Spring wildlife in the East of England

For many birdwatchers and wildlife fans, spring is an exciting time of the year. When will you hear the first sound of a cuckoo or spot the first swallow? The departure of winter visitors and the arrival of summer migrants is very much dictated by the weather. Here’s what to look out for.

Picture of a bittern that might be seen at Wicken Fen.

Bittern, Wicken Fen 

Bitterns are one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK. Look out for them flying low over the reedbed at Wicken Fen, or listen out for the distinctive booming call the male birds, which can be heard during March and June.

Oystercatcher

Oystercatchers, Blakeney Point 

Oystercatchers lay two to four large speckled brown eggs on the shingle at Blakeney Point, where they're camouflaged. They benefit from nesting in busier areas, as people tend to scare off the gulls looking for food. But if they're kept off their nests too long they will abandon them, so please have a quick look and then move on.

Wicken Fen - Cuckoo in flight

Cuckoo, Wicken Fen 

The distinctive call of the cuckoo is said to announce the arrival of spring and Wicken Fen Nature Reserve is one of the last strongholds for cuckoos in the country. Look out for their arrival from April onwards.

Sand martins in the cliffs at Dunwich Heath

Sand martins, Dunwich Heath 

Returning swallows are often regarded as one of the first signs of spring, however the sand martin almost always beats them back to the UK. Having spent winter just south of the Sahara Desert, come spring you'll find them swooping around the cliff face at Dunwich Heath.

A skylark resting on a stone

Skylarks, Dunstable Downs 

You’ll often hear skylarks before you see them. In fact their song-flights can last for up to an hour. But despite spending a lot of time in the air, they’re ground nesting birds. We'd also recommend looking out for them on the Felbrigg Estate too.

Three barn swallows in a row on a barbed wire line.

Swallows, Sheringham Park 

Swallows make their nests out of mud and grass. Having migrated from Africa, they lay four to five eggs and in a good year they can raise three broods of young. Once hatched, the parents can be seen busily feeding insects to their hungry chicks.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Terns, Blakeney Point 

Blakeney Point is one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding terns. Throughout April Sandwich Terns will start arriving, having migrated from Western Africa. After their courtship displays, they will settle down and lay their eggs on the shingle. By early May, you'll be able to see hundreds of Sandwich Terns from one of the boat trips regularly leaving Morston Quay.

A great crested grebe and chicks

Great Crested Grebe, Horsey Mere 

The Great Crested Grebe are the largest grebes in Europe. They have quite the elaborate mating display. And like all grebes, they nest on the water's edge, usually laying two eggs, which when hatched are carried around on the backs of their parents. You'll also find them on the lake at Hatfield Forest.

Marsh Harrier over Orford Ness

Marsh Harriers, Orford Ness 

The largest harrier in the UK, look out for these magnificent birds when they arrive to breed from April onwards. Once very rare, they have a stronghold in the East of England. You’ll often spot them carrying out amazing aerobatics at great heights as part of their courtship displays.

Nightingale

Nightingales, Sutton Hoo 

Arriving in April, the nightingale, which might be small in size and rather secretive, has a song that few other species can match. In fact the males can sing for hours at a time and the females will choose their mate based on their vocal abilities. You’ll be able to hear them singing until late May, early June at Danbury Common and Pin Mill too.

The common frog

Frogs & Toads, Sheringham Park 

The Bower Pond becomes a noisy place in March, as male frogs wake up from their winter hibernation and croak to attract females. Toads have also been present in very large numbers on the woodland paths near ponds in recent years, so watch where you step!

Hare eating grass, Orford Ness

Brown hares, Wimpole Estate 

Keep your eyes peeled on the arable land around Wimpole Estate, where you can often see brown hares. These usually shy and reclusive creatures can be spotted ‘boxing’ in open fields throughout the mating season. Rather than competition between males, this behaviour is actually females fending off unwanted males.

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