Friday, 11 December 2015

Waxwings - Countdown to New Year Classes - 25 Days to Go!

There are only 25 days before the start of the January classes. There are some things I can be 100% sure we will see such as Goosanders, but other species are more speculative.  One of these is the Waxwing.  Last year I had no expectations that we would see these delightful birds because the Scandinavian berry crop seemed to have been particularly fruitful.  This year there don't seem to have so many berries and there were early reports of Waxwings in Shetland, Spurn, and more recently in Bridlington.
Waxwings in Cottingham
 Waxwings are striking birds, as these photographs indicate, but they can be easily ignored.  A good tip is to double-check every flock of flying Starlings, as they could be Waxwings instead.  However, if you see birds perched in trees they should be more easy to identify, especially if their crest is showing well against a bare sky. When the Waxwings aren't actually gorging on berries they will often fly to a nearby taller bare tree to presumably digest the berries - it is then when their outlines are easy to discern against the sky.  They also have a distinctive trill, so it's well worth listening out for that when you are putting your shopping in the boot of your car!
Waxwing - showing its crest - high in a tree

A closer view of a Waxwing reveals that they are pinkish brown birds with extraordinarily bright yellow waxy markings running along their wings. A few lucky individuals are also marked with scarlet sealing-wax-like markings. These are more mature male birds. I can state at the moment that we are far more likely to encounter Waxwings in early 2016 than at any time in the past 3 years. Although the venues have been planned a long time in advance, if we do have an invasion of Waxwings and a reliable location to see them, then we will drop the planned venue in a secluded spot in the country to a probable visit to an urban location covered in tarmac! 
Waxwing on Rowan berries
 Frozen in Flight - showing waxy tips
Waxwings need a good supply of soft berries when they first arrive, so we are likely to visit either an urban roadside plentifully planted with Rowan trees, or a supermarket car park surrounded by ornamental shrubs laden with berries.  Past examples include Marfleet Lane near the junction of Preston Road in Hull, and the ASDA car park near Hessle, but these two locations don't appear to have that many berries this year. There are other possible supermarkets in either Beverley, Hessle or Hull, which may be suitable this year. Waxwings feed on insects back in Finland during the summer, but unless it is very mild in the UK at source of food will be largely absent, so they switch to eating fruits (they will sometimes enter orchards to feed on mature apples).  When they first arrive they favour Rowan berries, but later in the spring when they are heading back towards Scandinavia, and after we have endured several frosty mornings then they will switch to cotoneaster berries. 
Waxwing on Rowan (c) 2015 Chris Cox
 Waxwing swallowing a Rowan berry (c) 2015 Chris Cox
If you are interested in being taken to see some charismatic Waxwings, there are still some vacancies on Friday afternoons and Wednesday afternoons with much less free space on some other classes. Please enquire about vacancies on other sessions. 


Bruce said...

great start to the series Michael - thanks

Mike Bingham said...

First class Michael as always - looking forward to the new year, Mike