Thursday, 6 December 2012

Winter. Delivered and Sealed with Wax

These breathtakingly sharp mornings really make you realise you’re alive at this time of year and, as the weather seriously ‘deteriorates’ around New Year, some spectacular feathered visitors enter the garden where it adjoins a marshy field, the source of much of the water that passes along the brooks splitting it  into three as it happens
The regular frosts set The Lady Burton reminiscing on the vagrants accommodated in the few years we’ve lived here and while doing so The Dog also expressed the wish to go to Warwickshire Wildlife Trust HQ at Brandon Marsh east of Coventry to photograph the waxwings he said had been seen there regularly in preceding days
On searching the Birdguides website feature Bird News Extra it became apparent that this small winter visitor to Britain was enjoying another ‘explosion’ year to these isles, an event which usually occurs, it seems, when the berry crops in their native Scandinavia are poor. There were a number of records of small flocks of birds, perhaps not as many as two years ago, but a good number nevertheless, in Warwickshire but also Northamptonshire and Leicestershire both of which are close-by
Now, as with angling, if you are not a twitcher chasing rarities, or swims guaranteed to be full of fish, it is simply a case of being in the right place at the right time and those right places are suitable berry trees, usually rowans and the like, which the slightly larger wintering thrush  species have not got to first. And the most likely location for such tree species? Modern housing estates and supermarket car parks!

This little research also showed there to have been a small number very close to where I work (if you can call it work, emergency services, oil rigs, that’s work). Next morning a slight detour took me past ‘the tree’ and lo and behold there they still were, 12 of them dangling at all angles from branches like massive tits, so to speak, to get the very last berries from the groaning sapling within feet of the nine o’clock traffic...and the only day I hadn’t taken my camera with me for about two weeks...there’s organisation for you, I’ll be forgetting my bait next! My colleague managed a ‘Wow’ but inside I was bubbling over, I’d seen one in profile two years ago near Lutterworth but this was the first time a proper view had been obtained in all-but 50 years. The Old Duffer was immediately informed, or at least his ansafone was, but whether he made it out there before they departed is yet to be discovered

When we arrived at the office to spread said excitement Becca couldn’t resist the attraction and returned armed with some good photographs considering she was using a compact camera and, later that same day, they were gone - the tree completely stripped bare 

Waxwings are extremely colourful birds if you are fortunate enough to get the sun on them, we didn’t, with little yellow and red blobs of colour looking like parts of the wings have been dipped in bright sealing wax (for those under thirty - think brush bristles dipped in custard and letter-box paint) and their pronounced crests set them apart from other birds. They loiter in high trees near their feeding locations which then, most notably, seem to be attacked in the afternoon as they proceed to strip berries in gorging sprees between fleeing back to the vantage point and they will often stay in one location until there is no food left at all. Hardly optimal foraging strategy for these birds slightly smaller than a starling but a strategy nevertheless and if one has flown hundreds of miles across the North Sea to find food maybe it is too risky to leave any for the thrushes

That was the engaging event of the week and totally eclipsed this morning’s tour of canal bridges looking for an ice-free peg, needless to the say the warmth of the house was soon returned to and a normal working day resumed...well, ‘normal’ except that it involved a long discussion about the state of the earth, man’s destruction of it and the of principles Gaia; now don’t get me started on that again!

UPDATED 08 12 12 with some our own (that's The Dog and I) waxwing pics taken on Myton Road, Warwick during a semi-twitch, i.e. we had to go to Homebase so why not?!

Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth. James Lovelock, OPB, 1982 (& subsequent publications)
The Birds of Northern Europe, Birdguides App

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