Sunday, 31 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 23 - they just keep coming

I never imagined I would ever get 120 Waxwings in my small front garden when that first bird turned up all those weeks ago. In fact I never expected to get that first bird although I had planted cotoneasters and rowans in the hope that I just might one day. I certainly didn't expect to spend so much time cutting apples in half and putting them out in trees not to mention the expense. When I wrote the first Waxwing lyrical post I didn't think there would be a part 2 let alone a part 23 but here we are.

I started to come down with a stinker of cold last night but I got up early anyway to see how many birds would turn up. I didn't have to wait long before the first group of about 20 arrived. A succession of small flocks joined the initial group and soon there were at least 122 birds in the trees along the road. They flushed a couple of times before dropping down to feed but when they did they really gorged themselves.

Waxwings gathering in the trees along the road from the garden this morning.
The birds disappeared for a while in the afternoon having eaten the bulk of the apples so I took the opportunity to put out some more and to tidy some of the apple debris in the garden. The majority of the birds reappeared later in the afternoon and continued feeding until around 6:30. I did do a bit of ringing again as at least half the birds in the flock were unringed. I caught  another 15 new Waxwings and only 5 retraps. I also saw the regular colour-ringed bird from Aberdeen and Estonian ringed bird.

It is interesting that there are so many new birds and yet a good number of long stayers. We have now caught 134 new birds and 3 controls. Some of the long stayers such as the colour ringed bird have been feeding in the garden for more than 6 weeks now but some of the birds we have ringed have clearly moved on. There is so much we don't know or understand and that is one of the reasons I enjoy ringing so much, another is to be able to get up close to stunning creatures like the Waxwing in the photograph below.

A stonking adult male Waxwing ringed this evening. They are just magical birds.
There has been a steady procession of people coming to see them over the past few weeks.
They have certainly generated a lot of interest and probably got a few more people into birding.
Ringing totals for 31/03/13 with retraps in brackets.
Waxwing 15 (5)
Great Tit 1
Siskin (2)
Blue Tit (1)
Totals 16 (8)+

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.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 21 - live well for less

I have been quite busy over the past few days and have been up before first light each day. I am now getting up at around 5am which is far too early for me and leaves me bog-eyed by early evening and generally too tired to post anything. The tiredness usually hits me when I come into the warm after putting out the apples in the evening. This can take between one and two hours and it usually gets to 7pm or later before I have finished this daily task as the birds can still be feeding up to around 5:30pm. I started to write a post last night but fell asleep part way through with the laptop on my knee.

Apple preparation. This represents around one quarter of the apples that I put out each evening although this seems set to increase after today.
The number of Waxwings varies day to day and through the day but they are spending more time in the garden and they also have longer to feed with the increasing day length. The peak count over the past few days was 84 on the 26th but between 40 and 60 is more typical. Apple consumption is now at least 8kg each day and was becoming increasingly expensive. I approached my local Sainsbury's with some pictures I had taken and they kindly agreed to donate any apples they withdraw from sale. This has helped my pocket although I am still buying a lot of apples as the Waxwings are eating more each day. I also received a donation from a local photographer that was greatly appreciated.

Live well for less Waxwing style.

First donation of apples from Sainsbury's received with thanks.
The wind finally eased enough to allow some mist netting and I tried to catch some Waxwings on Wednesday. John G joined me but our tactics weren't quite right and we only caught 4 new birds in the short session. I went to my baited site near Haigh afterwards where I was far more successful catching 33 new birds and 35 retraps despite the increasing breeze. Highlight was my first Lesser Redpoll coming to the nyjer seed feeders along with a few Siskin, Goldfinch and Brambling. I put a net up for the Waxwings again yesterday morning and managed to catch 10 (6 new & 4 retraps) before the wind got too strong.

Adult male Lesser Redpoll.
A fine male Brambling wearing through into breeding plumage.
I collected a sack of apples from Sainsbury's yesterday and put out well over 100 apple halves in the evening. This morning the Waxwings arrived earlier under a clear sky and I counted 84 before they descended into the garden to feed. I didn't watch them for long as I needed to go up to Haigh to top up the feeders. I decided to do a bit of guerrilla pruning en route and I stopped off at a location where the bushes were still covered in berries. I had just got out of the car when I heard a familiar trilling overhead and I looked up to see 6 Waxwings perched in a tree above the cotoneasters. I will leave these berries to the birds now that they have found them. They will probably strip the bushes clean in a day or so if a sizable flock comes to feed.

