The nature of things
THE first frosts have arrived and also—blown in from the cooling, coniferous Taiga forests of north-eastern Europe and Scandinavia—the first waxwings. Birdwatchers tweet with excitement at early sightings of these handsome creatures; the sociable birds announce themselves with a soft, tinkly trilling.
Several factors influence how many come to our shores. Rowan berries are their favourite late-season fare, but a crop failure at home may send them south-westwards to us. However, a really bountiful year for the berries can result in a population explosion, again forcing natural dispersion of flocks to pastures new. Upon arrival here—first sightings tend to be along the eastern seaboard, from Scotland down to the Kentish coast—they will find a smorgasbord of delicacies in planted habitats, from gardens to car parks. Berries of guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), species roses, cotoneaster, pyracantha, hawthorn, apple and crab apple are all grist to the bill.
How to recognise Bombycilla garrulus? It looks like a large, chubby finch. The small, stubby tail is dipped in black, but dabbed yellow at the tip; the body and wing area are shades of beige, but highlighted with flashes of black, white, yellow and tiny dabs of red on the wing feathers; and all topped off by a gorgeous, rufous quiff, brushed back above the black eye-mask. KBH