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.
Waxwing flock getting ready to feed
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
Pink-billed Waxwing (Bombycilla Garrulus Duncanus), a rare subspecies
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 "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
WE ARE INTERESTED TO HEAR ABOUT ANY DEAD WAXWINGS FOUND ANYWHERE THIS WINTER TO SEE WHAT GRIM FIGURE WE CAN COME UP WITH COMPARED TO 2010/11.
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)