It has been a little frustrating so far this winter for us birders all the way down south here in Sussex, for we have been hearing of the great flocks of hundreds of Waxwings up north in Scotland and Northern England, yet none made their way down to us – until now.
Waxwings are truly remarkable birds, they are one of the few species that get every single birder in the country excited, despite them not being mega rarities – they are just so beautiful! They are also rather unpredictable; their occurrence in Britain during the winter can depend on a number of factors including the weather, food availability and breeding season success – some years barely more than a handful are reported, then in other so called ‘waxwing winters’ they can swarm the UK in their thousands.
They are particularly attracted to bushes laden with red berries, for example Cotoneaster, Rowan or wild rose. Every Thursday I cycle across town to the local country park where I volunteer, on the route I pass a large Cotoneaster bush by the side of a major road which I have kept a close eye on this winter whenever I go past. Up until this week this bush has only had the usual Blackbirds and Redwings feasting on it, then on Thursday I rode past it and stopped to listen to the Redwings which were actually uttering some song phrases. It was then I noticed an unmistakable silhouette perched on a nearby tree – a lone Waxwing!
I spent a good 15 minutes watching this single bird, it hopped down to feed on the berries a couple of times and at one point was perched on a branch no more than a meter above my head! I had neither my binoculars or camera on me but I managed a very poor shot with the awful camera on my phone – just to prove I’d seen it to my friends.
Then today I got back from work to see on Facebook that a flock of no less than 32 Waxwings were currently feeding on berries on an industrial estate in nearby East Grinstead – a whole flock! I managed to get my long-suffering mum to give me a lift over there, even though it was getting a bit late. At first we couldn’t find any on the berry bushes nor in the nearby trees, but we tried another spot and saw a few fellow birders hanging about. It transpired they had just been seen very close in a nearby birch tree but had flown off (typical), however we managed to spot the whole flock again perched on the crown of a distant Oak tree – not great views in the failing light admittedly (and they didn’t hang around) but great to see a large group at long last in Sussex!