Grumpy Old Birder

Bo Be­olens on the pre­dictably un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour of our birds!

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Bo Be­olens runs fat­ and other web­sites. He has writ­ten a num­ber of books

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

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