Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Waxwing At Last!

All I wanted for Christmas...was a Waxwing...but I was disappointed! Several times, during December, I spent time locally, following up reports of sightings of small flocks of these much sought after and charismatic birds. The last time there was an irruption of Bohemian Waxwings in the UK in the Winter of 2010/11 many, if not most, of my blogland birding friends were lucky enough to see them but sadly I missed out completely so when it became clear, late last year, that this was to be another 'Waxwing Winter' I was determined to make a concerted effort to try and find them.

Bohemian Waxwing

'But, oh! my spirit burned within, 
My heart beat full and fast!
He came not nigh—he went away— 
And then my joy was past.'
(Acton Bell)

Irruptions of birds occur when the food source in their own area is scarce. Waxwings feed primarily on berries and fruit and the crop there this year was poor. Consequently large numbers arrived in the UK (probably not as many as 2010/11) hoping to take advantage of the bounty here. Unfortunately though our own berry crop has also been poor this time and many of the larger flocks (their preferred way to travel around) of Waxwings have broken up and formed much smaller groups, flying further away from the east coast and across the country in search of dwindling supplies of berries. They will take insects on the wing if available but as I said their preference is berries, Rowan, Hawthorn, Pyracantha etc. They will also eat apples and since late Autumn I have been spearing them onto the branches of trees in my garden in the hope of attracting some but with no luck so far.

My quest to find them before Christmas was not to be. I always managed to just miss them. Most of these sightings were only a matter of four or five minutes' drive away so when, a couple of days before the recent snow arrived, I read more reports of a very small group being sighted in the same area, the hunt was on again. I was scanning the sides of the road for any likely trees or hedges but there really were very few berries to be seen. As we passed one tree I did a double take when I spotted a bird high in the branches but decided it was probably a Starling particularly as I was really looking for a small group of birds rather than just one.

 'Powerful was the beauty of these birds.
It boomed like a struck bell in the silence deep and hot.'
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Carrying on searching around the area produced nothing at all and as it was getting late and the light was starting to fail I decided to call it a day. Going back the way we had come I again spotted, high in a different tree, a Starling sized bird...with an unmistakeable crest!! I had found my first ever Waxwing :-) which I think probably was the same bird I had seen earlier. It may only have been one but how thrilled I was! I took a silly amount of photos knowing it was a difficult subject with it being late in the day and as usual not really close enough for my 50-250mm lens. After that I just enjoyed watching it for a while through the binoculars.

Bohemian Waxwings are so called due to their presumed origins from Bohemia and habit of travelling in nomadic flocks. Waxwing refers to the wax like tips on the ends of the secondary feathers which resemble drops of sealing wax. Males which show more red wax are preferred by females. As I have mentioned they normally travel together, usually in flocks of around 50-300 but sometimes in excess of 3,000! When feeding in flocks they will eat in shifts, one group at a time, so that all get their fair share. They really are fascinating birds. When courting, male and female can be seen passing berries back and forth, often for quite prolonged periods. This behaviour has also been observed in social situations where a berry is passed back and forth along a whole row of Waxwings and very unusually they even practise their sharing ritual before fledging! There are no records of them breeding in the UK. Some birds have been observed in this country as late as early May. Their lifespan is around 5 years but there are records of them living until the age of 12.

'Trilling Bohemian waxwings.
Enhancing the winter fragrance of
a crab apple tree of frozen fruit.
Trilling in a most joyous song of
(Jim Smart)

The Latin name is Bombycilla Garrulus. Bombyx (silk) and cilla (tail) which refers to the bird's soft and silky plumage* and garrulus meaning noisy. Collective names for them are an 'earful' of Waxwings and a 'museum' of Waxwings. Old texts have described it as an 'un satiable' bird and a 'lazy and inert fellow whose only accomplishments are within the art of eating'! Given how far and wide they fly to search for food I don't agree with the view that it is 'lazy and inert'. However, it will eat its weight in food each day. Sometimes, when berries have fermented, this has unfortunate consequences causing them to fly in an unstable manner and making them vulnerable to predation and accident. The artist and naturalist John James Audubon would sometimes pick up drunken Waxwings from the ground to use in his illustrations.

