Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Week of Waxwings

The last few weeks has seen an invasion along the east coast of Britain by my favourite bird, the Waxwing.
A mass of some 300 birds gathered in Whickham across the valley. They'd been there well over a week by last Friday but for one reason or another I hadn't been able to get across to see the glorious sight for myself.
On Friday (11th) I had a few hours put aside, but in the morning saw a tweet (on Twitter) about a group of 30 or so waxies at Victoria Garesfield, nearer and in walking distance, so opted to try and find those rather than take two buses to Whickham and two back.
A pleasant 35 minute walk and I was at St. Patrick's Cemetery, an area bursting with berries, bursting with Redwings, but despite a thorough search of over an hour; no Waxwings. Defeated, I made my way home, thinking what a great area it was despite my failure, with action from kites, buzzards and sparrowhawks, and a host of smaller birds.
But as I walked back down the bank along the main road through Highfield, I heard a familiar jingling sound in the air as a small flock of maybe 12 Waxwings glided over my head from behind, low and slow for unmistakeable views.
Gettin! I thought, as they circled me twice then split; most of them headed off over the houses but three alighted in the top of a tall tree by the road. I watched them for a short while then risked getting the camera out (hate doing that in populated areas, feel a bit pervy) and managed just two shots of one bird before they were off, and that was the last I saw of them.

First Waxwing of the autumn for me, high up in Highfield.
Happy I'd seen some some at last though, I seemed to be the only one  in the northeast who hadn't :-O

Buoyed by that success, on Saturday (12th) I had a good look around the popular hotspots of Blaydon, and Winlaton, and my own village, but drew a complete blank, though noted there's a veritable feast of a berry buffet laid on ready for the next wave of waxies to arrive.

On Sunday and Monday I checked the tree opposite the Derwent View Clerb again in the village; like everywhere else, it's bursting with berries ripe for the taking, just a matter of time.

On Tuesday I had the chance to go to Whickham as my better half was picking up Sprog1 from school. I knew the waxy site was all but depleted now but checked with Rob who informed me there were still some in the area so off I went.
Passing the Clerb tree on the way I saw what looked like a waxwing in the upper branches, but too brief a view to be sure, but Whickham turned up trumps anyway. As I feared, the old site was now bare, but with so many berries still around along the back roads there had to be some somewhere, and sure enough I came across a group of 54 waxies in a 'resting tree' and filled my boots with photos in the few minutes I had with them :

First sight at Whickham

They always seem to rest between feeds atop the highest tree in the area

Nice individual, showing the handsome plumage 

always partially obscured but could focus through the branches

Out on a limb

You just can't not love these birds

Sprog1 and his mate wanted to see them too so I took them round to where they'd been, but were there no more, obviously flown to the new feeding site wherever that was, so Sprog1 suffered his first dip (there'll be plenty more son, don't worry).
We drove back a different way so I couldn't check the Clerb tree again, and then was out all day yesterday, so this morning I took to the shops with the intent of checking it out, and from the main road I could see waxwings in the tall tree next to the rowan way before I got anywhere near the Club.
Typically I hadn't taken my camera (even though I had toyed with the idea) so did my shopping as fast I could, headed home, put the sighting on Twitter, then headed back down with my camera.

Ron (NotManyWords) had seen my tweet and turned up not long after me, the waxwings were nervy, they'd obviously been there a couple of days (just my luck) as the top tiers of berries had gone, only those on the lower branches remained. And being right next to the road it meant they were constantly disturbed by passers by, passing cars and other birds, so resorted to staying in the tall trees for long periods, then making a quick smash and grab raid. The constant movement combined with the very dull conditions, and the camera shake of my bridge camera on full zoom meant my photos turned out quite appalling to be honest. Here's a selection anyway :

First view - I could see their presence from a good distance

They weren't coming down so I stood under the tree and fired up 

eventually they took flight and circled the area a few times 

Then it was back to the tree for more preening
A quick smash and grab to the low branches of the rowan - a feeding frenzy

One of the few I got in relative good focus - and photo-bombed by a redwing  

interesting poses showing a (edit) diagnostic feature of immature (top)and mature (bottom) individuals.
Note the broad yellow tips to the dark wing primaries on the mature bird, indistinctive in the immature.
 Size of the crest is probably best feature to distinguish sexes in the field, the males being much larger. 

The guy on the left looks in need of a haircut
"See ya later, punk."

Building up the nerve to have another raid on the berries

And how I left them, top of the trees again
Ron however got some crackers, so keep an eye out on his blog (linked right), and it was good to catch up with him again, great photographer, smashing bloke. It was also great just to watch the waxies for a while, their busy feeding, occasional flycatching, sentry-like stance at rest, and that wonderful jingling sound they emit.
Beautiful birds, crested, masked like super-heroes, spot-coloured, there's nothing quite like them, like I said at the start, my favourites, one of the few birds I actually twitch. I look forward to their coming each autumn with eager anticipation, sometimes it doesn't work out, but years like this are a blessing, and finding them on your own patch? it doesn't get much better.  :-)

Update : Friday 18th - Checked the tree this morning opposite the Club, stripped completely of berries, no Waxwings in the area. :-(


  1. Replies
    1. Cheers Richard, things turned out well for a change :-)

  2. Nice to catch up again Alan it was good crack and the birds weren't bad either.