When I got up to Haigh I decided to put up a couple of nets for a while but it wasn't long before the sun rose enough to shine on the nets and make them easy for the birds to see. In between net rounds I noticed a fox dozing in the sun on an ivy covered mound. Unfortunately I didn't have my DSLR gear with me or my travel zoom but I still grabbed a few shots with my compact camera that only has a 2x magnification zoom. The image crops haven't turned out too bad all things considered. Hopefully it uses this spot regularly and I will get another opportunity.

I packed up by 10:30 having caught 13 new birds and 8 retraps. Just before I set off I got a call from home and was told that there were hardly any apples left in the trees. I dashed home via Sainsbury's but they didn't have many discards this time so I bought their remaining stock of their basic range apples, just over 10 kg of them. When I got home there were plenty of Waxwings but they were feeding on cotoneaster horizontalis which grows up the side of our neighbours house and our garden fence. Others were feeding on pieces of apple that had fallen to the ground and a some were squabbling over the few remaining apples in the trees. I quickly halved most of the apples I had just bought and restocked the trees.

I do take the labels off  and removed them after taking the photos.
30 to 40 Waxwings came back down to feed almost immediately and continued to do so on and off during the afternoon. However, another group has just arrived and there are now at least 70 or 80 in the garden as I write this post (16:25). The trees and bushes are alive with Waxwings and and a few birds are feeding on the ground. I estimate they will have eaten more than 10kg of apples by the end of today. It is likely that they are running out of other feeding options and the apples in the garden are becoming their mainstay. The birds all flew up into a tree across the road and I grabbed a quick photo. On close examination there were 90 give or take the odd 1 or 2.

circa 90 Waxwings in tree across from the garden at 16:50 today. The biggest flock to date.
Ringing totals for 27th - 29th March with retraps in brackets.
Waxwing 10 (4)
Fieldfare 1
Blackbird 3 (3)
Goldfinch 8 (5)
Chaffinch 6 (6)
Siskin 10 (6)
Lesser Redpoll 1
Brambling 3 (1)
Greenfinch 4 (7)
Bullfinch (1)
Coal Tit 3 (3)
Blue Tit 5 (10)
Great Tit 3 (1)
Long-tailed Tit (3)
Dunnock 2
Robin 1 (1)
Total 61 (50)

Despite the record number of Waxwings in the garden today one of the most interesting sightings over the past few days has been a juvenile Wood pigeon that I photographed yesterday. It has been reared through some very harsh conditions given the weather over the past few weeks and the egg must have been laid in late January or early February if not before.

Juvenile Woodpigeon. The nest this bird was reared in must have been constructed in January.
It has done very well to survive the weather of the past few weeks.
Woodpigeon and Waxwing, not something you expect to see together.
This Woodpigeon could be the parent to the juvenile above and probably took
advantage of garden feeding to be able to breed so early in such harsh weather conditions.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

More of the same

I wasn't going to post anything on the blog today but there was some brightness, especially in the afternoon, and it allowed me to get a few good photos. Up to 69 Waxwings visited the garden throughout the day and they really shifted the apples. They were helped by 3 Fieldfares, several Blackbirds and 2 Blackcaps much as yesterday. I have put some of the photos into a video rather than posting individual shots. I hope you enjoy them.

More apples were eaten today than on any previous day and I had to top them up in the afternoon. I have put out just short of 100 apple halves tonight but I don't think that is enough to last all day tomorrow if today's consumption is anything to go by. I have no apples left in stock and will need to go and do some serious apple shopping tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

More than just Waxwings

I fell asleep on the couch again last night as all the early starts are really catching up with me. I woke up at 05:30 when my son got up to go to work to find there was good covering of snow. At least six inches of snow had fallen over the previous 24 hours and it was still snowing. I had to push his car off the drive by which time I was well and truly awake so I decided to stay up and wait for the Waxwings to arrive.

