Monday, December 08, 2008

Waxwing lyrical

About seven or eight years ago I saw my first waxwings. We were living in Rotherham at the time, and the views, although fleeting, left an indelible memory. South Wales does get waxwings in years where there is a major irruption, but these are relatively few and far between. This year might offer the chance given the numbers in the country at present, but when we decided to have a few days Up North I hit the internet in a bid to see if any were around. The excellent Lincs Bird Club forum came up trumps, and thanks to the wonders of the internet (Google, the forum, AA routefinder and multimap) I set off with reasonable confidence to find two trees near Lincoln town centre. Thrown slightly by a couple of one-way streets I still parked up quite quickly in the rough area. Cut up a path, over a bridge and there was a small group staring at a car park and three trees - 2 rowan/sorbus species (from memory S. cashmiriana - but might be wrong) and a larger sycamore/acer. Bingo (the tripods and binoculars were a giveaway)!
A few birds were already enjoying the berries, but not the hoped for waxwings. Still I needn't have worried - after about 15 minutes a small group of pale cinnamon birds wheeled twice around us and into the sycamore, a soft trill echoing down the terraced street. After a few minutes they swooped down on the berries, quickly gorging and then off again, round the back of the fruit and veg market to some ash trees. And that was the pattern for the morning - in and out, often staying only for 20 or 30 seconds. The many crossing branches made it difficult to pick clear angles, and shadows often detracted from an otherwise reasonable view, but in the end I got a few reasonable shots - admittedly often with branches cropped out. On a second visit with a few shots in the bag I might have relaxed and composed more, perhaps even not trying on some visits, but I knew the weather was due to change around mid-day so I snapped away. I'll learn! But it is easier to take time when you know you'll have other chances.

For the first time I think I might try and photoshop out some twigs, but for now I'll enjoy what I got. On some of the shots you can see the waxy red blobs on the secondary feathers which give them the name - just above the yellow stripe on the wing.

According to Birds Britannica they're called Bohemian waxwings, after an old German name for the bird. One in Carmarthenshire consumed up to 600-1000 berries in six hours (on a cotoneaster), and defecated every 4 minutes. Impressive. I mean not just the eating and crapping, but the fact that someone actually counted and timed it! "In a world blanketed by snow, waxwings can produce a display of droppings every bit as colourful as the berries on which they gorge".

As always the better quality pictures can be seen HERE
on the web albums
[Some time I'll also add a bit of video]

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