Monday, 9 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 41 - returning bird confirmed !!!

There were no sightings of the Waxwing yesterday and none this first thing this morning but when I came home from Preston this afternoon she was sat feeding on an apple only a few feet from one of the upstairs windows. I ran inside and grabbed the camera, which I had left by the window, and started rattling off some shots. The bird was too close to the window to risk opening it and she clearly knew I was there even though the blinds were left two thirds closed. There was no ring on the left leg and her right leg was obscured and if she was a returning bird that is the leg she would most likely have a ring on. Happily I didn't have to wait long before I got a glimpse of the right leg and I could see she was ringed. I already suspected she was returning bird from 2013 but now I had to prove it by getting the ring number with photographs or by catching her.

Waxwings have fairly short legs and they can be difficult to see and especially when you really want to see them.

Go on show us your right leg.

Eventually she turned round and I could see a ring on the right leg.
Every timed she moved in the process of feeding and showed her ringed leg I hit the shutter button and took a burst of shots. The light levels were very poor and I was only getting fairy low slow shutter speeds of around 200th of a second much of the time which is a bit slow for hand holding a big lens and getting reasonably sharp shots of a moving subject. However I reviewed some of the photos on the back of the camera and could see I was able to read part of the ring number on some of them. Now I had to hope the ring would move around on her leg as she moved so I could read the full sequence of two letters and five numbers.

After taking around 180 photos in about 30 minutes I had the full combination of BV05864 and recognised it as being a sequence I had used. I looked up the details and found it was a bird I had ringed in the garden on 23/02/13 as a first winter female. I had also retrapped her on 28/03/13 so she was a bird that had stayed for a while and probably much longer than that as some birds stayed into May 2013.

Just a few of the photographs used to confirm the ring number.
If you have read my previous post (link here) you already know I thought it was more than just a bit of a coincidence that this bird found the apple halves in the garden (especially as there were only 3 for it to find). It made sense to me that a returning bird would go to areas it had frequented previously especially if there had been a very reliable food source and more than a ton of apples over 3 months must count as that. Returning to such areas also increases the chance of a bird finding others of its kind if such behaviour is an inherent trait.

I think Waxwings probably develop 'the knowledge' of finding their way around a bit like London cab drivers but on more of a continental scale and learning to find food sources rather than addresses. Their irruptive wanderings are probably less random than they often appear to be and the regularity of there occurrence in places like Aberdeen possibly goes some way in showing that. The return of this bird almost has similarities to a matriarch Elephant falling back on previous experience and leading the heard to a distant but reliable watering hole in a drought year.

That analogy to an Elephant may not be stretching things as much as you may think. The main differences, apart from size. feathers, wings, ears etc. etc., is Waxwings obviously have much shorter life spans and they may not be forced to undertake a long distance irruptive movement more than once in their lifetime so the opportunity to display such behaviour (knowledge) may not occur very often. Big Waxwing irruptions can be around 10 years apart and the average lifespan of a Waxwing is probably much less than that. Another complication is that movements may involve birds from different parts of their breeding range in different irruption years. Also the berry crop here can vary in irruption years too and even good berry crops may only last a few weeks. Basically the variables for a Waxwing are far greater than for the Elephant in a drought situation but the ability to learn and remember to enhance survival are fundamentally the same. You also have to add to that the fact that Waxwings aren't that well studied and relatively few are ringed and perhaps more importantly attracting them with supplies of apples over a long period is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Bottom line I think this is a fantastic occurrence and especially in a winter when there are so few in the country. It is clearly not here by chance and although there are risks with drawing any conclusions from single examples I am more than willing to stick my neck out with this one.

On the look out for danger above. Single birds have to spend more time looking out for predators compared to birds in a flock.


No comments:

Post a Comment