It’s shaping up to be a good year for Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus). Sure, the much anticipated ‘waxwing winter’ – an irregular spectacle marked by the mass arrival of these colourful birds to our shores – never quite came fruition, but there are still a good number around. Hundreds, as opposed to thousands, yet more than enough to delight those, like me, who await their arrival with bated breath each year.
Locally, waxwings are fairly abundant this winter. A few larger flocks of between sixty and one-hundred birds feasting on berries in urban areas, and smaller groups appearing just about everywhere else: in villages, industrial estates, rural areas and city centres. As of last weekend, one such large flock appeared to have taken up semi-residence in a small, Whitebeam-laden park only a few miles down the road from my front door. It would have been rude, therefore, not to make the short journey to North Shields to seek them out.
Arriving at Laurel Park, a small, urban green space marked by an impressive (and somewhat creepy) statue of Stan Laurel, it wasn’t long before the birds descended. Their chiming, merry calls arriving in advance of their physical form. Filling the ears of the amassed observers – the birders, photographers and bemused locals that materialise wherever waxwings touch down – and heralding the arrival of a mid-sized flock of around thirty birds. All of which quickly took to the treetops, casting a wary eye over the kaki-clad, tripod wielding humans below.
It wasn’t long before the niggling urge to feed eclipsed the apparent cautiousness of the birds and, moments later, the flock descended en masse into the branches of a particularly bountiful whitebeam. Each individual doing its best to toss back as many plump, red berries as possible before the alarm sounded, and the birds returned to their swaying vantage point.
I enjoyed the North Shields Waxwings for a good half-hour, keen to make the most the spectacle while it lasts. Before this particular band of nomads continue on their berry-fuelled journey elsewhere. Further south perhaps, or inland, where hedgerows and parks are yet to be plundered.
Winter wildlife doesn’t come much better than Waxwings.
An out of focus feeding frenzy
A tree-full of waxwings. Who needs baubles, eh?