Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 30 - highs and lows.

I have got a bit behind with posting on the blog as the birds are feeding so late now it can be gone 10pm before I have finished putting out the next day's apples. My day is largely defined by Waxwings with work squeezed in between. A typical working day is as follows - up at dawn to count the birds as they arrive and to check for colour-ringed birds when they start feeding; get ready for work; take my youngest son to college; go to Sainsbury's to buy two cases of basic range apples (around 24kg and usually their entire daily stock); go to work; come home and put out a few more apples as they have usually eaten them all by the time I get home; have my tea (I am a northerner and have dinner at midday); cut up and pierce around 22kg of apples; put out 22kg of apples, sort through any apple pieces on the lawn and remove anything heavily soiled or starting to rot; fall asleep with laptop on knee.

Sunday started of with a new high count of 185 as mentioned in my previous post and they clearly had an appetite to match. I had to go to work so I couldn't keep an eye on things but I rang home in the afternoon to see if they had eaten all the apples. I was told there were very few left so I had to persuade my son to put out some more to keep them going until I got home.

When I got home at around 5:00pm there were no Waxwings around so I set about putting more apples out. First job is cutting them into halves and piercing them with a screw driver to make it easier to impale them on branch ends. This task alone takes quite a bit of time and the photo below shows around 18kg of prepared apples.

This is a big box and these are big apples. Small apples are more work.
I started putting apples in my neighbours tree at the back of the house but the Waxwings returned before I had finished. They actually started landing in the top of the tree while I was still up the ladder so I beat a hasty retreat. The birds descended onto the apples almost immediately for a last mad feed before going to roost. Another part of the flock started to feed on the extra apples my son had put out in the front garden.

There are a lot of Waxwings in this one tree other than the birds in silhouette on the right.
Their grey plumage really camouflages them against of the bark of the tree.
Here is a closer look. These sun was behind these birds so I couldn't get a good photo.
The front garden was just as busy and it is clear the birds can now eat more apples that I can realistically supply. I have decided to limit the apples to 24kg each day with 21 kg being put out each night and another 3 kg when I get home from work.

Feeding frenzy in the front garden 14/04/13
The birds were feeding so intently you could here their bills snapping at times as they snipped off pieces of apple. I took a bit of video but the quality is quite poor so it is best if you don't view it full screen. The birds flush at the end of the clip and you can see just how fast they go and this has more relevance later in this post.

On Monday I was up early as usual but some birds started feeding before the main flock arrived so I couldn't get the usual count as they gathered. Other birds arrived and joined the birds that were already feeding and the numbers quickly increased. After they had been feeding for a while they all flew up into the trees across the road and I had counted to 200 when they all suddenly flushed. I estimate I would have reached around 210 or 220 had I been able to finish counting them. Another new record high count.

I followed my usual routine and eventually went to work. At around 1pm I got a call from home telling me that 5 Waxwings had been found dead below my neighbours windows and another had been picked up injured. Waxwings are notorious for flying into windows as they fly up and flush at great speed; you can read more about this by clicking here.

We had been fortunate up to this point as there had only been two casualties over the past 8 weeks so why the sudden change. When I thought about it I realised the the answer was as simple as the change in wind direction and the angle of the sun. The birds usually fly into the wind when they flush and the wind has been easterly up until the last couple of days. The houses face east so the birds always flew away from the houses when they flushed out of the garden. The change to a south westerly means the birds now fly towards my neighbours house when taking off into the wind. The angle of the sun has also changed as the season has progressed and this will have affected the reflection that can be seen in the windows on sunny days. The birds think they are heading for the trees but are heading into a perfect reflection of them.

This mortality is a bit of a tragedy and the low point for me on what has otherwise been a great experience. I will have a chat with my neighbour to see what we can do about reducing the reflection in his windows while the birds are still here, failing that I will stop putting apples in the tree in my garden that is nearest to them. I have made a start tonight and put the majority of the apples in the trees across the road and well away from any windows.

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