Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Thursday, 21 March 2013

An earful of Waxwing

Flock of Waxwing roosting on the side of Devon Expressway

Whether you are a fanatical wildlife watcher or casual observer of nature around you, there are iconic animals and birds that capture everyone’s imaginations. Polar bears, puffins and pandas all come to mind. But as a boy I was drawn to the mystery of the Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), a brightly coloured bird that sporadically irrupts into Britain on an Arctic chill; the polar opposite of the Hoopoe that butterflies in on the heat of a southerly breeze. But I saw neither of these as boy or young man. Eventually it took a trip to Easter Spain to be woken from a convent cell by the terracotta warmth of the Hoopoe.  Two decades later and under rather less enchanting circumstances I encountered my first Waxwing - I stood with Greg chilled between a ceramic industrial building and the roar of the Devon Expressway whilst an ‘earful’ of Waxwing teased us chattering through the February mist on the distant carriageway (hence the rather poor image!). The other collective nouns for Waxwing are more obscure, ‘museum’ and ‘grosbeak’.

Our rather sad looking specimens with much of their colorific splendour drained out by the enveloping greyness made occasional risky efforts to feed on the last abject rose hips on the central reservation. They are under better conditions very jazzy birds, featuring a punky hair-do, black eye mask and accessorised with red and bright yellow feathers. Their mystery lies in part to due to their occasional mass migrations (‘irruptions’) from Northern area such as Scandinavia in tens of thousands into mainly Eastern Britain. However the extreme cold weather this February would appear to have driven them further to the warmer West Country. Their apparent tameness means that they seem relatively unaffected by human activities and so they seem unabashed feasting in a Tesco’s car park, or in our case amongst heavy traffic. It was fantastic to get my first glimpse of these quirky birds, but I hope next time that I come to meet them at a more attractive feeding location and that I do not have to wait another half a lifetime.

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