As many will know there has been a mass invasion of waxwings in to the UK this winter. Not only did the birds arrive much earlier than usual but they arrived in large numbers right down the length of the east coast. These irruptions are usually the result of failure of the berry crop in Scandinavia. The birds have slowly been eating their way south westwards and given the numbers that have appeared, I have been waiting for some to turn up locally.
I decided the other day it was time to head out to find a flock. Waxwings are not only a very beautiful and 'exotic' looking bird but usually great fun to photograph. My previous experience of Waxwings has been in city centres where they have taken up temporary residence in a tall tree next to berry-laden rowan and the flock has repeatedly descended together to quickly feed before returning to their high perches. So it has always been a fairly easy matter of waiting next to the tree for these unusually tame birds to descend.
However, the flocks this year have been surprisingly mobile and hard work. My theory is that this is a result of the bounty of berries available and the birds are flying around to pick off the cream of the crop. This has made them from my experiences more challenging as they seem to take up temporary residence in a large area rather than around a particular tree.
A bird with a tough decision of which berry to go for next.
The first flock I located around the back of a building on an industrial estate after hearing their distinctive rapid trilling call. Unfortunately they were busy feeding on a hedgerow of hawthorn which from a photographic point of view is less favourable for good backgrounds than the rowan due to the densely packed branches.
Another Hawthorn berry bites the dust.
The birds need to drink large quantities of water to wash down their berry diet and frequently flew up to the gutter on an adjacent building, due to the limited water supply with the frozen conditions.
The second flock I encountered were feeding on a couple of small rowan trees next to a busy roundabout but were only coming in every 30 minutes or so to feed for about a minute before flying way off in to the distance. It looked like they were made more nervous by the proximity of the traffic and a passing lorry was the usual cause of them departing.
I am sure these will not be my last encounter with these birds before the winter has passed and I suspect these out of town birds might become less mobile and easier to photograph as the availability of berries diminishes.