Misty sunrise over Westleton Health (Shutterstock)
List Words : Rhodri Andrews | 05 May

7 of the best wildlife experiences in Suffolk

With a bounty of birdlife and some of the most diverse landscapes in the UK, Suffolk is home to a host of wonderful wildlife spots...

1. Darting Dartford warblers

Gaze across the heather at Dunwich Heath and at first it may seem barren of wildlife. But be patient and you'll catch a glance of a Dartford warbler as it pops up from the heather, skims the top of the undergrowth before dipping out of sight again. It's a minor celebrity in Suffolk too, attracting people from miles around to either Dunwich or neighbouring Westleton Heath to spot its striking red breast and grey head.

Dartford warbler perched on a gorse bush (Shutterstock)

You may even get more than a teasing glimpse, as males perch proudly on top of a gorse bush, singing its melodic song to attract females during the breeding season (March-May). With about 30 pairs currently calling Dunwich home, it's one of the best places to spot the Dartford, along with woodlarks, stone chats, greenfinches and other birdlife.

2. Red deer rutting

Head to the RSPB's Minsmere Nature Reserve between the end of September and mid-November and you'll witness one of nature's greatest spectacles: the red deer rut. On a typical misty morning, watch on as two stags clash antlers in a bid to secure a mate, accompanied by loud roars to further entice a female.

 

Red deer stags clashing antlers (Shutterstock)

Minsmere is home to one of the largest wild herds of red deer – the UK's largest land mammal – outside of Scotland and a location predominantly famous for its birds is also one of the best places to base yourselves during the rut season. For another impressive view of the rutting fields, head to neighbouring Westleton Heath.

3. Blooming bluebells

For a mix of ancient woodland and meadows, Arger Fen and Spouse's Vale is a charming mix of landscapes. Visit in spring and its forested hillsides will come alive with bluebells, cherry blossom and a dazzling range of wildflowers.

 

Woodland bluebells in full bloom (Shutterstock)

It provides a varied mix of habitats, too: badgers are prevalent, common lizards and grass snakes bask in the warm woodland glades and crane your neck skywards on the hilltops for a glimpse of buzzards. Several species of butterflies also float through its woods – keep an eye out for holly blue, speckled wood and orange tip.

4. The boom of a bittern

Minsmere is known for its vast array of birds, from avocets to cormorants to marsh harriers. But none are quite as magical as the bittern, a rare and shy bird that loves to hide among the thick reedbeds.

 

A bittern wading through reedbeds (Shutterstock)

Its brown and yellow plumage acts as the perfect disguise but don't worry if you don't spot it: its huge, booming call is brilliant in itself and can be heard up to a
kilometre away. You could even be forgiven for mistaking it for a foghorn, especially so close to the North Sea. For alternative places to Minsmere, take a trip to Walberswick and Lakenheath during the summer for a chance to spot this mysterious bird.

5. Sunbathing seals

With around 90% of Britain’s seals found in Scotland, Suffolk is home to one of the few pockets of seals dotted around England’s coastline. Both common and grey seals thrive in the North Sea off the coast of Walberswick and Southwold – part of the Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve – and when not feasting on fish, they love nothing more than to bask on the sunshine-drenched sandy beaches.

Newborn seal pup on a windswept Suffolk beach (Shutterstock)

Visit between June-August (common) or November-January (grey) to witness the pupping season or hop onboard boat trips, which depart regularly from Southwold Harbour, to see the inquisitive creatures up close.

6. Thriving otters

After their numbers were drastically reduced during the 1950s and 1960s by pesticides, European otters in Suffolk are enjoying a resurgence in numbers. Now wetlands and habitats have been restored, they prosper in the county’s rivers, estuaries and streams.

 

Wild European otter surfacing for breath (Shutterstock)

Take your binoculars along to Minsmere Nature Reserve’s Island Mere hide and watch them skulk through the reedbeds in search of a fishy meal. Snape Marshes to the south is also known for sightings, after building holts along the River Alde in recent years to encourage breeding.

7. Swooping kingfishers

With a bright blue back and brick-orange breast, kingfishers are an impressive sight as they sit patiently on a low branch waiting for an unsuspecting fish to come into range, before picking their moment to swoop in and strike.

 

Kingfisher emerging from the water (Shutterstock)

The mosaic of 11 pools at Lackford Lakes provides the perfect hunting ground for the birds and onlookers can watch its iridescent coat glint in the sunshine while treading the dedicated Kingfisher Trail – five hides are dotted along the way. It's joined by a throng of other wildlife at the reserve, including kaleidoscopic dragonflies, swallows and great-crested grebes.