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RSPB Surlingham Church Marsh- Guide

How do I get there?

From Norwich, take the A146 towards Lowestoft. After crossing the A47, just before the road becomes a single carriageway, take the road to the left signposted Bramerton, Surlingham and Rockland. Continue through Kirby Bedon, and at the Bramerton triangle take a left to Surlingham. If you end up in Bramerton, you have gone too far. Upon entering Surlingham, the reserve is off of Church Road, a left hand turn just as you begin seeing houses and paddocks (before the main part of the village). Park outside the church, but be aware of Church traffic on a Sunday and gun club users on a Sunday or Thursday.
The gun club do not shoot on the marshes as some may tell you. It is merely a rifle range, but can get rather noisy. On a Sunday, they start around 10am and finish late afternoon. On Thursdays, they shoot from roughly 11-2pm. I would advise against a visit during these times, but do not be put off by, say, a Sunday evening stroll. Although Wildfowl numbers never really build up, I have had plenty of decent resident and migrant birds on show on a Sunday evening after everyone has gone home. If you can be flexible as to when you visit Surlingham, chances are you will soon work out times when you will have the reserve to yourself.

What birds can I see?

First of all, a points of interest map. Apologies James, for I seem to have stolen your layout here, but could think of no better way of mapping key areas for wildlife.
It is easy to nip into the reserve, have a quick look and be done within an hour. Of course, this is not really doing the reserve justice and I would recommend an hour for the short walk (my usual route depending on time of year and whether or not I fancy a pint) and an hour and twenty minutes for the long walk.

1). Church Road and the cemetery.
Take your time here as you leave the car behind, for the churchyard is often a hot-spot for Passerine action. In Winter, Redwing, Fieldfare, Song and Mistle Thrush make use of the conifer in the centre and the edges are good for commoner species including Marsh and Coal Tit. Have a look into the paddocks opposite, often good for Pied Wagtail with potential for Ring Ouzel. The small pine plantation on your left as you begin the walk down the hill holds Goldcrest and Woodcock, in Winter. Crossbill have been recorded.

2). Arrival on the reserve- river in sight.
A gap in the hedgerow allows you to view across to both your right and left, and other than Rabbits you may hear Siskin overhead in Winter. A Kingfisher often strays further afield away from high Summer, fishing in the dyke either side of the landspring. In Summer, you will by now be able to hear (and hopefully see) the expected Warblers. The muddy path down to the river is excellent for Cettis Warbler and Blackcap. In Winter, check the tops of the Alders for Lesser Redpoll. Marsh Tit are present in the scrub, as are Bullfinch.

3). Wood's End/Postwick Marshes.
Rounding the bend, your eyes will no doubt be drawn to the marshes on the other side of the river. A large feral Greylag flock of c300 Birds is usually present, as are smaller groups of Canada and Egyptian Geese. A small group of White-fronted Geese were recorded here in the first Winter period of 2011. Away from the Geese, this is a good area to scan for birds of prey. Barn Owl is a regular bird most times of the year, as are Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard. A Peregrine Falcon has been recorded twice, in the Winter. When a hunter is present, any wintering Wigeon, Gulls and Starlings tend to scatter.

4) Fen and Scrub.
Back on the reserve, this is the best spot going for Bullfinch, and in the Winter of 2011-2012 an apparent Northern race bird was present. Listen for their call, and with luck you may catch them feeding (although often out of sight). All aforementioned species are likely here. I love this stretch of the river in Summer or Winter, for Great-crested Grebe and Kingfisher are moreorless ever-present.

5) First views across the marsh.
Scan across the opening for views of the marsh. Reed Bunting thrive here, although they seem to disappear in the Winter.

6). The 'Bus-Shelter' hide. 
Although far from revolutionary in terms of hide technology, the birds don't seem to mind too much that you can see them and they can quite clearly see you! April and May are the best times to view from here, passage Waders the target. Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Little-ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and  Redshank have all been recorded and Green Sandpiper are regular year-round. Garganey are a target bird in late March-early April and other common Duck species breed on the reserve, but not in large numbers. If you have been hearing Sedge and Reed Warblers on your walk, you should be able to see them from this vantage point.

7). The Sluice.
Formally the site of the Whaley Hide, the sluice was created in 2014 to bring the water quality, flow and levels in line with that of the river. As the vegetation becomes established. a bit of patience could reward a photographer with close views of Common Snipe or Green Sandpiper. The area around the sluice can become quickly overgrown and a place for nesting Warblers rather than the visiting birdwatcher.

8). Short or Long?
At this point, the visitor can continue with the river on the left towards the pub, or turn right and take the shorter trail. The latter runs alongside a dyke which is home to Water Vole. This area is also excellent for Dragonflies and Butterflies.

9). Grazing meadow.
Assuming you have gone long and shut the gate, the meadow to the right is a great spot for one of my favourites in Summer, the Grasshopper Warbler. Meadow Pipit also roost here in the Winter and Barn Owls hunt here.

10). The Pub.
The thought of sitting outside with a pint of ale on a warm Summer's day is what gets me through that last term at school. That is all.

11) Wet Carr Woodland.
A sheltered walk, good for Warbler species in the Summer. Firecrest has been recorded here.

12). More Cows and an Owl?
Leaving the pub behind, a public footpath sign takes you off to the right, around where the houses begin. This leads over a stile and into a field. The dead tree on the hill often holds Little Owl, and here you can pick up Skylark relatively easily.

13) Over the stile and back onto the reserve.
Just a directive that, no birds there!

14) The Marsh.
A good opportunity for a scan. Marsh Harrier do not currently breed, but have done in the past, and one or two individuals linger throughout the year. Other Raptors seen here include Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Hobby, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Water Rail are heard squealing but rarely seen.

15) The ruins.
A high vantage point to take in some vis-mig or just watch the residents go to bed. Little Egret are often best viewed from here, one or two birds frequent a pool on the marsh only viewable from this high watchpoint. Chinese Water Deer, resident on the reserve, are also a delight to observe from up here. Behind you, Mistle Thrush nest in the Oak and in Winter are joined at roost by Fieldfare and Redwing. I have spent many an evening watching the resident Barn Owls hunt and the Magpie roost build up.

16) Back to the churchyard. 
With a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, it is worth taking time to observe any movement on route back to the car park. Marsh and Coal tit are often encountered, as are Great-spotted Woodpecker, Siskin with occasional Brambling and Redpoll. Sparrowhawk nest in the pines.

What if I don't like birds?
Surprised you're here, but of course Surlingham has much more to offer than just our Avian friends.
I will look to upload complete lists at some point this year, but in general the whole reserve is good for Butterflies, with Purple Hairstreak being my best 'find' so far; these beauties are found high up in the canopy during Summer. Dragonflies and Damselflies also seem to like it here, one could expect similar species to Strumpshaw Fen.
On the mammal front, Weasel, Stoat, Fox, Otter, Water Vole and Chinese Water Deer (regular) have all been recorded. The reserve is good for Bats, although I have only scraped the surface in terms of species. So far, I have recorded:

Common Pipistrelle
Soprano Pipistrelle
Brown-long Eared

I would expect to find the likes of Natterer's, Serotine and maybe even Barbastelle (recorded at Strumpshaw) with a few late nights this year!


  1. Brilliant work showing passion and dedication.

  2. Thanks for your kind words Matt. Hoping to add some more species to the patch list during this cold snap!


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