Monday 7 January 2013

Waxwings and Motorway Madness 06 January 2013

Verily I awoke on the Sunday morning and as if yesterday's experiences at various flooded sites in Oxfordshire was not enough to act as a deterrent decided to inflict further punishment upon myself by entertaining a visit to Beaconsfield Motorway Services (now fully open you will be pleased to know) on the M40, in the hope of seeing some Waxwings. 

It was dark when I left for the one hour drive but as the morning finally dawned, I feared no evil and drove southwards through the Valley of the Thames. It became apparent that a wet mist had descended, and I was sore afraid, with gloom and a mighty dread at dipping all around. I now thoroughly regretted my decision but it was too late. On into the valley I drove with car fog lights twinkling in the swirling mist .Visibility as well as any remaining optimism was now at a premium but I carried on and with other pilgrims of the road arrived at the designated temple of despair and despond. Yes, a Motorway Service Station, the ultimate portal to indifference, mediocrity and over priced junk food, on a damp, grey Sunday, shrouded in fog. It does not get much worse than this. Veritably a trial of will over common sense. The Waxwings were reported to be frequenting the ornamental berry bushes dividing the entrance road from the lorry park and petrol pumps. Huge eight wheel, even ten wheel lorries from many lands thundered around me, spewing Yorkie bars, testosterone and diesel fumes.  I sat in the Audi, no correct that, cowered in the Audi in a distant and relatively deserted corner feeling I had crossed into a parallel world of naffness and numbing mundaneness. Finally, nay courageously, I decided to leave the sanctuary of the car and walk around the perimeter of this soulless oasis of fumes and noise to see if I could find solace in the form of the flock of Waxwings. I wandered round the back of the service area with my bins, onto a litter strewn track snaking through some bushes, trying to give the impression this was normal behaviour and there, high in a tree, shrouded by the fog, were thirteen visions of ornithological loveliness. Waxwings. I watched them for fifteen minutes as they just sat in the tree preening and getting as damp and possibly as edgy as myself.  I went back to the car to try to shut out the sheer awfulness of my surroundings. I was about to leave when I looked out of the side window and there was the same flock of Waxwings now descending onto the berry laden ornamental bushes incorporated in the landscaping of this concrete temple to petrol heads and bemused travellers. I grabbed the camera and approached them but they flew off up into the surrounding tall trees. 

Now I know a thing or two about Waxwings from my previous experiences during this winter of invasion. They were going nowhere and if I staked out the berry bushes, as sure as the petrol prices here would be a guaranteed gazillion percent above anywhere else, they would descend from the trees  again. Now it is hard to remain inconspicuous in the middle of a service station, standing on a vast expanse of open concrete looking up into trees with  binoculars and a camera slung over one's shoulder. There is nowhere to hide. Most people are here to refuel their cars or buy a coffee, hopefully Costa and not Starbucks and get out of the place as quickly as possible. No one comes here for a day out or birdwatching. Do they? I became aware of curious looks from motorists at the petrol pumps but in true British fashion no-one quite dared approach me but adopted a 'I have seen it all before' studied nonchalance. I on the other hand felt like a man with no clothes. Come on Waxwings for God's sake get down here and we can get it over with and I can go home with my pics, and you can go back up to the top of your tree. Twenty minutes masquerading as eternity dragged by and then, in a flurry of trilling, the nordic berry gobblers descended and with their usual gluttinous frenzy, totally belying their beauty, scoffed berries as fast as their little throats could open and close. 

Come to think of it something similar involving full English breakfasts was probably going on at this very moment in the cafeteria on  the other side of the lorry park, possibly without the trilling. I stood by the entrance road to the services, close to the bushes and trying to remain heedless of the curious looks from the occupants of the incoming vehicles. I  noted that the Waxwings showed a marked aversion to large container lorries and Eddie Stobart vehicles in particular but can find no mention about this under the behavioural section in BWP. I think they should be informed. 

A car hooted and a man waved at me. Bit early for cottaging? I ignored him. Oh oh! He drove around and drew up beside me and wound down his window. 'Taxi?' 'No thanks. I'm watching Waxwings'. Bemused he drove off. This was the final indignity. It was getting silly now as more and more vehicles entered the service area. So finally armed with some reasonably good photos considering the lack of light I returned to the car, steered the Black Audi back into what passes for normality on a Motorway and we departed north back into the increasing fog and gloom. 

Even Dix Pit seemed an attractive proposition after my Beaconsfield experience and so it transpired, as we headed back into Oxfordshire, that the fog lifted and visibility improved so much that viewing the watery expanses of Dix became viable. I had the place to myself when I arrived. Why am I not surprised? The lake was covered in ducks but nothing as good as the two male Smew of yesterday was evident, apart from two lovely male Red Crested Pochards. It was nevertheless nice to see so many birds in almost natural surroundings. Around fifteen scattered male Pintails floated in detached and elegant fashion amongst the hordes of Wigeon. A group of ten Goldeneyes swam close to the bank with the five males throwing their heads back in an ecstacy of courtship and the females responding in a similar but more muted fashion. They were close enough to hear the males explosive, wheezy display call. Male Shovelers pootled about under the far bank, their all white breasts distinctive in the distance against the dark background of  bankside vegetation. Gadwall's 'duck decoy' calls punctuated the stillness of the late morning and Coots, ever pugnacious, skittered back and fore indulging in their constant petty squabbles. 

Eventually I grew tired of counting and watching this wildfowl spectacular and wandered back to the car. Uncertain of what to do next I meandered down a grassy ride to look at a copse of Alders between the lake and the road. This copse is often good for Siskin and indeed I found a dozen or so feeding quietly in the tops of the  trees with some Chaffinches. Buoyed by this success I decided to check the Alders by the lakeside itself. Approaching the first Alder a small group of half a dozen  redpolls flew out and then suddenly there was an eruption of redpolls as a flock of around forty flew up and around before settling back into the same tree. They were relatively approachable and I watched them, entranced by their acrobatic feeding on the catkins. Some were flushed with pink on the breast and showing the bright red patch on their head from whence they are named. The sun came out and further enhanced their beauty.

I checked through the flock constantly, seeking their slightly larger and greyer cousin the Mealy Redpoll but they were all Lesser Redpolls - our native subspecies. Delighted with this find I called it a day.

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