Everyone’s talking about waxwings

Hello birdwatchers

The word of the month in the birding world has to be waxwings. They’re everywhere but if you haven’t seen any yet then this is because they are very nomadic and faithful to their favourite places -places that are filled with berries.

In Leeds, one such nomadic flock travels between Woodhouse Square, Hanover Square, Woodhouse Moor, Headingley, Burley and Armley. Small foraging flocks will occasionally go in search of new sources of food so, if you have berries in your garden, keep your eyes peeled for signs of this beautiful bird. Their call is similar to the high trill of the old trim phones (if you are old enough to remember them) and they look very similar to starlings in flight. Once you get your binoculars on them though, they couldn’t look less like starlings. The waxwing is a very exotic looking bird with pinkish brown plumage, a long crest, black mask and a yellow stripe on the end of its tail. Its name comes from the red tips on its wing feathers that look as though they are made of wax. For some fantastic detailed photos of waxwing plumage visit the Fair Isle Bird Observatory blog here

waxwing in Leeds (photo by Rod German)

This is really one great reason to take your binoculars everywhere with you as you’re likely to bump into them when you are doing your shopping! As many supermarkets plant berry laden shrubs in and around their car parks, this is one of the places that waxwings are regularly seen – even in the middle of the busiest city! Don’t be caught out – you’ll be kicking yourself if you are unprepared and may not get another chance to see them next year.

Large flocks of waxwings entering Britain in the Autumn can be due to environmental reasons (bad weather or poor berry crop) or because the waxwing population has increased and there is not enough food to support them all. Early indications show that food is generally scarce this year on the continent. Many birds, such as thrushes, woodpigeons, bramblings, redpoll and siskin, have travelled here early this year. That’s a lot of birds competing for food. This means that, as food gradually diminishes from preferred sites in the UK, birds will need to “graze” their way around the country. Hence the chance for you to get an unexpected visitor in your garden.

Our mild autumn is providing enough natural food to support large flocks of birds at the moment, even waxwings are feeding on insects while they are available, but as soon as the temperature drops then berries will be in demand.  If you don’t have any berries, or if your berry source runs out, you may be able to attract waxwings by skewering apples onto tree branches or sticks in the garden. It may be best to wait until the weather gets cold and food is scarce before doing this thought to get the best results.

This weekend, Start Birding will be travelling to Teesside to the RSPB Saltholme reserve. The link will take you to the latest sightings on the reserve. As well as having their own flock of waxwings, large flocks of wildfowl and waders are now gathering on the reserve. You’ll also be able to see the recent installation, Temenos, by the artist Anish Kapoor, from the reserve. Anish Kapoor is the creator of the Olympic centrepiece Orbit.  If you’d like to join me then please call me on 07778 768719 for details.

So what has Start Birding been doing this week. Well, our Rodley classes have been learning about bird adaptations and have been looking at beaks, skulls, legs, feet and bird pellets.

The intricate adaptation of a guillemot beak (bird found dead on the east coast)

Last weekend we had a fantastic time at both our venues. On Saturday, a fantastic starling murmuration and flypasts by peregrine and barn owl, ended our walk about YWT Staveley Carrs. Flocks of greylag geese gathered noisily on the reserve and we also saw fieldfare, redwing, snipe, shoveler, teal, lapwing, little grebe and reed bunting.

View across the lagoon of the new hide at Staveley

Evening light over the reedbed at Staveley

A starling murmuration over Staveley
Resting barn owl (photo by Richard Weil)

 Our Sunday Stroll took us to Bramley Falls Wood for a wonderful autumn walk around this popular Leeds wood. Common woodland bird calls were the focus of this trip and we were able to track nuthatch, treecreeper and great-spotted woodpecker through the woods by listening to their calls. Redwing and fieldfare flocks were found foraging along the canal edge and a singing dipper was found on the River Aire. A solitary grey wagtail fed on the canal overflow.

A canal overflow offers the perfect feeding place for grey wagtail

Autumn colours in Bramley Falls Wood

If you are interested in learning more about Start Birding walks and classes then visit my website on www.startbirding.co.uk or call me on 07778 768719

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