Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Croxton Heath with David Neill Andrews

Today, I met for the first time David Neill Andrews, we met through a social network site through a friend that I formerly worked with.  This was David's first visit to 'The Brecks', therefore, it was my intention to take him to East Wretham and Croxton Heaths in order to give him a feel of the Breckland landscape.
I will start this post by stating that David is a superb photographer, I have seen some of his 'trick' photography, which clearly takes hours of commitment to achieve, also, his landscape work is second to none.  I have recently seen some truly fantastic shots of Blythburgh, an area of visited a lot on the 60's and 70's, David's shots have not only appeared in newspapers, they have also brought back many fond memories of this beautiful area.  Watch for this mans work.

We arrived at East Wretham and Croxton Heaths late morning to a morning of reasonable light, however, as our stay wore on, light was variable from quite good to fair, depending on the thickness of the increasing cloud cover.
As we made our way along Harling Drove I pointed out to David the large mounds on East Wretham Heath.  These 'bumps' on the ground were formed by the Yellow Meadow Ant, seeing these fantastic creations is an indication of how undisturbed the land is.  If you find a meadow or field with these nests, it is likely it has not been disturbed for decades, even centuries.
Further along the drove we overlooked Langmere, a natural mere whose water levels greatly, although I must admit not to knowing why the levels change so much as they can appear empty in very wet times.  On Langmere was a few Shelduck and Teal, also, we saw 3 Lapwings, one of which briefly displayed.
After a bit of walking we arrived on Croxton Heath, the large open clearfell is exposed to the wind and as a result I could only see Skylark, not Woodlark which I was hoping to show David.
My target species for today was Crossbill, this would be a new species for David and as we approached the site which I have been watching regularlyI could see that a couple of Crossbills were in the lone tree within a clearing.  Upon arrival at the location we sat and waited for our quarry.
After a short wait, Crossbills began to appear in the tree and after spending some time here they eventually and tentativly dropped through the branches...I knew they were preparing to come to drink.
The odd Crossbill made a sweep over the pond, presumably to assess the safety risk and after a short wait the birds dropped to the puddles to drink, a wonderful and very rewarding sight as all to often the only Crossbills seen are high in trees feeding from pine cones.

Crossbill (male) on Croxton Heath 02/03/14
Throughout our stay at this locality, Crossbills typically flew off, presumably to have a feed, however, they reliably always returned to drink.  The single largest gathering was of about 10 birds, most of which were the beautiful 'red' males.
As we sat still close the puddles, the Crossbills appeared to accept our presence, although it was clear that once on the ground they nervously drank whilst watching us.
Whilst watching the Crossbills David commented on the birds having a 'Parrot' like appearance, their plumage and large odd shaped bill do have 'Parrot' like quality.
Singing was heard on brief occasions, however, I earlier pointed out the Crossbills highly distinctive, hard and far-carrying "chip chip" call.  This is something that is a familiar sound in the Breckland area, and is also one easy to remember as no other bird has such a 'hard and sharp ' call.
Whilst spending time watching these Crossbills we also saw a hunting Kestrel, this bird was typically hovering before plummeting like a stone onto prey on the ground.  One Common Buzzard was also seen distantly.
Having watched the Crossbills for some time, we then waslked back through the forest rides and heathland back to our starting point at the car park at East Wretham Heath.

Back at my home, we had a welcome hot drink and sandwich and talked about the days birding/photography trip.
David, I thoroughly enjoyed out visit to East Wretham and Croxton Heaths and look forward to meeting up  again soon.
Finally, watch for David's work, he is an excellent and passionate photographer.

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