 (John James Audubon's 'The Birds of America', 1827-1838.)

So, although I didn't get a Waxwing for Christmas I did get one for the new year. I would love to have seen more than one, to have been closer, for there not to have been twigs in the way and to have seen it earlier in the day when conditions were better but I did see one and that's what really matters :-)

Until the next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

* I am indebted to Marianne for the following extra information:

'The idea that 'cilla' means 'tail' comes from a misunderstanding of the scientific name of the wagtail genus, Motacilla. This means 'little mover' (the 'illa' part being a diminuitive), but was taken by some writers, undertandably enough, to mean 'moving tail'. As a result, 'cilla' has since been used to mean 'tail' in several scientific names, including Bombycilla, but really Bombycilla would mean 'little silky thing'.'

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Using Up the Leftovers!

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and that you will all have a wonderful 2013! As Christmas has only just gone I'm sure many of us have been using up the leftovers whether it be chocolates, snacks or pieces of cheese growing smellier by the day but in my case, as well as all of those it is also photos which never quite made it to the blog. Once these have been 'eaten' up the cupboard will be bare and I will be hoping for better things than I found on my latest walk which was just about nothing, even the usual Winter Thrushes were nowhere to be seen or heard and the ones I saw on previous walks were too flighty for photos. Hopefully, this year will be a better one in every way and I will be able to get out with the camera more often and let's hope all of us in the UK will have much better weather this year surely couldn't be any worse...could it? 

You will probably be relieved to know that the butterflies in this post are the last I will inflict on you until the Spring ;-) These lovely little Small Coppers were seen during my visit to Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve in August.

Small Copper Butterfly

 This butterfly,
Seems as if loth to stir,
so lazily
It flutters by.

(Alfred Billings Street)

The next three were also seen at Aston Rowant, it is a great place for butterflies and the only place I managed to photograph a Brimstone this year which shows what a bad year it was, unfortunately though it was in the wrong place so I haven't included the photo here.

Meadow Brown Butterfly

Ringlet Butterfly

Gatekeeper Butterfly

This one was seen more locally.

Green-veined White Butterfly

I had never seen a wild black rabbit before but spotted this large specimen at another Nature reserve in the late Summer.


A little rabbit, basking in the sun.
Dark night has ended, day has just begun.
The blackbird trills his morning song of love,
And green leaves cascade down from clouds above.
All nature's wide awake – and it seems funny to be a gentle, friendly little bunny!

((Sir) Patrick Moore...In Memoriam...1923-2012)

And this juvenile Coot was spotted looking comical as only Coots can at yet another Nature reserve.

Juvenile Coot

I included the next photo just to show that even the humblest fly can look pretty in the right setting.

Lucilia sp.

'This world surely is wide enough 
to hold both thee and me'
(Laurence Stern)

The next two butterflies were found locally, much later in the year.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The next is my favourite butterfly, I love its bold colours.

Red Admiral Butterfly

All of the following photos were also taken later in the year, this little Coal Tit was in my garden, they are regular visitors to the feeders.

Coal Tit

I saw this Blue Tit on a local walk during the Autumn. I thought it was interested in the blackberries but on closer inspection of the photo it seems to have found a dragonfly for its supper!

Blue Tit

This Green Woodpecker was quite a distance away. Most of my bird photos have to be heavily cropped as the 50-250mm lens really can't get close enough but is the only one light enough for me to hold comfortably for any length of time.

Green Woodpecker

I saw this Migrant Hawker on the same walk, the only one I saw last year.

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly

 I will finish as I started with this seasonal little Robin.


Well that's it for now, the cupboard is pretty well bare but hopefully, I will be able to get out with the camera in some decent light soon.

Until next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

EDIT: Apologies that for a reason I cannot fathom, when clicked on, only six photos show in Blogger Lightbox. I have tried to correct the problem with no success so far, Hopefully, my next post will be back to normal.