Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Waxwings on the move

We know it’s not a Waxwing winter when our friends in Orkney and Fair Isle haven’t ringed any.

However, being the Waxwing capital of Britain (thanks to our location and large amount and variety of ornamental rowan trees and tree cotoneasters, well done the council!), we were lucky to have birds arrive in Aberdeen in November and a decent flock reached about 150 birds in early December. We managed to colour-ring 40 in December but usually the birds were always one step ahead of us and we’ve since ringed none so far in 2014. About 150 birds appeared to be set to winter in Aberdeen as they were still raiding the last of the Mistle Thrush rowan trees in mid-January with plenty tree cotoneaster available once the rowans finally ran out.

However 120 on 23rd January was our last 3 figure count. This dropped to 32 on 26th January and last few days of January only one flock of 6 was reported, by Jane Reid down at the University. Having studied Waxwings for many winters now, it was fair to assume this was them dispersing a bit locally during the transition period between finishing off the hardest Mistle Thrushes rowan trees and switching to tree cotoneaster. WRONG!

4 different colour-ring sightings from 3 different locations away from Aberdeen, all on the 1st and 2nd of February indicated that there had in fact been an exodus of birds away from Aberdeen altogether.

Yellow/light green, also ringed in Aberdeen on 6/12/13 and last resighted here on 23rd January and White/red ringed in Aberdeen on 6/12/13 and last resighted just after Xmas were both observed together in a flock of 8 birds 121km SW at Methil in Fife on 2nd February by Kathy Evans

Red/orange, ringed in Aberdeen on 6/12/13 and still here on 26th January was photographed 92kmSW in Dundee on 2nd February by Gus Guthrie and Barry Farquharson.

Orange/blue, ringed in Aberdeen on 28/12/13 and last resighted here on 23rd January was photographed 520km SE in Aylsham, Norfolk on 1st and 2nd February by Carol Foxe and Carl Chapman.

A big thank you to all these observers for their very timely sightings which tied in with our declining counts and combined to confirm when our Aberdeen flock dispersed and just how far and quickly some of them had travelled.

Do the birds know there aren’t many Waxwings in the country this winter and hence more rowans to be found elsewhere rather than staying and switching to tree cotoneaster?

So it looks like we won’t have many wintering with us in Aberdeen after all. The real pity about this is that a Norwegian darvic ringed bird (yellow ring with black engraving on right leg) was seen amongst a flock of 120 in Bridge of Don, Aberdeen on 23rd January but couldn’t be read. I felt quite hopeful somebody might be able to catch up with it and read it or photograph it in the next few months since they were here to stay. WRONG AGAIN!

So please look out for Waxings in a rowan tree near you. Grampian RG will be delighted to hear about any colour-ringed birds while Kjell Snoot of Sunmore RG in West Norway will be delighted to hear about any darviced birds.

There is also the chance of a returning ringed bird from last winter’s large invasion. Thanks to Bob Freeman who managed to photograph Black/blue/grey (what a terrible combination, well done Bob) in Jarrow, South Tyneside on 11th January. This was a returning bird from last winter, ringed in Westhill, Aberdeen on 31/3/13.

Thank you very much.

Raymond Duncan