A secret revealed

Crane artwork by Mike Langham.

It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story.

This is the 4th and final blog of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.


A secret revealed
When the cranes first returned to Horsey, secrecy was an important part of protecting them. It helped that cranes have a knack of disappearing from view during the breeding season. There were rumours that the birds were ‘escapes’, which discouraged some birdwatchers from wanting to see them. 

But it would be easy to be unrealistic about how secret the Horsey cranes were: they are large and sometimes noisy birds and word of their presence spread. As the veil lifted somewhat, information was published in bird reports and books. But we remain cautious about saying where cranes nest.

After the turn of the century, with crane numbers increasing and pairs nesting away from Horsey, their guardian John Buxton became happy to talk about his part in the cranes’ story at Horsey. 

John kept detailed diaries of his observations. These contemporary records were vital when he worked with me to write The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, first published in 2011, now also in paperback. 

Crane with a potato (John Buxton).

Watching cranes
With up to 50 cranes in the Broads, plus a growing number in the Fens, chance encounters are getting easier. They are secretive when nesting, so autumn and winter are the best time to see them. The biggest group is in the Hickling-Horsey area, and they sometimes feed close to the coast road between West Somerton and Waxham.

The best place to watch for cranes is the raptor viewpoint at Stubb Mill, Hickling. Late afternoon is a favourite time, and cranes are often seen here along with barn owls and both marsh and hen harriers coming to their overnight roost, plus bittern and merlin with a little luck. Park at NWT Hickling nature reserve centre and walk ¾ mile to the raised viewpoint.

Outside the UK, the sight of large numbers of migrating cranes can be enjoyed in several counties, including southern Sweden, Germany’s coast, Hungary and parts of France. The biggest winter flocks are in Spain, especially in Extremadura where between November and February there are more than 100,000 cranes.

Crane with juvenile at Horsey (John Buxton).
This concludes the 4-part blog about the return of cranes to the UK.

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