It’s a sight – and sound – that instantly raises the hairs on the neck: a vast swirl of birds darkening the lowering winter sky as they prepare to roost.
Nobody quite knows why Buckenham Marshes in east Norfolk is such a hotspot for rooks and jackdaws, although the area’s small patches of dense, undisturbed woodland are undoubtedly part of the appeal.
As the RSPB’s Tim Strudwick explains, the birds don’t like activity below their perches, but privacy in this isolated part of the world is almost guaranteed. That said, their dusk displays have undoubtedly put Buckenham on the map: this is ‘crow country’,
as immortalised by naturalist
and author Mark Cocker.
Quite how many rooks and jackdaws congregate here is debatable: Tim suggests 55,000 but “it’s like counting particles of smoke”. Both species belong to the corvidae family, which includes crows and magpies, but rooks are larger than jackdaws, with a white ‘face’ and soft, cawing voice. Jackdaws, by contrast, issue a staccato ‘jack jack jack’: “like a pebble on a frozen pond,” says Tim. Their silvery necks, pale eyes and,
in flight, rounder wings, also make them easier to spot.
As Tim explains, it’s not the winter cold that brings the birds together in such numbers. They don’t huddle together when roosting, and the species tend not to mix, either. Instead, it’s thought that they gather to benefit from shared intelligence about food sources.
Drama at dusk
To enjoy the show at its best, head to the RSPB’s Buckenham Marshes car park near dusk. Birds initially congregate on surrounding arable farmland and electricity wires, at first continuing to feed and chatter but, as the light fails, growing increasingly, eerily quiet. Finally, just after sunset, the birds erupt into the sky.
But the corvids aren’t the only stars. Brown hares are common, and at dawn or dusk you may see a Chinese water deer.
Don’t wait until the end of the day to visit, though. Buckenham’s windswept grazing marshes themselves are a magnet for wintering wildfowl, with widgeon, lapwings and golden plovers by the thousand – all liable to be stirred up into the vast, moody sky by a passing peregrine or marsh harrier.
No less atmospheric is the isolated – and now disused –
St Nicholas’ Church, a short walk away. Dating from the
13th century, the octagonal tower of this Grade-I listed building is easily visible across the stark winter fields, and can be reached by a footpath from Station Road.
The RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen reserve is also within easy walking distance. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse a bittern. Otters thrive here, too, and in winter, females and adolescent cubs can often be seen. So, whether you like your wildlife spectacles spine-tingling or heart-melting, Buckenham is bound to delight.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car, follow the A47 from
Norwich to Yarmouth, passing Brundall. After the Strumpshaw
sign, follow Stone Road then
Station Road to Buckenham
station and the RSPB car park.
Buckenham station, on the
Wherry Line, is a weekends-only request stop.
FIND OUT MORE
RSPB Buckenham Marshes Station Road,
Buckenham NR13 4HW
RSPB Strumpshaw Fen
The Lavender House
39 The Street,
Brundall NR13 5AA
Braydeston House B&B
9 The Street,
Brundall NR13 5JY