Birdwatching 26/12/10

December 26, 2010

The Christmas break provided more birdwatching opporrunities than I’d expected. On Christmas Eve morning, my first glance out of the back window of my mum’s house revealed three birds up in the trees beyond her wall and a quick scout with the bins was rewarded by another tribe of those unforgettable, unmistakeable Waxwings (Bohemian Waxwings, to give them their full name). And they do look rather bohemian with their rouged faces, dashing flashes of white, red and yellow on the wings and of course, that jaunty crest. I’ve been happily changing the desktop backgrounds on all computers I come across to Waxwing images for the past couple of weeks.

The flock, when they all turned up, numbered around 35. Going outside for a closer look, I heard the birds’ distinctive, light trilling and saw four perched on a neighbouring house’s TV aerial. An even closer encounter followed when they moved to the roof of my mum’s house, before two of the birds hopped onto the roof to eat snow from the tiles.  I was starting to feel like the Pied Piper of Waxwings by this time.

As the birds had been attracted by the red berry-bearing tree behind the house, it was only natural to expect thrushes, but I didn’t expect a ‘full house’. Four Redwings were present for most of the day, along with a single Song Thrush, briefly a Fieldfare and then right at the death, a Mistle Thrush put in an appearance and gobbled some berries.

The Waxwings haven’t reappeared since and there are only a few berries left, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to return now.

I then went off to my dad’s place in more rural Swanwick.  His house backs onto farmland and the family keep well-stocked feeders in the spacious back garden. A quick scan of the garden didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, but my stepmum later alerted me to a star visitor on a feeder, a Great Spotted Woodpecker. I hadn’t seen a female before, so was initially confused by the lack of a bright red crown.

My dad and I then walked two boisterous Jack Russells over the back fields, but in fading light, didn’t turn up much, except for a tribe of Fieldfares, several Redwings and a pair of Meadow Pipits.

This morning, I was up early (by my standards, but certainly not by my dad’s) for another walk across the fields. Redwings were everywhere.  I turned off the main path and into woodland. Emerging from under a bridge, I was greeted by a bold-as-brass Robin, which I stopped to whistle at. I then spotted a male Bullfinch and a Treecreeper scurrying and lingering briefly on the underside of a branch, before taking wing (watching them walk around on the trees, it doesn’t seem right that they can fly).

Moving further into the woods, I had a Kestrel overhead and a Wren flitting in tufts of snowy grass around me; zooming past me it stopped briefly to ‘scold’ in buzzing tones, before disappearing under another grassy tuft. Wrens are so charismatic, such tiny little hyperactive things. It’s incredible that there are actually smaller British birds – the kinglet species, Goldcrest and Firecrest. It also surprises me to learn that the Wren is the most common British breeding bird, but then, as a city dweller, I spend much more time in the company of Magpies, Black-Headed Gulls and Feral Pigeons.

Refreshingly, in all my time in Swanwick, I never saw one Feral Pigeon, although a colony of about 250 Woodpigeons were in residence on the slightly thawed farmland as I walked towards the woods.