Saturday morning found me donating excessive amounts of money to Oxford City Council to park just up the road from St Giles Churchyard. This was no philanthropic gesture on my part but rather the quickest and easiest way to see the ever increasing flock of Waxwings that had been gracing the churchyard for the last few days.
St Giles Church & Churchyard
St Giles main thoroughfare with the Waxwing flock
just visible at the top of the Plane tree on the left
For once, a flock of Waxwings had chosen a more picturesque location for their attention although the churchyard was at the apex of two very busy roads running into St Giles, almost in the heart of the City. The weather was cold and sunny but the Yews in the churchyard had a sobering effect, casting dark shadows on the frosted path through the churchyard. I saw two Waxwings almost immediately perched on high at the very topmost tip of one of the large Plane trees that grow alongside St Giles.
They flew off rapidly over the City spires and were gone. I was not concerned as this was typical Waxwing behaviour and I knew they would soon return, hopefully with the rest of the flock that had been reported in the preceding days. I waited quietly on a bench in the churchyard and after twenty minutes or so the distinctive silhouette of a Waxwing flock materialised in one of the Plane trees further down St Giles.
Buses, joggers, shoppers and endless cars passed below them. In typical Waxwing fashion they remained on their lofty perches trilling away, seemingly disinterested in descending to any berry bearing tree in the churchyard. In front of me was a particularly profusely berry laden tree that presumably was in their sights. After a short wait, two Waxwings bolder than the rest descended onto the berry tree, quickly followed by others until the whole flock was in the tree. Pandemonium, as in a frenzy of feeding they tore the berries off the tree and swallowed them as fast as they could. Five minutes and it was all over as their innate nervousness took precedence over the need for nourishment and they returned to the top of the Plane tree. I almost got indigestion watching them, they ate so fast. No table manners or decorum here but every bird for itself. Another spell of loafing in the trees and then down they came again but this time onto the yews and again in a frenzied whirl of yellow, tawny and chestnut feathers the whole flock guzzled yew berries as fast as they could and then off they flew again. They are almost like a swarm as they feed closely together on the same bush, flopping clumsily and heedlessly, with open wings, around the dark green yew, hanging and contorting themselves upwards and downwards to get at the berries.
This was their regular pattern of feeding for the two hours I was there and they shared the yews with Redwings, Blackbirds and a pair of Mistle Thrushes, also attracted by the berries. Watching the Waxwing flock through my bins it was apparent that most were adults
I celebrated my good fortune with a hot chocolate from one of three Delicatessens across the road (well this is North Oxford) before my parking time ran out. £4.00 for two hours. Outrageous. If there were no Waxwings I would be incensed but the encounter with twenty eight of these beauties made it all worthwhile