Monday, 3 December 2012

Waxwings come to Swallow Farm

Monday 3rd December 2012
Since the cold weather arrived there have been even more thrushes on and around the farm. Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares come and go with such regularity that on such days it would be unusual not to be able to find any to observe. I must admit, I particularly like these winter thrushes as I can 'do' their flight calls - there's nothing at all clever about that, they're really very distinctive, even for someone with a useless audio memory like myself. This morning there had been a notable arrival of Blackbirds too, with a dozen along one small stretch of hedge.
But there is another winter visitor invading our part of the country at the moment, one with an even more distinctive trilling call, and one even more handsome than the Redwings which find the roadside hedge such a handy winter larder. 

For I have been hoping to encounter Waxwings, pink, masked, bibbed and crested berry raiders with their wing and tail feathers dipped in bright yellow paint, topped up with a dab or two of white and a final seal of red wax.
Often quite tame, any image search will quickly reveal stunning photos of parties of these birds sitting atop berry bushes or feeding agilely on bright red berries.

I actually had a flock of about 30 Waxwings zoom over my head last year, but the light was poor and the sighting all too brief, mostly of their rear ends. In the end I doubted myself and did not add them to the farm list - probably way too cautious.

So imagine my frustration when, at 1:30 this afternoon while I was checking on the chickens, I heard the clear trilling of a Waxwing overhead, but searched the sky in vain. Just a Redwing and another, now distant, bird which frustratingly continued over Don's garden and away. Was this enough to finally add Waxwing to the farm list? For sure I wanted to. But something would always nag. A bird like a Waxwing you really want to see perched in all its glory.
There was the slimmest of chances that the guinea fowl had been hearing Waxwings and learned to mimic them - it would not be the first time that one of them has thrown its voice in near perfect imitation.

So, I paid more visits than usual to the chickens for the rest of the afternoon, each time being sure to take my binoculars. And at just after 3 o'clock I happened to notice a large gathering of thrushes in a distant bush over by Shell Bridge, about 300 metres away. I raised my binoculars but didn't have enough power to be sure of anything. Most of them were clearly Fieldfares, revealed by their distinctive underwing pattern as they flew in and out. But what about that one at the top left of the bush. Maybe a Redwing, but perhaps a bit too slim, a little too upright. Should I run back to the house to fetch the telescope? I knew what would happen if I did that. It always does.

The picture I took through my binoculars.
A pretty good representation of the view I was getting.
The birds on the top left of the bush (not the taller tree on the left) got my attention.
No. Instead I decided to ambitiously point my camera through one lens of the binoculars and snap away. If I was really lucky, the image would just be sharp enough to enlarge on the computer, should everything fly off over the fields.

Then I headed over Don's wet field towards my quarry. As I did so, a Sparrowhawk headed the same way over my head, but fortunately it veered left and did not spook the thrushes.
I stopped short of the reedy dyke and again raised my bins. And this time, for sure, I could make out the crests on several birds and maybe a hint of a dark mask on some too. Cars, vans and lorries were thundering past but they stayed put, so I decided to take a closer approach.
I could now hear the Waxwings quietly trilling and could just make out the bright splashes of colour in their plumage. But the light was poor still.

I approached closer, until I was almost at the base of the bush where at least 15 Waxwings sat upright. I crossed the fence into the Ancient Settlement field, to put the setting sun behind me, and I could now see these wonderful birds in all their colourful detail. I even managed to take a few snaps, just with the point and shoot. Not great, but you can tell what they are.

At this point, the aforementioned Sparrowhawk put in another appearance and Waxwings, Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares scattered, the Waxwings trilling away as they headed over the river and into the neighbours garden.

A final in-flight count gave me sixteen.

And farm tick 104. For definite this time.

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