginning they move from their roosts on the mudflats of The Wash inland to feed on the fields (potato and beet tops being favoured delicacies) before returning at nightfall. With so many geese and waders around, look out for predators too – hen and marsh harriers, peregrines and merlins.
Grey seals and pups
Your heart will melt at the sight of hundreds of Grey seal pups at Blakeney Point. This is the time of the year when the mums come ashore to have their young, and they’re very happy for you to get a front row seat on boats from Blakeney and Morston quays. The Commons have their young during the summer. Not only will you see them basking on the beach and sandbanks but, inquisitive little devils that they are, some will come over to see you too! High tide is the time to go – the estuary here is just mud at low tide.
Walking on a Norfolk beach in Winter is to really feel alive! At RSPB Titchwell you’ll see the throngs of geese and shimmering waders, but you can also look out for flocks of snow buntings. In the air they look like an undulating cloud of snowflakes, but on the ground you might see them feeding greedily. In their winter plumage, they blend in perfectly with the pebbles and vegetation, so keep your eyes peeled.
Winter is a great time to see otters, possibly at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. As the temperature drops, these high-metabolism mustelids can sometimes be seen hunting in daylight, particularly as the bankside vegetation has died back. Listen out for recent sightings, sit in a waterside hide, wrap up warm with a flask of something hot, and be very, very patient. It’ll be worth it.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes were purchased in 1926 making it the first Wildlife Trust reserve in the country! The shingle beach and saline lagoons, along with the grazing marsh and reedbed, support large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tit. The view from the visitor centre across the Marsh to the sea is breath-taking. (PS – Spring tides sometimes flood the marshes, but we don’t say ‘flooding’, we say ‘overtopping’. Okay?).
With the foliage died back in the Winter, it’s a great time of year to see red deer. At Holkham you can take yourself out on a guided walk – and well-behaved dogs on leads are even allowed too – with the backdrop of the fabulous stately home. At 18th century Gunton Park, see the deer from the sanctuary of the Gunton Arms where (please turn away if you cry at Bambi) you can eat delights such as pan-fried Muntjac, venison burger or a mixed grill that includes a faggot of shoulder meat, slivers of liver and heart, venison sausage and a loin chop. We did warn you!