Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Thursday, 17 April 2014

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, Norfolk (with Andy Egan and Tony Foreman). A fascinating story of Tree Pipit migration.

At 0600, a former work colleague and good friend Andy Egan arrived at my home in Watton, this was our first meeting in 25 years, therefore there was much catching up to do.  This was to turn out to be a superb day.
We arrived at East Wretham Heath and we were duly met by another very good friend, Tony Foreman.  Following introductions we set off over the heath. The plan was to meet the Harling Drove and walk west to Croxton Heath and check the vast forest clearings for Breckland specialities.  We also searched for Adders, however, despite some warm sunshine in sheltered areas, the wind may have been too cool for these snakes to show.  Walking east back along, the next area to walk through was the mature Scots Pine woodland known as Waterloo Plantation.  This woodland was planted in celebration of Wellington's victory over Napolean at the battle of Waterloo.  An overview of Langmere produced a few birds, however, a check of open woodland was to produce a stunning bird for which this locality is known for.

Warbler species were now well established with several Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, and Chiffchaff in song.  Willow Warblers were most numerous within the relatively young mixed plantations of pine and Silver Birch.  It was along these woodland edges where we checked for Adders within what is superb habitat, however, none were found on this visit.
The large clearings on Croxton Heath produced 2 predicted species, the first was a single Woodlark performing its display flight and mournful, but sweet song high overhead.  As we walked through the clearing I saw a bird fly up and drop down in a familiar 'parachute' display and alight on top of a small Holly, this bird was a Tree Pipit, this was to be the first of 3 singing male Tree Pipits seen, one of which was accompanied by a female bird.
Tree Pipit (male) Croxton Heath 17/04/14
The male Tree Pipit pictured here on Croxton Heath has a fascinating story of migration to tell.  This photograph shows this bird has rings on both legs, subsequent communications with the BTO revealed that this bird was ringed at this site on 20 April 2013.  Since this time, this bird eventually migrated to Africa last autumn, its wintering range is south of the Sahara and extends from Guinea in the west to Ehtiopia in the east and may extend as far as South Africa.  Then, this bird migrated north from its African wintering grounds back to the very clearing where it was ringed in 2013 on Croxton Heath where I found the bird today.  I am sure you will agree that this feat of migration with all of its natural and man-made hazzards is truly fascinating.

The only raptor species seen today was a single Common Buzzard.  This bird was seen over Croxton Heath where it typically attracted the attention of mobbing Crow species.

We then spent some time overviewing Langmere from the hide.  From this location a few Shelduck, a pair of Egyptian Geese, Lapwings, a pair of Little Grebes, Tufted Duck, a few Coot, and Crows were all seen.  Close to along the fringes of the water a Pied Wagtail gathered food for its young.

Having left the hide, I became aware of the familiar song of a bird which East Wretham is famed for, this bird was a male Redstart.  This sweet but simple, short warble was tracked to some Hawthorns and scattered mature Scots Pines.  This bird was quite mobile, however, on one occasion it was seen in a Hawthorn where it revealed its superb bright plumage.  Seen against a background of green  leaves, this beautiful Redstart showed off its bright Orange underparts which contrasted strongly with the black bib which in turn accentuated the bright white fore-crown.  The bird appeared to fly-catch within the Hawthorn, this behaviour showed off briefly the extremely beautiful bright Orange rump and tail.  Tony rightly described this stunning Redstart as "exotic".

Following the encounter with the Redstart, we walked slowly over the heath back to the car park, arriving there at about 1130.

I would like to finish this entry by thanking Andy and Tony for joining me on this tour of this, one of all time favourite birding locations.  Thank you Andy and Tony for your company and for making this a superb day out. 

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