Sunday 12 March 2023

A Waxwing Double at Cranfield 12th March 2023

A couple of weekends ago Mark, my twitching pal, called to tell me about two Waxwings that had been frequenting an ornamental crab apple tree in a garden at Cranfield in the county of Bedfordshire. Mark lives close by and showed me some really nice images he  had taken of these charismatic birds and of course this fired my desire to see them too, especially as my last encounter with Waxwings was almost three years ago.

c Mark

This winter has not been what one could call a 'waxwing winter'. Last year in late autumn it looked quite promising with reports of sizeable flocks arriving in northern Scotland, bringing hopes that one of their  periodic influxes might materialise. Sadly these arrivals proved to be a false dawn and few birds reached England and those that did were confined to the north with only a very small number reaching any of the southern counties.

Mark's news of two being found well south in Bedfordhire therefore brought a combination of surprise and excitement, especially as both the birds were full adults which are much more colourful than juveniles  and apparently showed really well, day after day, in their favoured crab apple tree. The only blip on this optimistic outlook was that sometimes the Waxwings could disappear for long periods, often hours at a time.

I decided to pay a visit last Wednesday and made a one and half hour drive to Cranfield. The birds were to be found in a front garden of a house in a small housing estate on a road called Lincroft. Parking on the high street I walked a few hundred metres into the housing and turning a corner came across a number of birders standing on the pavement and looking across the road to a garden opposite in which stood a small crab apple tree.

Joining the birders I met Chris, who I usually encounter about once a year when butterflying in Bernwood Forest in my home county of Oxfordshire.It was obvious there was currently no sign of the Waxwings and Chris had been  told when he arrived that the Waxwings had flown off over the houses about half an hour earlier but was assured they would return as this was how they habitually behaved. Talking to other birders around us we learnt that the Waxwings had another location they liked to go to which was the local school situated not very far away on the other side of the village high street. Everyone assumed this was where they had gone and they would eventually return to the crab apple tree.

We waited, chatting as rain threatened. Mark joined us unexpectedly. One hour became two hours, conversation ceased and another hour passed with no sign of the birds. We gave up and went our separate ways. Somewhat gallingly on getting home I learnt that the Waxwings had returned shortly after we had left.

Such is birding but I consoled myself with the fact that by the time they had returned it would have been hopeless to get any decent photos although it would have been nice to see the birds as a Waxwing is a good bird to see under any circumstances.

I put them to the back of my mind but speaking to Mark on Saturday I learnt that the Waxwings were now almost permanently present on the crab apples. Mark had got some more good photos and the embers of my interest were fanned once more. 

c Mark 

Sunday's weather was forecast to be pleasant in the morning, with some sunny periods, so I made a plan to get to Cranfield early, at around 7.30am, with hopes of being successful this time.

A pleasant, traffic free, early morning drive found me parking in Lincroft and there on the favoured pavement were up to twenty birders/toggers ranged around in a semi circle. 

I knew immediately that the waxwings were present  as I could see people looking up through bins at an adjacent tall tree in which the birds  were very obviously perched.Waxwings like to do this, coming down to their food tree to gorge themselves and then retreating to a higher tree to digest their food and feel secure.

I joined the crowd and a few minutes later the two birds flew down from their high perch to settle in the crab tree not more than a few metres in front of us.

Here they attacked the small berry like apples with some vigour.Unable to swallow them whole they were forced to hack chunks out of whatever berry they fancied and this meant that they remained for some considerable time in the tree.

Never appearing satisfied for long with an individual berry they would jump around amongst the branches of the berry laden tree looking for something better. Acrobatically, almost upside down at times, they would lunge and stab at the berries, tearing orange coloured flesh from them.

Then with no warning they flew back up into the tall tree to perch, preen and idle. The process was repeated after about a fifteen minute interval and everyone togged away, moving around to get the best angle for their photos. 

The Waxwings were apparently heedless and unworried by the constant movement and closeness of their admirers and carried on feeding.

After three or four more sorties into the crab tree they flew off, presumably to the school but returned after twenty minutes, settling once again in the tall tree and there they remained for more than an hour, perched quite happily. Slowly the crowd increased, everyone waiting for the waxwings to descend from the tree, while others became bored with the long wait and left

One bird descended around 1100, the other following some minutes later but they remained on the berries for only a few minutes before flying back up into their tall tree.

It was definitely time to leave. I had been here for three hours, watching and photographing them which was more than enough.

Now for a coffee and my turn for something to eat at the nice little cafe on the high street.

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