Wetland wildlife – Boating on the Norfolk Broads in Search of Nature

The Norfolk Broads provides a unique habitat for wildlife and in this video I board a sailing boat to take a closer look at some of it. You can expect fighting mute swans, underwater footage of bream, close ups of mating dragonflies, a soaring marsh harrier, a singing sedge warbler and a family of moorhens.

Here is the full script:

I have explored the broads on foot lots of times but this is the first time I have been on boat specifically to see wildlife. Being so low down to the water gives everything a new perspective and allows views that you would never get from the bank.

The waterside vegetation provides a great habitat for lots of specie of birds such as this sedge warbler. Just like most other warblers, sedge warblers are summer migrants and for a bird that weighs less than 14 grams, they have travelled a long way. They spend their winters in sub Saharan Africa which is more than 2 thousand miles away. The earliest of these migrants arrive in the UK from mid April and the last birds to leave do so in October. They can be separated from most other warblers by the cream stripe above each eye but can also be recognised by their song.
The broads are lined with mile upon mile of dense reed beds and this provides the ideal place for a moorhen to rear its chicks. Moorhens are like most other waterfowl in that their chicks leave the nest almost as soon as they hatch. This is known as precocial and means that although the eggs take longer to hatch, the chicks are less demanding of their parents once they have. I guess the chicks are quite cute in an old man kind-of way.
Another plant that is common throughout the broads is the native yellow Lilly. Not only do they provide a floating banquet for insectivorous birds like this grey wagtail, they also create shade and shelter for the fish beneath them. More than ten species of fish live in the broads and one of the most recognisable is the bream. These fish can grow to almost 3 feet in length and to more than 9lb in weight. They are a deep bodied species and have large, pointed dark fins. Bream usually live in deeper water where they are safe from predators but even a medium sized fish would be relatively safe from this fisherman, a grey heron. These birds stalk through the shallows where they ambush small fish, spearing them and then swallowing them whole.

As we sailed further into the broads, towards a wider stretch of river we were escorted by a male swan. At first I thought he had puffed his feathers to warn us to steer clear of his partner and 5 cygnets up ahead. But soon it became clear that he was targeting another male that was approaching from further downstream. Within seconds the two birds had came face to face but rather than fight straight away both raised their wings, puffed their feathers and started to spin in small circles next to one another. This posturing is an attempt to settle the dispute without violence, but sometimes that isn’t enough.
Swans have powerful wings with bony elbows and every blow that lands could cause serious injury or even death.
The fight is brief, with the intruder chasing the resident male downstream, but what does this mean for the young family? Luckily, although he looked to be considering attacking them, he lets the family pass and they soon swim away to catch up with the defeated but uninjured male.

The next patch of water was more open and I caught a brief glimpse of a marsh harrier disappearing behind some trees. This large bird of prey went extinct in the UK in the late 1800s but has gradually been making a comeback. Of the 400 pairs in the UK about 100 of them live in or around the Norfolk broads. They are a marshland specialist and soar low over the reed beds in search of small birds and mammals to eat.

The day was drawing to a close and we started to head back towards the boatyard. As we did we passed by lots of old wooden moorings which provide the perfect dating platform for common darter dragonflies. This male is searching for a mate, but he might be a little too late to the party.
This female has already been claimed. The red male has used his abdominal claspers to grasp the female by the back of her head and she has raised the tip of her abdomen to the underneath of his thorax. This is how her eggs are fertilised and is known as the wheel position. In some species the whole process takes just a few seconds but in others the male may stay attached to the females head until she has laid her eggs. These are laid in and around water which is where the subsequent larva will develop.

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