Winter wildlife to spot in Norfolk
- Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers
Winter is a time for wrapping up warm — but it's also a great time to see wildlife. ERICA HOWE, of the RSPB, is our guide to the must-see sights on Norfolk reserves. How many will you spot?
These are one of the star species of the autumn/winter months. With their sky acrobatics and dramatic murmurations, it is a wildlife experience not to be missed. At dusk starlings will come in to roost in their thousands and while they do, they explode into the sky creating swirls of amazing patterns in the sky.
Starlings can be unpredictable and may well show up just where you least expect them to. Keep an eye out over the market place in Norwich or at the RSPB Strumpshaw Fen Nature reserve just eight miles from the city.
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Visitors to Lakenheath Fen on the Norfolk-Suffolk border at this time of year hope to see a ghostly apparition gliding silently over the reserve on a winter's afternoon. The ghost in question is a gloriously pale male hen harrier, with its pale grey body and distinctive white rump. The hen harrier is a bird on the brink of extinction, so to see one here in East Anglia is a real treasure. At least one hen harrier usually spends the winter on this nature reserve. In 2010, two males and a female could be seen hunting alongside the resident marsh harriers. Two glorious males have already been spotted on the reserve this winter so hopefully they will stay in the area.
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One of Britain's most elusive mammals, the otter, can be encountered at various locatios over the winter months including Minsmere and Lakenheath Fen. December to February can be a typically good time to witness these cute creatures. They have been present at Lakenheath for several years and there are thought to be two resident breeding females. At Minsmere, the Island Mere Hide provides up close shots of the otters as they play and dance through the water beneath.
After a rather worrying period in the mid-19th century, the avocet, with huge conservation support, started to make a recovery. It now breeds in quite large numbers in the UK, particularly at places such as the RSPB's reserves along the Suffolk coast where the water levels make the perfect place for the resident avocets to raise their chicks.
And, if the adult birds weren't stunning enough, their young are totally adorable.
At RSPB Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast, Chinese water deer are often seen on the saltmarsh throughout winter. A rare sight in their home region of east China and Korea, this little deer has made Britain its new home. Chinese water deep are distinctive with tusks and large rounded teddy bear like ears peeking out from the saltmarsh. Britain now holds around a 10th of the world population of Chinese water deer after they were introduced in Bedfordshire in the late 19th century. The big daddy of the deers, the red deer, can be seen at RSPB Minsmere. Wandering through the atmospheric woodlands, you can catch these dominant chaps round every corner.
RSPB Lakenheath Fen is very lucky to be home to two pairs of common cranes. These regal birds stand around 5ft tall and have an impressive 8ft wingspan. They are resident birds and the winter is one of the best times to see them on the reserve. They are best seen in flight from the reserve's Joist Fen viewpoint, which is around a mile and a half from the reserve visitor centre. At least six birds are currently in the area. This includes the two resident pairs and their respective youngsters from this breeding season. Standing at 4ft tall, they are hard to miss!
Norfolk is the place to be to see pink-footed geese in their thousands. These geese come from Iceland to roost on the mudflats of the Wash. In the early morning at peak times 25,000-40,000 can be seen flying over the reserve onto the fields where they feed on sugar beet tops. Listen out for their 'wink-wink' calls.
Snow buntings are the most northerly breeding song birds and they are currently visiting the RSPB Titchwell nature reserve. These incredible birds are capable of surviving temperatures as low as -45°C and are perfectly camouflaged against the snow and rocks of the arctic- and blend in pretty well to their surrounding here as well!
Snow buntings start arriving in the east of England at the beginning of winter. They are rare visitors but are distinctive with their white and ginger plumage. Look for them along the strand line on Titchwell's beach.
Golden plover can be seen swirling in great flocks above the marshes at RSPB Titchwell marsh and on the Wash on the north Norfolk coast at this time of year. The Latin name for golden plovers means 'sun-kissed rain,' which really does paint the perfect picture of these birds as they fly through the air twisting and turning, flashing their golden backs against the dark grey skies.
Brown hares can be found on Havergate Island on the Suffolk coast all year round.
Staggeringly, it is the fastest land mammal in the UK and makes a wonderful addition to the wildlife experience on the Island.