Grumpy Old Birder
Bo Beolens on the predictably unpredictable behaviour of our birds!
THIS WINTER, WAXWINGS were far enough south for me to see some on an outing that took just 45 minutes, including 30 minutes watching time! Half-a-dozen of these beauties were, surprisingly, not gorging on hips and haws, but catching flies. That was a new observation for me. Obviously these birds can only eat fruit when there’s some fruit to eat, so they eat insects when raising a family at their spring and summer homes. Moreover, I happened to be reviewing some really top-flight binoculars so enjoyed incredible views. With the birds close by and in full sharp focus I could practically count the number of feathers in their erect quiffs. It struck me how convenient the birds were, perhaps only 500 yards from where I had last seen Waxwings a few seasons ago. Then something more awesome struck me… they were fewer than 300 yards from where I first saw Waxwings decades ago, way before I moved to the area. Clearly not the same birds, so there could be no true site loyalty (such as is seen in winter swans that use the same isolated ponds to rest on their long migrations and suffer losses when such ponds are filled in). So, why have I so often seen Waxwings there, when better berry sites have never produced Waxwing sightings by me or others? I’ve pondered this mystery deeply, but not come up with a satisfactory answer – I can see nothing special about the location. Waxwings do not fear man, so winter invasions often favour city centre ornamental plantings. I imagine the added warmth of cities keeps food more available to them, but my site is nothing out of the ordinary. It begs the question, why are birds where they are, when they are? There are plenty of good solid reasons, such as the right habitat, the right weather, migration routes, food abundance, roosts sites et al, but there are plenty of times when it seems completely random, and sometimes desperately annoying. Try taking a visiting birder to your ‘guaranteed’ spots for particular species. That will be the day when you might as well be at the North Pole or in the middle of the Kalahari Desert… not a bird will show. Never, ever, say “I always see (add the species of your choice) here”, as it will work like black magic to conjure them elsewhere. Big days and bird races are another way to charm the birds out of the trees before you turn up. You can prepare your route for weeks in checking sites daily but on race day several of those easy-peasy-lemonsqueezy ‘bankers’ will have decided to temporarily migrate.
WAXWINGS Bo wonders why they always seem to appear at the same area... if they ever appear