I’ve seen large flocks of lapwings fill the sky many times before, but always from a distance. That changed one bright morning when I canoed along the River Waveney. As I followed the contours of a reedbed, a huge flock of lapwings took flight from a neighbouring meadow. I was masked by reeds and the birds flew over my canoe, the beating of their black and white wings thrillingly close. Canoeing, I discovered, is a very good way
to get up close to wetland wildlife.
TAKING IT SLOW
I paddled for a couple of miles, first along the Waveney, and then Oulton Dyke towards Lowestoft, passing cottages and secluded inlets. With the tide in my favour, I hardly needed to paddle, so
I sat back and enjoyed watching great-crested grebes diving to allow my passage, and herons clumsily taking flight as I drifted down river.
Come spring, bearded tits and warblers will be nesting in the reeds, and canoeists may see the magnificent swallowtail butterfly or the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly. Also look out for Chinese water deer springing into surrounding grazing marshes and a V-shaped ripple in the water, which could signal an otter is about.
As the weather improves, Oulton Broad becomes busy with motor cruisers, so you’ll find the narrower waterways more peaceful. There is a good variety of canoe trips nearby; local guide company TheCanoeMan recommends the gentler stretches of the Waveney around Bungay and Beccles and the backwaters around Wroxham and Barton.
My return journey from Oulton Broad involved power-paddling and a lot less birdwatching as I battled the tide. It was invigorating but tiring, and I could have happily spent the afternoon relaxing on the veranda of my wood cabin in the Waveney River Centre. But a chance encounter with Carl Chapman, a local wildlife expert and guide convinced me I ought to visit Carlton Marshes Nature Reserve, where I had seen the lapwings earlier in the day.
I walked a short stretch of the Angles Way trail that passes through the reserve, enjoying the still reedbeds and marshes tinted yellow in the evening sun. The flash of a kingfisher and a barn owl serenely crossing the open grassland filled me with awe. And then, something disturbed the tranquil scene causing the lapwings to take flight.
This time, I saw what was agitating the birds and I watched as a peregrine falcon fired through the panicked flock. It was a thrilling sight, though the raptor went hungry.
HOW TO GET THERE
Waveney River Centre is off the A143, seven miles north-east
FIND OUT MORE
The section of river between Oulton Dyke and Lowestoft is tidal and should only be attempted by experienced canoeists or with a guide.
The Canoe Man
102 College Road, Norwich
01263 826 889
Carl is a superb guide and takes groups on tailor-made bird- and mammal-watching trips.
The White Lion
White Lion Road, Wheatacre, Beccles NR34 0AT
seafood sourced from
The Waveney River Centre
Burgh St Peter, Beccles
This holiday park and marina is a great choice for families, offering cosy cabins (some with wheelchair access) on the River Waveney. Activities include canoe hire, wildlife safaris and boat trips.
Burnt Hill Lane, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft NR33 8HU
More than 120 acres of grazing marsh, fens and peat pools.