Saturday, 30 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 22 - it's all in the preparation

I spent more than two hours putting the food out last night in preparation for a ringing session this morning. I used up my remaining stock of cotoneaster berries in addition to the usual apples. Tying the sprigs of berries onto branches takes a long time especially in the dark and in sub zero temperatures. I worked on the assumption that around 90 birds would turn up and put half the food high in the trees and the remainder lower down at mist-net height. The aim being to catch a sample of the birds without the majority noticing.

I was joined by John G at 05:15 this morning and we put up two 18ft nets. The first Waxwings arrived at 06:40 but we weren't able to get an accurate count as some birds started feeding while others were still arriving. One thing we did know is there were a lot. There seems to be a new urgency to their feeding as they now spend far less time sat in the top of the trees preening before dropping down to feed. This is probably driven by the need to put on fat to be ready for the long return migration to their breeding grounds.

There were so many birds a few fed on fallen pieces of apple on the ground.
A few birds were soon caught and we were able to extract them with the remainder of the flock still sat in the trees or feeding on the higher apples above us. The first round of the nets produced 13 new birds and 3 retraps. After this the sun started to shine on the nets and the catching rate dropped off so we took one net down and furled the other. Later in the morning a bit of cloud cover allowed me to open the furled net briefly and I managed to catch a few more. Some of the birds caught were heavier than of late and were starting to develop fat deposits. This confirmed my suspicions about the noticeable change in their feeding behaviour over the past couple of days.

Three of the Waxwings ringed this morning.
The birds did all sit at the top of the trees from time to time and a count from a photograph showed there to be at least 120, a new peak count. By lunchtime more than half of the apples had been eaten so I topped them up with another 50 or 60 apple halves.  With consumption increasing and apples stocks running low I went to Sainsbury's to see if they had any discards. Unfortunately they didn't so I bought another 16kg of apples to add to the 12 kg that John had brought me. Hopefully this will last a couple of days.

Just part of the flock this morning.
It doesn't look like it but there are about 100 birds in this photo.
Another 20 or so were sat in an adjacent tree.

The nutter who buys loads of apples.

Apples for Waxwings and red wine for me.
I haven't eaten an apple in months but I was tempted by a homemade apple pie and custard tonight. To be honest this is probably the only way I will want to eat apple for a long time after this.

The only way I will eat apples for a while.
Ringing totals for 30/03/13 with retraps in brackets.
Waxwing 19 (9)
Siskin 1 (1)
Dunnock (1)
Blue Tit (1)
Total 20 (12)

Waxwing watching is better than any TV.

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