Birds of the Foxhills Campsite area

North Norfolk is one of the best areas in Britain for birdwatching and Foxhills is situated in one of the best positions to see a wide variety of birds, both common and the more unusual. The site has a range of interesting areas within walking distance, including woodland, heathland, grassy meadows, marshland, dunes and coast.

One of the pleasures of staying on the campsite is waking up to the lovely sound of many birds singing in the morning. You can expect to see and hear birds such as; jay, woodpigeon, blackbird, green woodpecker, stock dove, pheasant, wren, chaffinch, robin, blue, great and long-tailed tits, tawny owl, blackcap and many others.

The surrounding heathlands are very interesting. Walk up to Kelling Heath and you may see and hear nightjars (listen for their amazing electronic throbbing and churring song) and nightingales at dusk on warm evenings in the spring/summer months (please do not leave the paths or disturb these birds in any way and keep dogs on a lead). Kelling Heath is also good for all sorts of other birds such as various warblers, yellowhammers, occasional turtle doves and grasshopper warblers. On warm days, in the mornings, look out for basking reptiles).

Situated almost next to the campsite (next to the Muckleborough Collection) is the heathland around Muckleborough Hill. This area is also good for a range of heathland birds, including occasional nightjar (which I have heard from my tent on the campsite!). Also meadow pipit, yellowhammer, blackcap and common and lesser whitethroats occur here. In the evenings watch for the large corvid roost consisting of large numbers of jackdaws and rooks as they flock to the trees to rest and sleep ready for the next day's business of finding food and surviving.

Between this area and the sea are the open grassy fields of Muckleborough airfield and lands to the west (around The Quag). Here skylarks and meadow pipits abound and other interesting birds including barn owl, stonechat, wheatear (both spring migrants), reed buntings and sometimes you can hear the churring insect-like song of the grasshopper warbler.

Steve Halton

June 2012



Look out and listen - the Gabble Ratchets are nearby!

During warm, summer dusks, some of you camping at Foxhills may hear strange churring noises coming from the surrounding countryside and heathlands as night falls, between May and August.

This strange, otherworldly sound, is the song of the nightjar; an otherworldly bird itself; one that flits the times between times of day and night and seems to be a very part of the old heathlands that it haunts.

The nightjar is a summer visitor coming to us from Central Africa where it overwinters. The bird is a member of its own, unique family but is distantly related to the swifts and hummingbirds!

It is a bird of hot, dry, open heathlands where there are open areas of heather and bracken (good for hunting insects and nest sites) and scattered trees such as pines and birches (good for song posts). They nest on the ground are are amazingly well camouflaged with cryptic patterns resembling bark, lichens and heather. The female lays 2 cream eggs on the bare ground and in long, hot summers will have 2 broods of young.

The birds are incredibly inquisitive and will often come over to check you out if walking across the heathlands in the evenings and will fly and hover overhead.

The song is unique and like no other British bird. It sounds ancient and primeval, seems to rise up out of the very heathland and is evocative of long, warm summer dusks. It can be described as a 'churring' an electronic 'throbbing' sound, more man-made than natural. It changes tone, pitch and volume as the bird turns its head and can continue for several minutes at a time, usually while perched in a pine, oak or silver birch.

The calls are equally astonishing; a liquid 'quip - quip' often given when in flight, and a sound rather like a hand-clap or a whip-crack as the male claps his wings over his back as part of courtship of the female.

Nightjars hunt insects in flight and will catch flying moths and beetles after dark and have superb night vision.

The bird also has a rich folklore - it was called the Goatsucker because it was believed that it sucked the milk of goats (they don't) and left the goats dry. In Yorkshire they were called the Corpse Bird or Lich Fowl and it was believed that the souls of dead, unbatised children became Nightjars. Most of the old country names refer to its remarkable and spooky song and include: Wheel Bird, Eve Churr, Heath-Jar, Jenny Spinner, Fern Owl, Evejar and Razor Grinder.

So, go and look, as the heaths sink into their brackeny darkness, radiating back the heat of the day and stand and listen in wonder as this amazing bird of the night comes alive. If you do go, please keep to the paths and keep dogs on leads - Nightjars are getting rarer and are easily disturbed. Enjoy the Gabble Ratchets - but from a distance. . . 

But the last words go to the 19th century poet George Meredith with this marvellous evocative Nightjar couplet:

Lone on the fir branch his rattle notes unvaried,
Brooding o'er the gloom spins the brown eve-jar.

Steve Halton

July 2013

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