Only 6 Waxwings arrived at the usual time but there was loads of other activity in the garden. An unringed female Blackcap caught my attention but a little while later the ringed female appeared. There was quite a bit of aggression between these two birds with each trying to chase the other off. They were far more relaxed in the company of other species and it was interesting to watch them feeding with a Robin, House Sparrows, Blackbird and Goldfinch. Watching a Blackcap feeding on the ground with House Sparrows just doesn't seem quite right.

The snow and apples brought quite a few thrushes to the garden and Redwing was the only one I didn't manage to photograph although I did hear one several times. Three Fieldfares tried to stake their claim to the apples and a particularly well marked individual eventually won the battle for the garden. The other two were relegated to apples I had put in the trees in the park across the road. Two Mistle Thrushes sneaked into the garden and were particularly furtive. It amazes me how shy and secretive they can be for such a big bird. The local Song Thrush also put in a appearance as did numerous Blackbirds.


The number of Waxwings did increase and 58 were present by mid-morning. The Estonian ringed bird was photographed again. One Waxwing tried to defend the apples in the main feeding tree and drove the others off for a while giving alarm calls as it did so. I didn't stay and watch all day as much as I was tempted to. I went and bought some bird seed and topped up the feeders at one of my baited sites negotiating 5 foot high snow drifts in the process.

When I got back the apples had clearly been battered so I put some more out. Around a dozen Waxwings reappeared and fed until late afternoon. Tonight I spent another finger numbing hour or so putting out apples in the trees ready for tomorrow. I will probably be up early again in the morning although a lie-in is really tempting.

Collared Dove feeling the cold.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 20 - it's snow joke this weather

The blizzards arrived overnight as forecast and have yet to stop. Last night I thought I was mad when I lost the feeling in my fingers putting out apples in sub zero temperatures made worse by a significant windchill. Tonight I confirmed that the Waxwing madness had really taken hold when I was up the ladder putting out apples in horizontal snow. There was no messing around though and 40 apples were put out in record time. At least I am off work tomorrow so I can top them up during the day if necessary.

Only 37 arrived first thing this morning but they were very flighty with all the branches whipping about in the very strong wind. Only 12 stayed to feed before I went to work but more came back later and at least 25 were present for most of the afternoon. I delayed going into work because of the snow and this allowed me to get a few photographs.

This is the Estonian ringed bird caught on 27th Feb but was seen a few
days before so has been around for about a month now.

On my way to work I noticed a group of about 20 Waxwings near a tree cotoneaster I had been keeping an eye on. I had been eyeing up these berries for some guerrilla pruning but the cotoneaster is not very big and is in the middle of a pub car park by a busy main road; a bit too public even for me. On my way home tonight it appeared to have been completely stripped of berries although it was a check at more than 30 mph in a blizzard.

Bird feeding hasn't been confined to the Waxwings. I have also topped up the feeders at one of my baited sites today and it was seriously cold in the wind. I don't know when the weather will calm down to allow any ringing but that is not always the point.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 19 - week 6

There are 70 Waxwings outside the window as I type this post and they are feeding on their current daily ration of around 80 apple halves. They don't look like they will be going anywhere soon especially as some snow and cold easterly winds are forecast for the next few days.

Yesterday was the start of the sixth week of Waxwings in the garden and a birdwatcher reported a count of over 80 which is the highest number yet. I had estimated more than 60 before going to work so wasn't surprised. A large proportion of the birds seen yesterday didn't appear to be ringed and I estimated that only 1 in 3 were ringed from the birds I checked. If numbers increase or stay at this level I may need to increase the food supply.

It was pay day yesterday and I bought 25 bags of apples from a supermarket on my way home from work. They are currently on offer at this particular store and are equivalent to wholesale prices. I got the usual strange looks at the checkout and another shopper couldn't resist asking why I was buying them. Then I got stunned silence when I explained. At least there is no Council tax to pay this month and that money can go towards funding the cost of more apples. The 25 bags (around 20kg) will only last about 3 days.

I grabbed a bit of video yesterday as still shots don't really show how busy the garden can get. It is not the best video in the world as it was a very dull grey morning. It was taken with a compact camera from an upstairs window but it gives a good impression nevertheless.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Recent Recoveries

Details of a couple of recoveries have been received. X927295 Goldfinch is our first to the Isle of Man but follows on from two Goldfinches from there. Interestingly it appears to have been wintering on the Isle of Man when it was recovered having been ringed at Haigh the previous spring. Click on the balloons for ringing and recovery dates.

