Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 21 March 2014

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths (with Richard Farrow)

0600: I met with my good friend Richard Farrow at East Wretham Heath car park for what was to be a very good visit to this very typical Breckland location and habitat.
Our route today took us from the car park and over the heath to Harling Drove.  Walking west along Harling Drove we then diverted off to the left to visit Fenmere and Ringmere.  After this diversion we then walked further west along Harling Drove, eventually making our way for the large forest clearings at Croxton Heath.  After a pleasant hour or so overlooking a deep pit (for Crossbills) we then continued along forest trails back to Harling Drove and then slowly walked through fantastic mature Scots Pine woodland before finally spending some time overlooking Langmere from the hide.  We then made our way back to our starting point at the reserve car park.
Weather conditions: The day remained dry although it was cloudy until 0900 when bright sunshine replaced the earlier somewhat low light conditions.  The wind was cool, especially in exposed areas, although the rising sun did bring warmth to more sheltered areas.

From the outset birds were apparent with the first bird of the day being Blue Tit in the car park area.  Walking along Harling Drove, we checked Langmere, a large Breckland mere, here, waterfowl was well represented by 2 Mute Swans, 2+ Shelduck, 30+ Shoveler, several Teal, and Mallard, whilst around the fringes of the water, a pair of Oystercatchers and Lapwing were present.  The latter species will breed at this locality.
From Langmere, we crossed harling Drove to visit Fenmere and Ringmere.  Fenmere was quiet with a single Coot and Moorhen seen but it was encouraging to hear Chiffchaff singing.  Ringmere was more productive with several Teal and calling (whinnying) Little Grebes, also a number of Coot and Moorhens were ever-present.
Continuing along Harling Drove common species seen and heard in pine woodland included singing Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits, Great and Coal Tits, and Chaffinches.
Eventually, our walk brought us to the large clearings on Croxton Heath, one of my target species for the day was both seen and heard almost straight away, a singing male Woodlark. This typical Breckland species passed over us giving its sweet "lululululu" song. The commoner, and larger Skylark was also present.

Crossbills:  We then made our way to the site which has been reliable throughout the winter months for Crossbills, however, it was noticed upon our arrival that the puddles where this beautiful species drinks were dried up, however, all was not lost, a nearby pit was also a relaible site for drinking Crossbills.  It was evident overhead that Crossbills were in the area, therefore Richard and I decided to sit and wait, our patience was rewarded with Crossbills coming and going virtually all the time with a maxima of 5 birds at any one time.  These striking birds, mostly the beautiful brick-red males, occasionally dropped down to drink.  As well as Crossbills, single Siskins dropped in to drink as well as a small group of visiting Goldfinches.  Richard and I also commented on the number of Yellowhammers seen...very encouraging indeed.  Both Dunnock and Wrens also inhabited this area.  As well as these wintering and resident species, both male and female Chiffchaffs were both seen and heard.
Adder on Croxton Heath, Norfolk 21/03/14 (One of at least 8 seen today)
Adders: Having left the Crossbills at the pit Richard and myself walked along forest rides in order to make our way back to Harling Drove.  By this time the cloud had moved away to leave bright, sunny, and warm conditions in sheltered areas.  The first encouraging sign was the finding of a Common Lizard running to cover in Bracken, this was a sign that Adders would surely be out sunning themselves.  As we continued along the forest rides we checked the Bracken fringes and understorey of the relatively young conifer plantation.  This slow check of the woodland edge was to prove very rewarding with at least 8 Adders seen, of these, a couple were the much larger female snakes.  Perhaps one of the most memorable events was the finding of 3 male Adders together in a small area of Bracken, vegetation, stumps, and banks for stunning.  This site would undoubtedly be worth checking for the beautiful 'dance' of the male snakes.
It was of particular interest that whilst watching Adders we saw a female Chiffchaff almost at ground level in Bracken, here she remained for a while perhaps prospecting for a nest site.  Clearly, it is worth remembering that this ground nesting species will have to contend with several dangers whilst incubating and raising young, especially given the species is sharing habitat with predators such as Adders.

Continuing east along Harling Drove, we eventually made our way to the gate which was to take us through the fantastic Scots Pine woodland and eventually the hide overlooking Langmere.  No more Adders were seen, perhaps due to the fact that despite the sun, a cool wind did cut through the trees.
Our final destination was the hide.  Very strong light saw many species silhouetted against the water, however, a good range of species was seen including the earlier noted Shoveler, Teal, Oystercatcher, and Lapwings.  Notable species seen from the hide, both picked up by Richard, was a single male Sparrowhawk circling overhead, his presence caused some Teal on the bank to fly to the safety of water, also, Richard picked up an easterly movement of about 15-20 Golden Plovers, clearly migrants making their way back to their upland breeding grounds.

At about 1300 we finally reached the end of our visit to East Wretham Heath.  This was the end of a very pleasant day and it was a great pleasure to have been joined by my good friend Richard Farrow.....thank you Richard and look forward to seeing you very soon. 


  1. Paul, the Stone Curlews have been coming overhead here regularly...
    most evenings this week...
    that's far earlier than normal [by about two to three weeks]...
    these will be the ones heading further North than Central France....
    probably towards East Wretham!!
    Thought you'd like advanced warning....
    everything is earlier here this year....
    we were in Tours last weekend looking down from a bridge....
    and saw a huddle of Mallard chicks with their parents....
    tucked in near the foot of a pillar...
    sheltering from the mighty Loire!!

    1. Tim, thank you once again for your comments.
      Thank you for the advanced warning regarding Stone Curlews....I would normally have seen this species in the Brecks by now...I haven't yet, however, I am confident this beauty will be out there somewhere.
      Chiffchaffs are already filling the woodlands although I have had at least 3 together wintering together st Threxton, near Watton.
      I will probably be out in the morning searching for Wheatear on one of the local heaths.
      Lovely to read about your Mallard chicks...beautiful.
      Chat again soon Tim and thanks once again for your comments.

    2. "I would normally have seen this species in the Brecks by now..."
      I wonder if the Breckland birds winter less further South than "our" Touraine du Sud ones??

      Our neighbour is going for maize in the field opposite...
      that seems to suit the Stone Curlews...
      and us, because we can see them easily!!

      I think I've mentioned before that there is a very nice triangle of land that the new machines miss...
      that 's where we've seen them before....
      including once with an unfledged chick...
      so, our presumption is that they nest there.

    3. Tim
      I have finally connected with Stone Curlews now...a little later than usual. It is good to see the birds returning to reasonable weather...somewhat in contrast to last springs severe cold which claimed a number of Stone Curlews.
      Uncultivated triangles of land are always welcome Stone Curlews and song birds will benefit. It will be a sad day indeed if machines are invented to cultivate currently inaccessable areas of land.

  2. Another great report and excellent photograph of the Adder. So good to see that you are working away at the blog and keeping us all well informed. It mustbe the result, preseumably, of having more time on your hands rather "doing time" with the incarcerated! Will email direct later.

    1. Hi Bob, thank you once again for your kind comments. I hope both you and Jenny are keeping well.
      Part-time working is good is a little inconvenience that gets in the way of what really and birding.
      Look forward to your email.
      Take care for now and love to Jenny