Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Whitethroat and Wagtails

HOUGHTON-ON-THE-HILL (North Pickenham Parish in Norfolk)
At dawn I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill within the North Pickenham Parish between Watton and Swaffham. This elevated site has much to offer the historian who wishes to visit the fascinating St Mary the Virgin Church at this remote location, I very much recommend a visit to the church which is open between 1400 and 1600 daily.  Amongst other points of interest, the church has 7th century murals depicting biblical themes, close by is a 'sunken way' where the medieval village of Houghton-on-the-Hill once stood.  Please read about this church on-line and learn about how a lovely old gentleman, Bob Davey MBE, brought this church from a ruin to a place of worship and of historical interest we see today.
Houghton-on-the-Hill is my favourite place to be in Autumn as its elevation and vista offers a fascinating visible-migration watchpoint.

Back to today.  From St Mary’s Church I walked back down the track to the road in order to pick up the Peddars Way for Houghton Springs, it was on this initial section that 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps were singing. Blackcaps are sparsely spread at the current time, however, their numbers should be increasing daily now.
At Houghton Springs, I very briefly glimpsed a Warbler species disappearing into the cover of a hedge, it appeared to have a pale throat.  I waited and watched and my suspicions were confirmed when a Whitethroat was seen within the tangle of the hedge. No song was given but the “sshurrt” alarm call was heard.  Also seen here was a male Reed Bunting, this is a traditional site for this species for breeding.
A walk over the paddocks revealed nothing, although this appears good habitat for passage Wagtail species.
Back on Houghton Common there was little evidence of any passage but a hunting Sparrowhawk was seen along the track east of the church.
A pair of Common Buzzards were in the area of the church.

The B1108 road runs from Watton in Norfolk onto Bodney where it skirts the STANTA (Stanford Army training Area). The landscape here is very typically Breckland and includes low lying flood-plain habitat in the Watton Brook and River Wissey valley.
Having parked at 'The Arms', and area of Little Cressingham, I walked along the B1108 to an area of flood plain with migrant Wagtail species in mind. 
Almost immediately upon my arrival at the given location I located 6 Yellow Wagtails (all of the flavissima race) feeding close to lying water and in grass.  These are incredibly spectacular Wagtails appearing as bright yellow gems as they run over the land.

Yellow Wagtail - one of 6 at Bodney 16/04/13.

All six Yellow Wagtails were always quite distant and photographing them in the strong south-west wind proved a little tricky, however, the picture above appears to show the typical features associated with this flavissima Wagtail.
Also seen on the flood-plain was a single Little Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher (pair), Lapwing (including displaying bird), 10+ Meadow Pipits, and a pair of Common Buzzards demonstrating their mastery of flight in the strong wind.


  1. I don't get out to Breckland as often as I would like, but I'm enjoying reading your blog and your fine photos.

    1. Good morning John. Many thanks for your kind comments regarding my blog. Please let me know if you should come this way or if you need help with any of the lesser known areas for birds. I had a great time yesterday watching the Yellow Wagtails - exquisite birds. Paul