You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
Written by Sharon Barker. This blog post originally appeared as a feature in the Eastern Daily Press Weekend magazine on 14 January 2017.
Putting out food for our birds is a great way to add movement and colourful interest to the winter garden when viewed through the window. It will also help to ensure that the birds are in good physical condition in the spring and set them up for a successful breeding season. Getting the birds used to feeding in a place where they can easily be seen – through a window or from a part of the garden where you can sit quietly and go un-heeded – can also reward us with fantastic close-up views without disturbing them as they go about their business. Just what you need if you’re thinking about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch later this month.
Photo credit: Ben Hall
If you’re putting out food for your birds, it’s important to remember to clean feeders regularly with a solution of mild disinfectant (then rinse) to prevent the spread of diseases when potentially large numbers of hungry birds are all using the same feeding station.
Photo credit: David Tipling
What to feed
Fat blocks provide high calorie food for birds that need large amounts of energy just to keep warm. Grated mild cheese is popular with wrens and robins. Commercially produced seed mixes help ensure a more balanced diet overall, although at RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden sunflower hearts seem to be the firm favourite at any time of the year. Nuts in wire mesh feeders, rather than net bags to avoid the chance of entanglement, are also good calorie providers over the winter.
Seed heads left on flower stems will help too and look amazing when draped with frosty spider webs – great for photographers as they don’t run away! Winter flowering plants will help any insects around during milder spells. Snowdrops (simple, rather than frilly varieties) and winter aconites are good choices. Avoid cutting back anything that still has berries on it, including ivy. Berries are a valuable food source and just watch blue tits hopping in and out of the foliage in search of insects too.
Photo credit: Ben Hall
Don’t forget the water
Water is a necessity for garden wildlife, so make sure that there is always some available in a shallow dish. During an icy spell, don’t leave your pond iced over or the water will become starved of oxygen. Placing a pan of hot water on top of the surface will gently melt an air hole. Smashing it can send shockwaves through the water beneath which can be harmful to wildlife there.
Photo credit: RSPB
For more ideas for how you can help transform you garden or local green space into a wildlife haven, go to rspb.org.uk/myplan
Count the birds
Have you put the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend dates in your diary yet? Yes, it’s nearly time for the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, and with a new extension into the Monday, this year it will take place over 28, 29 and 30 January.
Visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or text BIRD to 70030 to order your free 2017 survey and activity pack. We’re also interested in hearing about other wildlife seen during the past year, such as hedgehogs, grass snakes and stag beetles.
Flatford Wildlife Garden
At Flatford Wildlife Garden, next to the iconic Flatford Mill on the River Stour on the border between Suffolk and Essex, visitors of all ages can explore the wonders of nature in a garden where wildlife is as welcome as people.
Photo credit: Andy Hay
The garden will be open to visitors on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 January. For the youngsters (and the young at heart), we will be making take-home bird feeders to put in your own gardens, and of course there will be people on hand to help answer your questions about the Big Garden Birdwatch, wildlife gardening, and how to give nature a home in your garden.
Plan you visit at rspb.org.uk/flatford
More information on the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch can be found here.
Information on how to become a RSPB member can be found here.
Step-by-step guide on how to open a bird cafe can be found here.
Variety of bird foods and feeders can be found on the RSPB shop.
The North Norfolk coast comes alive with thousands of wildfowl throughout the winter months, bringing with it numerous wildlife spectacles. Titchwell Marsh and nearby Snettisham are ideal locations for a wintery walk surrounded by this wonderful wildlife.
RSPB Titchwell Marsh:
During the winter months, thousands of ducks and geese will winter in North Norfolk, including teal, wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, pintails and goldeneyes. Offshore from the reserve, large 'rafts' of common scoters, long-tailed ducks and eiders can be seen. As the evening draws in, look for the thousands of pink-footed geese flying in to their roost sites along the coast.
Photo: Titchwell Marsh by Rahul Thanki
There are three trails open in winter around the reserve, both accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs. On the edge of the dunes there is a viewing platform which is an excellent spot to watch an array of wonderful winter wildlife.
