The answer to this is simple. It is Norfolk, where I was born and I grew up. It is Norfolk, where I squelched through lavender summer saltmarshes as a child. It is Norfolk, where I learned the songs of robins, blackcaps and garden warblers as a teen. It is Norfolk, about which I have written, spoken, taught and broadcast more than anywhere else.
So I am hugely happy to be leading a series of new tours in my home county, to share the wildlife with which I grew up, and for whose preservation I have had the privilege to work with Norfolk Wildlife Trust for more than a decade.
In February our new Norfolk in Late Winter with Nick Acheson visits sites all along the North Norfolk coast, in search of friends from my childhood including shorelark, snow bunting, twite, dark-bellied brent goose, long-tailed duck, red-necked and Slavonian grebes and many waders. It takes us to raptor roosts which are the lonely haunt of marsh and hen harriers, merlin and peregrine. And it takes us for a day to the unique Norfolk Brecks, where in late winter crossbill, brambling, hawfinch, goshawk, firecrest, lesser spotted woodpecker, mandarin duck and Eurasian otter are all often seen.
Having sampled Norfolk’s delights in February, you are sure to want to return in June for Norfolk in Early Summer with Nick Acheson. This is the time to visit the Norfolk Broads, for their abundant dragonflies, including the eponymous Norfolk hawker, and – of course – exquisite East Anglian swallowtail butterflies, which float over Norfolk reedbeds on the summer breeze like scraps of scribbled paper.
In the same Broadland reeds in June there are nesting bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits and the leggy chicks of common cranes which nested here in spring.
In the Brecks in June, stone curlews, common curlews and lapwings are nesting on ancient grassland, fragrant with the scents of betony and greater wild thyme. Above them, woodlarks and tree pipits sing. Nearby, at Lakenheath Fen, there are hobbies, cuckoos, grasshopper warblers, and more bearded tits, marsh harriers, bitterns and cranes.
The vibrant North Norfolk coast is busy in June with the comings and goings of black-headed and Mediterranean gulls, Sandwich, common, arctic and little terns, which nest on the shingle of Blakeney Point, among ringed plovers, oystercatchers and unique shingle-nesting avocets. On the muddy shoals at the end of the Point harbour seals are pupping.
But even two trips are not enough to get a proper feel for my peerless county. You will have to come back in July for Norfolk’s Butterflies & Dragonflies in Summer. This is as much a tour as it as a workshop on butterfly, dragonfly and grasshopper identification. Covering just a short stretch of North Norfolk coastline, with no long journeys, we visit woods which are the home of purple and white-letter hairstreaks, white admiral, comma, speckled wood and silver-washed fritillary, including its rare verdigris-toned valezina form. Our tour also visits chalk grassland for the first chalkhill blues, a heath for the last silver-studded blues, and sand dunes for brown argus, grayling, wall brown, small and Essex skippers and far more.
In bogs we look for bog bush-cricket and keeled skimmer, while lakes and farm ponds hold small red-eyed and common blue damselflies, brown, migrant and southern hawkers, emperor dragonfly, and common and ruddy darters.
And once you’ve completed all three exciting new Norfolk tours and fallen in love with my beautiful county? Well, we will have to create new tours to show you still more of the bountiful wildlife my home has to offer. The cranes, the harriers, the terns, the hawkers and I look forward to seeing you here.