Bird Watching In Norfolk
RSPB Titchwell Nature Reserve
Norfolk is a wonderful place for bird watchers and it’s famed as one of the best places in England for the variety of migrating birds and rare sightings you might see.
The marshy, coastal landscape is perfect for watching nesting water foul and sea birds and no walk along a beach is complete without the spectacle of birders and their binoculars! There are a range of other habitats too, but I paid a visit to RSPB Titchwell Nature Reserve on the marshes between Titchwell and Thornham on the north Norfolk coast… and here’s why.
Birds On The Marshes
I grew up in a sprawling city that edged its nose into large green spaces, farmland and scrubby marshes where I spent most of my time outside exploring, building camps, falling from rope swings into the brook and watching pike jumping in the river. I had the best of both worlds – all the cultural inspiration a city can offer and the nourishment of the natural world. But there was one experience in particular that lead to a love of birds. That was the time my dad took me to the local marsh to witness the dawn chorus, when I was about 11 years old.
I remember the sickness I felt at getting up before dawn and the curiosity I had – I don’t think I had any idea what this ‘chorus’ was! We walked down to the marsh and sat and listened as the mist rose. It was utterly magical, entrancing. My dad pointed out birds circling above us and picked out different songs that made it seem like the trees themselves were singing. I have no recollection of what they were, just a deeply embedded memory of wonder.
I moved to Cornwall in my teens and took root (it’s where I belong – and there’s fantastic hiking in Cornwall) and by the time I was in my mid twenties the rest of my family had moved to Norfolk, where my dad continues to watch the birds (you can find out a bit more about me here, if you’re interested!).
Bird Watching In Norfolk With My Dad
The Marsh Riot
I went to visit my parents in May, but this was the first time I’d been bird watching in Norfolk with my dad. We headed out late one afternoon to the RSPB’s Titchwell Nature Reserve, not far from my parent’s home.
The big, spectacular spring migration had been and gone, but
Thousands of birds were nesting in the reed beds, wading along the mud flats or flocking overhead, so there was plenty to see.
I’m rubbish at identifying sea-birds and waders (most birds to be honest!), but once again it was the incredible sound that filled me with awe. So. Much. Noise! The honking of Brent geese and so many ducks, the call of oystercatchers, the whirling song of skylarks high above and the chorus of linnets flocking around the paths. Wherever I looked there was something going on, and the diversity was extraordinary. I felt like a young child again, but there was more joy to come.
The Marsh Harrier
Then it happened. My dad pointed out towards the horizon where I saw a low-flying bird steaming across the marsh a few metres above the reeds. It was huge, graceful and on a mission: the marsh harrier. I’d never seen one before (they don’t come to Cornwall for their holidays!) and I was open mouthed. And a bit excited.
It’s about the size of a common buzzard (although the buzzard is significantly heavier), which is a very familiar bird in Cornwall, but where the buzzard hangs high on thermals or sits on high perches looking for prey or carrion, the marsh harrier generally stays low quartering over the marsh.
And, because it flies so low you really get a sense of its size: it has a wingspan of 115-130cm and the female can weigh up to 800g.
I watched it banking over the reeds, the distinctive ‘fingers’ of its wingtips spread wide, and could see its colouration with binoculars. “That’s made your day”, my dad said. “That’s made my month!”, I replied.
But it wasn’t my only ‘first’ on Titchwell Nature Reserve, I saw elegant black and white avocets for the first time, pochard ducks and greylag geese and so many others I didn’t recognise. The below details some of the birds (and seals) I could identify (some with the help of my dad). And all of them within the space of a couple of hours.
My Sightings On Titchwell RSPB Reserve
- marsh harrier
- little egrets
- bar-tailed godwits
- black-headed gulls
- coots and chicks
- moorhens and chicks
- common terns
- brent geese
- greylag geese
- shell ducks
- sky larks
- tawny owls
After all the excitement we wended our way through the reserve and on to the long stretch of sandy beach that edges the marsh.
Seal Spotting On Titchwell Beach
The tide was low and we could see the petrified remains of ancient forest, areas of black peat creating a patchwork across the sand, and the remains of wartime activities, including a half buried rusting tank and dilapidated concrete structures. We watched flocks of oystercatchers playing chase over the distant sea and my dad ushered us along to a creek where “there are usually some seals”.
Sure enough, there they were bobbing their heads in and out of the water, their lithe bodies breaking the surface as they swam further up the creek. We followed them round until we couldn’t go any further and there at the head of the creek was a group of 5 common seals hauled up out of the water, tails up and looking like they were sunbathing. Tentatively, quietly, I edged my way as close to the bank as I dare and got close enough that I swear I could see them smile at me. No binoculars needed.
The trip to Titchwell marsh was an experience as full of joy and wonder as the trip to Ramney Marsh all those years ago. One I won’t forget. And bird watching in Norfolk will be on my itinerary for all visits to Norfolk future, that’s for sure.
I hope you can visit sometime too – I highly recommend it.
As a side note, the Reserve is just off the Norfolk Coast Path and Peddars Way long distance national trail and definitely worth the short diversion.
Check out the Reserve website below for everything you need to know to plan your trip.
Bird Watching In Norfolk
Where To Find Titchwell Nature Reserve
Grid ref TF 750 438
See the RSPB website for full details of facilities, accessibility, what to see and when etc