View X927285 Goldfinch in a larger map

IA141745 Black-headed Gull was seen and photographed at Orrell Water Park 14 times between 27/10/12 to 26/01/13. Photographs of this bird have featured in previous posts. It was ringed as an adult in Germany near the border with Poland on 29th April 2012 and could have been at or close to its breeding area.

View IA141745 Black-headed Gull in a larger map

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 18 - WaxFinch weekend

A bit of a mixed bag all round this weekend both in terms of the weather and on the ringing front. I woke up to hear it raining on Saturday morning but got up anyway to see how many Waxwings would arrive. The rain had almost stopped just before the first Waxwings were due and I contemplated putting a net up but I decided not to. The first few Waxwings arrived and low and behold the rain stopped completely so I hastily put up the 18ft net. At least 56 gathered in the trees along the road before dropping into the garden as usual.

I caught 2 Siskins and 4 Waxwings quite quickly but then a few spots of rain put a damper on things and I furled the net. The rain lasted until mid-morning by which time there was a bit too much of a breeze so I took the net down. The garden was still full of Waxwings and even though I can happily watch them all day I decided to tear myself away after lunch. I went up to my baited site near Haigh to top up the feeders and to do a couple of hours ringing weather permitting.

One Waxwing was unusual in that it had some diffuse white markings across the
middle of the wing feathers and adjacent to the yellow tip on the tail (below)

It started raining shortly after I set off and the rain then turned to hail so I wasn't sure if I would get any ringing in at all. I needn't have worried though as it was an isolated shower and confirmed by the weather app and rainfall radar on my phone. I topped up the feeders and put up a 60ft net. The ringing was more productive than expected for an afternoon session and I caught 57 birds over the next 3 hours; finches featured with six species being caught.

The differences in the plumage the male Chaffinches displayed was quite striking.
The left hand bird is in full breeding plumage with blue crown and nape and
blue bill with darker cutting edges. This was a short winged bird and presumably
a local breeder. The right hand bird was longer winged and carrying a lot of fat
and presumed to be of continental origin. It had a horn coloured bill and the blue
crown and nape were concealed by brown tips. It doesn't need to get into full
breeding until it returns to its breeding grounds in the next few weeks.
Male Brambling

male Bullfinch
male and female Goldfinches.
male and female Siskin
On my way home I made a bit of a detour to do some more guerrilla pruning from a location the Waxwings have yet to find. It had started raining again and it looked like it had set in for a while. When I got home it was raining quite heavily but Waxwing duty called and I spent a good while putting out apples and cotoneaster berries. It took longer than usual as I wear glasses and the rain made it difficult for me to see what I was doing added to the fact that it was dark by this time. Darkness, rain, spectacles and sharp things like a knife, secateurs and scissors don't always mix and my hands now carry the marks.

This morning dawned dry and quite calm so I tried for the Waxwings again. John G joined me on his way to work and a good catch was on the cards. Unfortunately the Waxwings hadn't read the script and only 3 were caught before an unforecast breeze picked up and made the net stand out. We took the net down at this point rather than try and catch birds when the conditions weren't quite right.

It was still early so I decided to go back to Haigh for a couple of hours to see if I could catch a few more finches. It wasn't as productive as yesterday afternoon but I still managed to catch another 26 birds. On returning home at lunchtime there were no Waxwings around but there were very few apples left in the main feeding tree so they had clearly eaten well.

I got the ladder out and restocked the tree before feeding myself. Shortly after a few Waxwings reappeared, these were soon followed by a few more small flocks and soon there were 62. The birds fed in the garden for much of the rest of the afternoon and the light allowed me to get some more photographs. I hope you enjoy this small selection.


Combined ringing totals for the weekend were:
Siskin 9
Goldfinch 10 (10)
Chaffinch 8 (3)
Greenfinch 3 (6)
Brambling 2
Bullfinch 1
Dunnock 3 (2)
Robin 1 (1)
Blue Tit 12 (5)
Coal Tit 4 (3)
Great Tit 1 (1)
Blackbird - (1)
Waxwing 5 (2)
Total 59 (+34 retraps)

In addition the colour ringed Waxwing from Aberdeen and Estonian ringed bird were both seen and photographed.