Wednesday 9 January 2019

Waxwing Lyrical at Asda 6th January 2019

This winter a reasonable number of Waxwings have made it across the North Sea to these shores. It is not a huge invasion but it can be said it is one of the better years to seek an audience with this attractive wanderer from northern parts, that only visit us when their food source fails in their native Scandinavia.

None have been seen as of yet in my home county of Oxfordshire but a flock of eleven feeding on berries in the car park of the large ASDA superstore at Totton near Southampton was near enough to persuade me to make an early morning trip on Sunday to see them, especially as the weather was forecast to be sunny and bright.

At 8.30am I drove into an empty car park at ASDA, well not quite empty, as up to twenty five birders, all holding cameras, were already scattered around waiting for the Waxwings to arrive. Everyone these days has a camera of sorts and Waxwings are particularly popular as they give excellent opportunities to amateur and professional alike to get acceptable images of this lovely bird.

Some of the birders awaiting the arrival of the Waxwings
Superstore car parks are a favourite venue for Waxwings due to the fact that the trees planted to break up the monotonous concrete wastes of the car parks are invariably Rowan or other similar berry bearing ornamental trees which provide a convenient and plentiful food source for the Waxwings.

After a wait of twenty or so minutes the Waxwings arrived and perched close to the entrance of the store in the top of one of the taller trees. This is typical Waxwing behaviour, where they will perch in a taller tree that gives them a feeling of security and then fly down periodically to feast on the berries of other smaller trees before flying back up into the taller tree to rest and wait until they feel hungry once more, whereupon the whole process is repeated.

The taller tree where the Waxwings perched between forays
to feed on the berries of the two nearby and smaller trees 

One of the two berry bearing trees the Waxwings fed from
I watched as they perched on high in their chosen tree, their thin trilling calls clearly audible as they conversed amongst themselves and spent time preening. Below them were two smaller trees each  with berries, one tree each side of the pedestrian walkway leading to the store's entrance. 

It is when they descend to the smaller trees to feed that the opportunity comes for everyone to get a photograph of them feeding on the berries in their typical frenzied fashion . After a wait of around ten minutes the first Waxwing flew down to feed on the berries, which was the cue and stimulus for all the others to follow. Then for five or so minutes they swarmed over the tree, wings flapping to maintain their balance as they hung from the slender stems to pluck and gobble the berries whole, as fast and  as many as they could, before flying back up in one's and two's to the taller tree.

They did  this on a number of occasions,whilst the number of birders in the car park increased until there were around fifty of us stood in scattered groups at a respectful and sensible distance around the favoured trees. 

There are many superb images of these Waxwings on social media, taken on previous sunny days but today it was dull and grey and there was absolutely no sign of the forecast sun, indeed it seemed to be getting even more overcast as I stood in the car park. I really struggled to get any passable images in the dull light but there was little I could do about the weather.

Rather than try to get the 'ultimate' image which would be impossible in the current conditions I decided to try for images of the contortions these birds adopted to get at the rapidly diminishing berries.

The car park began to fill with shoppers and more  and more cars began to fill the vacant spaces. It was now very busy but the Waxwings continued their alternate vigil on high before descending for another gobble fest, but at just before 10am, with much trilling they all took off in a loose flock, just like starlings and flew up and away over the store and were gone.

As far as I know they were not seen again that day at ASDA and have not returned since. No doubt they have found another location with berries to feed on which is their typical modus operandi, roving the countryside, towns and villages seeking berries to sustain them, wherever and whenever they can find them

Good luck to them all.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely! I've only ever seen waxwings once when they were around St Giles' churchyard in Oxford. I have to say, I'll probably never get a better sighting as they flew into a tree that Jane & I were walking under at the time & the light was great! I've always drawn a blank whenever else they've been around (& even at St Giles' I only got them at the 2nd attempt.) x