Saturday, 2 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 10 - the big grin

The weather forecast was looking good for ringing again this weekend so another ringing session in the garden was on the cards. John G was planning to join me this morning along with Duncan Bell, a group member who now lives in Fareham, Hampshire. Duncan drove up last night, a journey of 250 miles and of around 4 hours drive time. He had not seen any Waxwings for a couple of years and hadn't seen one in the hand in the 30 odd years he has been ringing so thought is was worth the 500 mile round trip to get the chance of closer look.

We put a net up at 06:30 and then retired to the house and waited for the birds to arrive. I had restocked the trees with apples last night so there were more than 60 apple halves carefully presented. The first group of Waxwings arrived quite early and perched in the trees along the road. More birds arrived and the flock soon built up to 57, the second highest count since they have been feeding in the garden. The birds followed their usual pattern and moved along the tree line before dropping down into the garden.

What would Alan Titchmarsh say?  I don't think my garden will win any awards
 for design but who cares when you can watch Waxwings every day.
The look on Duncan's face was a picture as he sat by the window and watched all 57 Waxwings descend into the garden and start to feast the apples, some were only 15 feet away. They had been feeding for about 10 minutes before the first bird flew into the net but it was soon followed by a second and then a third. The grin on his face increased when another 4 quickly joined them. The feeding birds went up into the trees across the road so we went out and extracted the birds that had just been caught without having to disturb any feeding birds.

We had only just walked to the back of the house when the flock descended into the garden again and settled down to feed. Duncan soon got to grips with characteristics for ageing and sexing Waxwings. White / yellow edges to tips of the primaries, extent of yellow on tip of tail feathers, number and length of the red waxy tips on secondaries / tertials and border definition of throat patch. The grin on his face says it all.

The big grin. Duncan about to ring his first Waxwing.

Total concenration when checking the age and sex.
Another Waxwing another grin. These are marvelous birds and they could have
  travelled well over 3,000km to be here. This is not part of any regular migration.
 This is an irruptive species and I have never had them in my garden before and
 it may never happen again during my lifetime. That is why I don't mind
 trashing the garden and spending more than £5 on apples each day. 
We only had the net open for a short time and closed it at 07:40 after two catches. We paused for breakfast and opened it again briefly at 09:00 to 09:20. By this time we had caught and ringed 21 new Waxwings and 7 new Siskins. That brought the total number of Waxwings caught since 23rd Feb to 46 new birds and 2 controls. Duncan's total for the journey works out at roughly at 1 Waxwing ringed per 24 miles driven for the round trip but he would have happily driven all 500 miles for just one. That just goes to show how enigmatic, scarce and unpredictable these birds are in the UK.

Adult male Waxwing. White/yellow angles to primary tips including
 longest primary, long red waxy tips to  secondaries, extensive yellow
 band to tip of tail , well demarcated black bib.  The tail feathers also
 had red shafts to the yellow tips. 
Both the Estonian and Scottish ringed birds were seen in the garden this morning adding to the data about those individuals. A Sparrowhawk flushed things big style mid morning but around 30 Waxwings returned in the afternoon and fed on and off until about 5pm. Another 5 kg of apples have been put out again tonight in readiness for a similar number of birds tomorrow. Judging by the number of unringed birds seen this afternoon the total number of birds coming to the garden could well exceed the maximum flock of 62 recorded to date but only time will tell.

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