1. West Bank path - 1 km. This main path runs straight from the visitor centre to the beach, giving great panoramic views of the reserve. The modern and spacious Parrinder hide overlooks both the saltmarshes and freshwater marsh, so you can see the different wildlife that frequents them. Island Hide looks over the bird-filled freshwater marsh, where bearded tits hide and water rails feed.
2. Fen Trail - 290 m. This short route takes you through woodland to the Fen hide which overlooks the freshwater reedbed. Perfect for spotting bitterns and marsh harriers.
3. East Trail - 700 m. Great views of Patsy's reedbed, here is the only part of the reserve where you can leave the trail to get a closer look at nature. In summer and autumn this path can continue onto Autumn trail - however this is closed during winter and spring to avoid disturbing the marsh harrier roost.
After all that walking, there is an on-site servery and inside eating area selling a selection of hot and cold food, drinks and locally-made cakes.
Photo: Hide at Snettisham by Andy Hay
There is one 5.6 km path on offer, with two hides offering views of huge numbers of waterfowl gathering on the lagoons and out in The Wash, while peregrines and hen harriers actively hunt on the saltmarsh.
If you are an early bird you could witness a world famous winter spectacle. Flying inland at dawn, thousands of pink-footed geese in V-shaped formations loudly come in to feast on the remains of the sugar beet harvest. The goose spectacular occurs an hour or so after dawn from mid-November to late January.
Visit on the biggest high tides of the month to marvel at the tens of thousands of knot gathering right in front of you at both Sanctuary and Roost hides.
Photo: Pink-footed geese by Chris Gomersall
If you're looking for a day out along the beautiful Suffolk coast with a variety of routes to choose from then why not visit RSPB North Warren. Or if you're after a more remote and challenging walk then nearby Dingle Marshes is perfect for you.
RSPB North Warren
Near the picturesque coastal town of Aldeburgh, here you can stroll around the beautiful coastal wetlands, woodland and heathland, as well as the variety of wildlife that comes with it.
There are three popular circuit walks, or you can follow footpaths and form a route of your own. Five viewing platforms provide excellent views of the grazing marshes, which during winter are home to thousands of ducks and geese. Listen out for the whistling calls of the wigeon, spot tiny teals or look out for the wintering geese. At dusk, try to spot the marsh harriers and flocks of starlings coming in to roost in the reedbed.
Photo: RSPB North Warren by Andy Hay
1. South Marsh circuit - 4 miles (6.5 km). Here you start on the beach and walk around the stunning marshes.
2. North Marsh circuit - 5.6 miles (9 km). You will be surrounded by wetland and scrub from the viewpoint along the old railway line. A favourite location for the white-fronted geese that winter here after travelling from Arctic Russia and try to spot the rare bean geese among them. Returning via Thorpeness you will have the chance to see woodland, open water and beach wildlife.
3. Reedbed loop 1.9 miles - (3 km). This shorter circuit is easily accessible for everyone. Here you will walk through woodland and grassland, as well as a boardwalk section leading to the reed bed viewpoint on the old railway path.
For information on wheelchair accessibility and how to get there, please check our Accessibility page. Please note, dogs are welcome along footpaths, but keep them under close control to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
Photo: White-fronted geese by Andy Hay
RSPB Dingle Marshes
Nearby the quaint village of Dunwich, this reserve is perfect for those looking for a more remote day of walking in wilderness, amongst the reedbeds and shingle beach. Home to bitterns, little egrets, redshanks and many more, the reedbeds and tidal pools are a wildlife haven.
Photo: RSPB Dingle Marshes by Andy Hay
Circuit trail - 4.5 miles (7.2km). Here you can walk via shingle beach, grassy bank and forestry track. Walking along the shingle ridge can be strenuous, so make sure you're up to the challenge and wearing suitable footwear! There is also a hide located on the nearby Forestry Commission land in Dunwich Forest that overlooks the reedbed. To complete this route you will need to ensure you use an Ordinance Survey map of the area.
And if all that walking has built up your appetite, there is a tea room serving fish and chips in the Dunwich beach car park or food is available at The Ship in Dunwich.
If after all these beautiful walks you're left wanting more, find out what's on offer in Suffolk at Discover Suffolk.