OK, I’ve still not got much interesting to write about, so I thought I’d make myself useful and do the first of some semi-regular posts on how to find certain species.
Now November’s with us it’s time to be wary that waxwings may descend upon us at any moment. Some years these Scandinavian berry-munchers arrive in Sheffield their hundreds (such as last year), or sometimes there’s virtually none (such as the year before). Conditions in their homeland play a big factor in this, especially waxwing population size and the success of that year’s berry crop. I’m not sure what the situation there is this year, but so far there’s only been a handful of waxwing reports in the UK, so perhaps it’s not going to be a good year, but time will tell.
Waxwings love red berries, and this love brings them to unlikely places where ornamental trees and shrubs such as rowan and cotoneaster have been planted, such as supermarket car parks, retail parks and town centres. This means they can be a handy lunch-hour twitch, or an unexpected surprise while doing some Christmas Shopping.
They’re noisy birds, that give a distinctive pulsing, high-pitched trill (hear it here), which is very loud where sizable flocks gather. Learning this noise is the most powerful tool in your waxwing-finding arsenal, as you will very often hear them before you see them. The triangular sillhouette of a waxwing in flight is very similar to that of a starling, and they are also confusable if sat in a large flock as they are a similar size and shape. If you see a flock of what appears to be starlings in a tree, it’s always worth giving them a quick scan in the winter months just in case.
Waxwings have a distinctive habit of feeding, where they’ll perch in the tallest tree in the area (so it’s worth checking flocks settling on trees such as poplars), and then without warning swoop en masse into the surrounding berry trees, gorging themselves on berries until they’ve had their fill and they head back to their lookout. If you catch them mid-snack they can be very confiding.
There are several locations in Sheffield that attract waxwings, and may be worth a look over the winter, and I’ve put some of them in the Google Map below. Also keep your eyes open on the Sheffield Bird Study Group and Derbyshire Ornithological Society websites for latest sightings, and check sites like BirdGuides (if you’ve got a subscription).