Saturday, 8 December 2012

Waxwings – the good, the bad, the ugly...and the awesome

Wow, we seem to be on a great run of bi-annual large Waxwing invasions into the UK in recent years (2008-09, 2010-11 and now this winter again). It is amazing how each one has been different one way or another and this one is no different…….em well it is also different!

The initial arrival this winter has been widespread across the UK and into Ireland and for birds to be in places such as Cornwall, Devon and Wales before we have had any significant numbers here in Aberdeen, the self-appointed UK capital for Waxwings, is very unusual. Thankfully we did eventually get some nice flocks of up to 400+ (briefly, but more usually around 100 to 200) at some of the traditional berry sites around the city and although frustrated by mobile flocks and Sparrowhawks we have been able to individually colour-ring 385 birds in the past few weeks.


The good

  Waxwing flock getting ready to feed 

It's been quite a poor berry crop this year but luckily one wee heavily laden yellow rowan tree in Kincorth kept the Waxwings and us occupied for several days. First attempt on 14th Nov, Lindsay and Raymond trapped 20 in one go with a 30’ “stealth” net (well a “walk-in” net doesn’t sound so exciting does it?). We ringed 70 at that one tree over 4 days as the birds came and went with Walter and Lindsay getting the largest total of 29 on the 16th. Remarkably on the 15th with Fair Isle ringers Will, Jenny Sturgeon and Jess present we actually trapped a Fair Isle ringed bird. The speed of techno gadgety things nowadays meant we had the full details within half an hour! Poor Euan got the short straw that morning and had to stand by the hardest Mistle Thrush in Aiberdeen and no Waxwings for 3 hours. 

This biggest total of 29 was quickly trumped by Tarry Harry and (3 auld stoogies….just quoting, gentlemen sounds better!) out at Aboyne with a clap net catch of 32 on his back lawn before some of the other berry sites in town came on stream with 2 catches of 26 and 37 at Homebase, Bridge of Don (including a resighting of a yellow left leg colour-ringed Orkney bird).

Brian and Ally ringing in the Shrine wind tunnel

Eventually birds started visiting our best site, the “Shrine” where Lindsay and Euan put in a few long shifts with the best catch being 24, until Lindsay, Ally D., Brian P. and Jenny Sturgeon came up trumps on the snowy morning of 5th Dec.with a bumper catch of 49. Our success continued the following days, with another 13 caught on the 6th, followed by some more big catches of 48 on the 7th, and 42 on the 8th. 

 Pink-billed Waxwing (Bombycilla Garrulus Duncanus), a rare subspecies

Thanks very much to all for helping out… Walter, Calum, Alister, Ali D, Ian H, Jenny L, Tyr, Brian, Harry, Jess, Ewan, McEwan, Liz, Fin, April, Marta, Paula and Sarah.

First movement

Thanks very much to Gavin Chambers for a great sighting and above photograph of left leg Red over Lime near his home at Minnigaff, Dumfries & Galloway on 27th November. This bird had been ringed 13 days earlier on 14th at Kincorth. Gavin also provided sightings and photographs of 2 Aberdeen colour-ringed birds from the Glesga metropolis in the 2010 invasion. What a star!

The above map shows movements so far including Orkney and Fair Isle ringed birds.

 The bad

The "Waxwing graveyard"

Unfortunately Waxwings are notorious for killing themselves against windows and we started to receive casualties from local postie Derek Beverley at the Wallfield Crescent, the “Waxwing graveyard”. By the time the Waxwings had finished the berries in this tenement lined street we had 30 confirmed casualties, with many more possibly having died here.

7 window casualties found in one visit at Wallfield


The ugly

The " Allenvale"adult female Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks might be nice for us in the hand but Waxwings must hate the sight of them. Lindsay and Euan retrapped a big female in pursuit of Waxwings at the Shrine on 29th Nov. Interestingly it had been ringed by Lindsay and co. doing the very same thing a mile down the road at Allenvale Cemetery during the 2010 invasion. A bird obviously tuned into Waxwing invasions just like us. Another Sparrowhawk, this time a juvenile female, was then caught at the Shrine on the 5th Dec. Then on the 7th we got a bumper catch of 3, all caught in the same net, a second year female, an adult male and the Allenvale retrap again!

Lindsay with an adult female and second year female

So that's at least 4 different Sparrowhawks feeding on the Waxwing flocks at the Shrine, and it appears they have become very accustomed to humans! Lindsay had to almost fight off the Allenvale female as it headed for a bird in the net then flew round one of the trees and back in to have a go at a bird at the other end of the net, bold as brass!

There was also a very large and bold female Sparrowhawk in residence at Homebase, Bridge of Don. Ewan threw snowballs at it several times to try to scare it away but it would just fly 20-30 metres along the tree line before settling again to wait for the Waxwings.

Ageing & sexing

It’s great to see Waxwings being ringed up and down the country. This can only increase our chances of exchanging movements and building up a picture of this winter’s movements. There have been a few blog postings coming through the BTO blog showing wrongly aged and sexed Waxwings. Take 10 lashings and go and spend a morning with Sir Svensson going through the ageing and sexing of Waxwings (pages 98 & 99). 

Click to enlarge our guide above, the photos by Iain Landsman/Ewan Weston show good examples of adult and juvenile males and females together.

...and the awesome

Well we’ll leave Tarry Harry to tell you all about that in the next post!

Lindsay Cargill, Raymond Duncan and Euan Ferguson
(on behalf of this winter’s GRG Waxwing ringing squad)

1 comment:

  1. Somebody please explain to me- is all this ringing done for the birds or for the birdirs?