West Norfolk is renowned as a great part of the country to see an abundance of bird life throughout the year.
The Heacham and Hunstanton area are among many great West Norfolk locations from which to visit the numerous bird reserves available within the district. This area is particularly well situated to visit RSPB Snettisham, Dersingham Bog, NWT Holme Dunes and RSPB Titchwell Marsh. There are also good bird spotting opportunities at Burnham Overy Marshes, Gypsy Lane and Wells-Next-the-Sea.
The RSPB reserve at Titchwell has both fresh and salt water lagoons and extensive reed beds with avocets and other waders among the many species, while Snettisham Coastal Park and nearby RSPB reserve provide an ideal environment for many migratory species. For a closer view of the birds and seals on Scolt Head, boat trips are available from the nearby coastal villages.
There are a variety of natural habitats along this stretch of coast, including the flat Fenland in the West, the freshwater Boards in the East, the dry Brecklands of the South and the coastal dunes and marshes of the North. Individual habitats attract their own particular bird species.
By late March the first Chiff-Chaffs are heard in the woods and Early Wheatears are seen along the coast. Marsh Harriers are seen over the reed beds at Titchwell Marsh and Welney Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre attract migrating Waders, Warblers and the Black Tailed Godwit.
Summer is the time to enjoy the sight and sounds of Common, Little and Sandwich Terns as they fish offshore, or listen out at dusk whilst the Swifts scream overhead. The Weeting Heath National Nature Reserve in the Brecks is the only place in the UK where you can see Stone Curlews from a hide. Other highlights to spot are Woodlarks or possibly a Hobby as it chases dragonflies.
An after dark walk on a heath to listen for the song of a Nightjar is a magical way to end the day. You may also watch for birds of prey at a Raptor Watch Point or sight the first returning Waders still in their breeding plumage as they stop off on the coast on their way South.
The first South-bound Waders appear in July and some Summer visitors continue to raise their young into October.
Look out for the departure of the Warblers and the first Winter Thrushes feed in the hedgerows following their North Sea crossing. The first of the Wintering Wild Geese begin to appear in Autumn.
The Norfolk Coast is famous for seeing Wind Blown Vagrants from the four points of the compass. Occasionally they take up residence - like Sammy, the only resident Black Winged Stilt in the UK who arrived at Titchwell Marsh in 1993.
By far the busiest time of the year for bird watching in Norfolk is the Winter with over a third of a million birds Wintering here. Vast skeins of Pink-Footed Geese from Iceland arrive in Norfolk to spend the coldest months. More than 40% of the world's bird population can be present at this time - this amounts to an incredible 90,000 birds.
Winter is by far the best time to visit The Wash, the UK's primary estuary for wild birds. Walk around the Snettisham RSPB Nature Reserve and see vast swarms of Knot and perhaps a Hunting Barn Owl. Wintering birds of prey which can be seen hunting on the wing including Hen Harriers, Merlin and Peregrine.
As well as the obvious RSPB Bird reserves, Norfolk is home to many other specialist reserves. Notable among them is Pensthorpe. With 171 recorded wild bird species and many more that are part of the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust‘s captive breeding and educational programmes, Pensthorpe is an ideal location for both birdwatchers and casual observers. The Reserve is regionally recognised as a breeding site for many species of limited distribution in the UK, such as Little Ringed Plover, Sandmartin, and Marsh Harrier, and also attracts Avocets, Redshank, Greenshank, Lapwings and Bittern, as well as a wealth of warbler species and other summer migrants.
With all this bird life all year round, it is little wonder that Norfolk is a phenomenal attraction for bird watchers the world over.