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Waxwings


by Richard Jones

Yes, we have no waxwings. Strange as this may seem, they appear to be avoiding south-east London. They're everywhere else though [...]


Waxwing, image Stephen Blain / RSPB ImagesYes, we have no waxwings. Strange as this may seem, they appear to be avoiding south-east London. They're everywhere else though, and I am wondering if I will be the last naturalist in Britain to see one.

The Bohemian waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, to give it its full name, is a beautiful bird - sleek, handsome, well-groomed, elegant, silky (Bombyx, after which it takes its scientific name, is the silk moth). It is also a rare visitor to Britain.

A native of higher latitudes, it only visits us when its food in Scandinavia runs out and it heads south-west in search of better forage. We have plenty of that round here, for the waxwing is a berry feeder and gardens hereabouts are full of pyracantha, hawthorn, rowan, berberry and rose hips. The place should be bristling with waxwings.

Most years a few turn up along the coasts of eastern Scotland and north-east England, but autumn 2010 saw a huge invasion and they started spreading way inland. Ornithologist websites were abuzz with local sightings of flocks raiding across the north, and by late October they had reached the Liverpool/Hastings line, leaving only Wales, southern England and the West Country waxwing-free.

Daily updates show that the invaders have now passed through Aldershot, Bristol and Bath and reached the South Coast, with sightings in Bournemouth and Portsmouth. There were quite a few records from north and west London, but not East Dulwich.

I've been listening out for its call, a high, whistling, rattle-snake chatter. All I can hear is the distant traffic of the South Circular. Now, if I were a real birder, instead of an entomologist pretending to be one, I'd be very worried. This is the sort of omission that could ruin my credentials. But I'm relaxed, they will either turn up eventually, or I can feign disinterest. I do feel sorry for those poor desperate souls who need to see them.

One such unfortunate friend posted a parting remark on Sunday, on his Facebook page, that he was off to cruise the streets of West London until he found a flock of waxwings, or got arrested for curb crawling. I haven't heard from him since. I'd better just check up on him.



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Gardeners' World Web User 05/01/2011 at 13:55

they have reached Weymouth

Gardeners' World Web User 05/01/2011 at 19:24

They haven't got to Mid Sussex yet, and by the time they get here, the Redwings will have stripped the cottoneasters, although the current flock is a lot smaller than usual.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/01/2011 at 18:49

Small flpck of Waxwings sighted on a tree in Inverness last week - just before the end of the 2010.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/01/2011 at 19:19

Small flock of waxwings seen in Birmingham. Once they had polished off the Rowan berries, they disappeared

Gardeners' World Web User 06/01/2011 at 19:38

You need to come to Hertfordshire. We saw over 70 waxwings in one tree on a busy main road. We have seen about half a dozen of these beautiful birds before but this sight was just amazing. Our garden is only 40ft long but I want to try to get some berried shrubs or small tree in there somewhere ... just in case. In the meantime will enjoy all the lovely garden birds including our male and female blackcap. The birds must know the weather is changing there were 16 blue tits on the various feeders today. We have never seen so many at one time - not even when the snow was here. Word must have got out about the selection of food we have!

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