Monday, 13 February 2017

12th February - Whiteley Shopping Centre, Hampshire

Yesterday afternoon we found out that at least five WAxwings had turned up in the trees and hedge around the Whiteley Village Shopping Centre and the Leisure Centre.  Ian dropped in on his way home after we left Pennington and saw them.  This morning they were still there, so Helen and I decided to do some shopping.

I haven't managed to see any Waxwings let alone photograph them since 2011, so this was a key moment for me.  We arrived just as the shops were opening, and parking became the first problem.  Once a suitable spot had been found the next challenge was to find the birds.  They had been seen at the back of the Cinema, so we walked around the car park to the back of the cinema.  As we walked up two other birders were looking into the hedge, and sure enough there they were if a this time a little way off.



At last I have caught up with these wonderful birds, and as we watched them they were joined by the other two birds to complete the party of five.  There has been discussion that these are in fact two adults and three immature birds, probably a family party.  They sat in the top of the tree for awhile.



They then flew off, and I watched two birds fly across the playing field to the housing estate at the other side.  Was this to be my only sighting, I hoped not.  Unfortunately the football pitches were now full, and the games had started.  Ironically I played here for Four Marks Vets about ten years ago against a young Burridge team, in the Hampshire Cup, the less said about the result the better.

There were already several photographers on the edge of the filed, and it became obvious that the birds were back.  I then decided to make my way through the hedge and out on to the field where I could get a much better view.



What a stunning bird, the little wax like blobs on the end of the secondaries that give the bird its name.

Here you can see the defined "v" marks on the primary tips, and the clearly defined black throat.  This is an adult male bird.



The black bib clearer here, the female bird's bib is much more diffused.  Another identification feature of the adult male is the broad yellow band at the end of the tail.



The males also have a longer crest than the female.



The correct name for the bird is the Bohemian Waxwing, the other member of the family being the very similar Cedar Waxwings, which is smaller and plainer.lacking the yellow markings on the primaries.

This a first winter female, with the diffused black bib, and the pale yellow or almost white lines on the primaries, along with only a few waxy tips to the secondaries.



There were still plenty of rose hips about, and the birds showed their dexterity in plucking them, and then throwing them up to swallow.


At this time of year they gather in flocks to take advantage of the berry crops.  We get Waxwing years when the berry crops fail in Northern Europe the birds migrate, starting in Scotland and the north east, then working their way across the country.  This winter has been one of those years and the birds have finally made it to the south coast.  There have been two main sightings so far here in Hampshire, this the first one I have been able to get to.



Two of the immature birds turned their serious attention to the berries.



Another immature bird, the broader band on the tail and a slightly longer crest means this is probably a male bird.



The rose hips and other red berries take their toll, in fact the Waxwings metabolism is able to cope with the alcohol formed from the fermenting berries in most cases, but when they gorge on too many too quickly it can have disastrous consequences.



Some lovely pictures against a lovely dark background of the cinema



Both young birds tucking into the rose hips



Their feeding behaviour has been likened to parrots.  The berries are the winter food of choice, but during the summer and the breeding season they feed on insects and grubs.



Then the birds that were perched higher up, and away from those feeding on the berries suddenly elongated their bodies as if stretching up to see.  The first though that maybe their was a predator and this was an alarm stance.



And with that they all burst out of the trees, and away over our heads across the playing field.



The birds were mobile turning up in other trees around the centre, although they seemed to favour the bushes at the back of the cinema

The Waxwings will continue to search out the berries across the country before making their way back to Northern Europe and their breeding grounds beyond.  They could still be about along the east coast in late April, as they are in no rush to reach their typical breeding grounds on the edge of the taiga forests in Finland and Northern Russia, where the snow is still to melt in late May.  Breeding will take place in June, the nests being built in coniferous woods, around marshy and swampy ground where there are plenty of insects.

At last I have caught up with them and managed to get some acceptable shots of this beautiful winter visitor.  May every year be a Waxwing year

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