Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 14 February 2014

Croxton Heath, Norfolk

Woodlark (first singing/displaying bird of year)
Crossbills c.10

With the threat of wild, wet, and windy weather by the afternoon, an early morning visit to Croxton Heath was in order, specifically with early displaying Woodlarks in mind.
A hint of brightness in the east at dawn was soon replaced by full cloud cover and poor light, at least the rain stayed away.
As soon as I left the car park at East Wretham Heath at dawn vast numbers of Crow species circled over the heath east of the Thetford road.  I estimated 5000+ Jackdaws and Rooks moving east to west, this, according to my previous visits, is a daily occurence at dawn over the heath with birds leaving their roost sites to their feeding grounds, presumably on surrounding farm and heath land.
I arrived on the vast open areas of clearfell of Croxton Heath and firstly made my way to the tree which has for some weeks now proved reliable for Crossbills.  I could see straight away that a pair of Crossbills were sitting in the tree.
I initially set up close to the tree for views of visiting Crossbills but then I decided to relocate to try and view these Finches actually visiting a puddle to drink.
Crossbills coming to drink on Croxton Heath 14/02/14
Having positioned myself where I could see the puddle, a long wait ensued with Crossbills nervously approaching the water before flying back to the tree, however, in time, several birds visited the puddle to drink.  This was a marvellous sight to see.
I also witnessed other very interesting behaviour with the Crossbills, this included singing males, a mating pair, but most interesting of all I saw a female Crossbill collecting bill-fulls of nesting materials.
Also of particular interest this morning was the presence of my target species, a singing and displaying male Woodlark.  This Breckland speciality is found within forest clearings and heathland where they require short grass to search for insect prey.  Scattered trees and bushes are used to sing from.
Also noted on the heath was Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Meadow Pipits, and Yellowhammer.
My walk back along one of the tracks saw a Woodlark rise up from the ground within feet of me, checking the surroundings here saw that this was very typical breeding habitat with plenty of bare sandy soil, young saplings, and a long wood-pile which will be used for song posts.
This was am excellent visit to Croxton Heath with my target species of Woodlark seen with the superb bonus of seeing Crossbills at their drinking site.


  1. What wonderful Crossbill pix...
    very nice capture!!

    Something for you to watch out for...
    unless you've seen it before.
    We certainly had not...
    crows clearing pigeons off a field!

    There were about 400 Wood Pigz on the ground in a 2013 maize field...
    just the other side of the river from us...
    in winter we can see the field... in summer, not.
    Suddenly we heard the deep machine-gun "Cronk"ing of a couple of crows...
    normally, this means they are harrassing one of the local buzzards...
    no raptors around this time!
    Then we both noticed the pigeons fly up, en-masse!
    It was the crows attacking them...
    they kept diving at them, forcing them back into the air...
    wouldn't let them rest at all.
    Joined by another couple, they managed to "herd" most of them up to the woods opposite...
    leaving only a few that had decided that the trees on the riverbank would be a good place to sit this battle out....
    they came back for those, too....
    and harrassed them out of the trees.

    We've seen it again, twice, this week...
    and it coincides with increased use of the feeders here by small jobbies...
    in fact we've had our first Brambling of the year.
    So, our conclusion was that they were protecting their feeding grounds as supplies became shorter.
    Then, on Friday, the Aigronne went over the top...
    and their feeding grounds became a pond for a few days...
    still hasn't drained off!!
    We watch all this from the bedroom windows!!
    While it makes getting up slower, having a "raised hide" makes for wonderful watching.
    My wife's 'scope is set up up there...
    mine down here in the lounge...
    and binos' litter the place.

    I don't suppose you've thought of dragging yourself off up to Holt Country Park to see the Parrot Crossbills, have you?

    1. Hi Tim
      Thank you for your comments regarding the Crossbills.
      I was so engrossed in watching the Crossbills that I failed to notice a Woodlark in the same tree...what a photo that would have made as I have not got a shot of that species yet.
      Your Crow and Pigeon interaction is very interesting behaviour....I think worthy of an email to the the way masses of Crows yesterday as seen in the blog....5000+ birds departing their roost...impressive sight.
      I like the idea of your bedroom as a such opportunity for us...looking onto other least they act as a barrier to the very strong winds we have been having.
      Well done with the Brambling...lovely Finch species.
      I haven't been up to Holt fot the Parrot Crossbills actually as I usually stay on the patch. I tried for the 2 barred-Crossbill but did not connect with this beauty.
      Tim, as usual, thanks for following the blog and will chat again soon.