Dear Readers, I have been watching the influx of Bohemian Waxwings this year with some interest, and not a little excitement. These handsome birds ‘irrupt’ out of Scandinavia during years when the berry supply that they rely on in Scandinavia starts to run out, and they head south and west. It looks like quite a promising winter, with birds arriving in some numbers on the east coast of Scotland, and with some turning up now in East Anglia. There is also one record from Richmond Park.
I have been lucky enough to see waxwings actually in my very own street here in East Finchley, munching berries from the whitebeam tree just up the road from the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the corner. I first spotted them on an icy day in 2010, and then they were back in 2017 in the very same tree. They tend to stay around until they’ve eaten practically all the berries, and as they defecate every four minutes this can make for a very ‘interesting’ abstract pattern under the tree. However, while they’re feeding they seem absolutely fearless: they were unconcerned about me and my camera, and the various other people that I grabbed and forced to watch as the birds flew about. There is a rumour that waxwings can get ‘drunk’ on the fermenting berries, which may account for their devil-may-care attitude. Anyhow, I shall be keeping a very close eye on this tree, just in case.
You don’t have to be out in the wilds (or indeed the suburbs) to spot waxwings either: in 2005 160 waxwings were recorded in the trees outside Warren Street Station in Central London, and the largest London flock ever recorded was at Lakeside Shopping Centre, with 367 seen in 2011. The species is sometimes known as ‘the carpark bird’ because if there’s a cotoneaster hedge, or some pyracantha, or a few rowan or whitebeam trees the birds will often hang about, sometimes for as long as a week. So another place that I’m keeping a close eye on is the carpark at the Sunshine Garden Centre, which has some splendid Pyracantha bushes.
Incidentally, even if the waxwings don’t show up, these are great sites for the various little thrushes that arrive in the UK at this time of year, especially Redwings. My first sight of a Redwing is always an indication to me that winter has finally arrived.