The RSPB's 7 best places to spot birds in Suffolk this spring

Uncover the best birdwatching spots across Suffolk this spring

Uncover the best birdwatching spots across Suffolk this spring - Credit: Jupiterimages

It’s official. This Sunday, the clocks go forward an hour, officially taking us into Daylight Saving Time, and giving us those all-important longer days, filled with sunlight. I can’t wait.  

With the sun rising earlier and setting later, that means we have more time to spend outside, and one of the best ways to spend that time has to be birdwatching, surely?

The East Hide at Minsmere

The East Hide at Minsmere - Credit: Paul Geater

Suffolk is blessed with clear, endless skies that are perfect for gazing up at nature’s beauty, so why not head out this season and give it a go? There are a number of places across the county that will give you ample opportunities to spot various species of birds.  

And one man who understands the joy that birdwatching brings is Ian Barthorpe.  

As visitor experience officer of RSPB Minsmere, he spends a lot of time out in nature, and loves nothing more than spending time watching the skies.  

Ian Barthorpe, visitor experience officer at RSPB Minsmere

Ian Barthorpe, visitor experience officer at RSPB Minsmere - Credit: RSPB Minsmere

“Spring is the perfect time to discover the relaxing power of spending time outdoors surrounded by nature. Even just sitting in the garden listening to robins and blackbirds singing or watching buff-tailed bumblebees buzzing from flower to flower is the perfect way to connect with nature. It’s a time of constant change, as leaves burst from the buds, migrants begin to arrive, and courtship is in full swing,” he says.  

“If you’re new to wildlife watching, my best advice is to talk. Chat to other visitors about what they’ve seen, or book onto a guided walk with a volunteer. Also, try to take a photo of any mystery wildlife – even with a mobile phone – so that you can identify it later. Most importantly, though, just enjoy the beauty of nature.” 

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With that in mind, here are some of the best birdwatching spots across Suffolk. 

A bittern at RSPB Minsmere

A bittern at RSPB Minsmere - Credit: RSPB

RSPB Minsmere 

One of the county’s most beloved spots, RSBS Minsmere is a 2,500-acre nature reserve located within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and has plenty for avid birdwatchers to catch a glimpse of. 

Minsmere is home to four national conservation priorities – reedbeds, lowland wet grassland, shingle vegetation, and lowland heath – and at this time of year, visitors can see the first wading birds make their way north. Be sure to keep an eye out for the dramatic switchback display flights of marsh harriers above the reedbeds, and listen out for the deep booming call of the elusive male bittern.  

As the weather warms up as it gets closer to summer, spotters can be sure to see young avocets, common terns and gulls later in the season. Redshanks, ruffs, and other wading birds will start to return from the Arctic in late June, and as the heaths begin to flower, nightjars make their presence known at dusk.  

A bird hide on the edge of Benacre Broad 

A bird hide on the edge of Benacre Broad - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Benacre Broad 

Nestled between the towns of Lowestoft and Southwold, Benacre National Nature Reserve is home to open water lagoons and reed beds that are prime birdwatching hotspots. Throughout the year, over 100 species of breeding birds can be seen – with the likes of little terns, wheatears, meadow pipits, woodlarks, and linnets all easily spotted. There is also a public bird hide easily accessible on the broad. 

A dartford on Dunwich Heath 

A dartford on Dunwich Heath - Credit: Frances Crickmore/iWitness

Dunwich Heath 

Undoubtedly one of Suffolk’s most stunning beauty spots, the National Trust's Dunwich Heath on the Suffolk coast is hands down one of the best places to go birdwatching this season. Beginning in March and April, this rare and precious habitat is home to spring migrators such as hobbies, stone curlews, sand martins, and the elusive nightjar. And birds such as firecrests, Cetti's warblers, Dartford warblers, and woodlarks can be found flying around the heath year round.  

Dunwich Heath

Dunwich Heath - Credit: Getty Images

From around July onwards, the heath’s flora comes alive with colour, as pink and purple heather and coconut-scented yellow gorse create an immersive, tantalising experience for all of the senses. So grab your binoculars and descend to the heath to make the most of the good weather – and even better nature spotting.  

Orford Ness

Orford Ness - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Orford Ness 

This former secret military testing site – which is now Europe’s largest vegetated shingle spit – is now under the care of the National Trust and is home to a number of habitats that welcome a variety bird species throughout the year. During the spring months, visitors can be sure to see birds such as marsh harriers in the reed marshes, and barn owls who can spotted during the day looking for food for their young.  

RSPB Boyton and Hollesley Marshes

RSPB Boyton and Hollesley Marshes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

RSPB Boyton and Hollesley Marshes 

Boasting some of the best coastal grazing marshes on the Suffolk Coast, these wetland, grassland and coastal reserves in the lower reaches of the Alde-Ore Estuary are home to a number of birds at this time of year such as lapwings, avocets, redshanks, and nesting ducks.  

Be sure to also keep your eyes peeled for hunting barn owls, while migrating spring birds you might see overhead include yellow wagtails, wheatears, and whitethroats. And during the warmer summer months, nesting lapwings and avocets may have chicks down on the new freshwater lagoon.  

Lackford Lakes

Lackford Lakes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lackford Lakes 

A tranquil oasis comprised of lakes, reeds, meadows and woodland, Lackford Lakes near Bury St Edmunds is great for keen ornithologists. Year-round, visitors can see kingfishers and colourful ducks on the water.   

More seasonally however, nightingales and warblers migrate back up north and head this way during the spring months. And later in the summer, birds such as swallows and martins make their way to the reserve’s waterways to feast on flies. Other species such as great-crested grebes, tufted ducks, and water rails can be found hanging around on the water’s edge. There are also four nature hides across the site. 

Lakenheath Fen 

Lakenheath Fen - Credit: Nick Ford

RSPB Lakenheath Fen 

This nature reserve is a haven at this time of year for birdwatchers. During the spring months, bitterns and cuckoos can be heard making their birdcalls in the poplar woods, while the reedbed is full of singing reed and sedge warblers. And during May, hobbies reach their highest numbers, with up to 40 in the air at any time. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a migrating crane in April or early May.  

A little grebe successfully catches a fish at Lackford Lakes

A little grebe successfully catches a fish at Lackford Lakes - Credit: John Boyle

Birdwatching tips from the RSPB 

To ensure everyone can enjoy this hobby safely and peacefully, there are a number of ways you can help respect the birds and their habitats.  

  • Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats – if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close. And if it leaves, you won’t get a good view. 

  • Know the law and the rules for visiting the countryside, and follow them. 

  • Send your sightings to the County Bird Recorder and the Birdtrack website. 

  • Think about the interests of wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird, especially during the breeding season. 

  • Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbing habitats used by birds. 

  • Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on the seawall. 

  • Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.