A FLOCK OF WAXWINGS SAVES PETE FROM AN AWK­WARD CON­VER­SA­TION WITH HIS SON.

Take a voy­age to the ends of the Earth, on an awe-in­spir­ing jour­ney to the Po­lar re­gions of the Arc­tic or Antarc­tica...

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Bushes cov­ered in red berries; flocks of star­ling-sized birds sit­ting in the tree-tops; groups of bird­watch­ers with ‘scopes and long lenses. These were the signs to look out for, I told my two boys, as we drove into a trad­ing es­tate on the out­skirts of Chel­tenham. It was an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent sign that caught my 13-year-old son’s eye. “Dad, what’s a ‘Sexy Adult Store’?” From a huge, bright pink bill­board a French maid in a PVC pinny wag­gled a feather duster at me. I coughed then cleared my throat, but was thank­fully saved from hav­ing to an­swer his awk­ward ques­tion be­cause, as we turned the cor­ner, what we’d ac­tu­ally come to see ap­peared be­fore us like a vi­sion. In front of a group of bird­watch­ers was a small flock of star­ling-sized birds. We’d found the waxwings!

The boys jumped out of the car to get a closer look, peer­ing up at the birds from di­rectly un­der­neath the tree. They’d seen them a few years be­fore, dur­ing our last ‘waxwing win­ter’ of 2012/13, but were once again cap­ti­vated by the birds’ ex­otic good looks so strik­ingly out of place in these less-thansalu­bri­ous sur­round­ings. Why do waxwings al­ways grace us with their pres­ence in the grot­ti­est of places? Here, they’d opted not for the leafy av­enues of the town cen­tre, but for a lone tree out­side a builders yard.

It’s all about the berries, of course. Busi­ness parks, hous­ing es­tates and, most fa­mously, su­per­mar­ket car parks are planted with or­na­men­tal, berry-pro­duc­ing trees and shrubs such as rowan and co­toneaster. When they visit the UK from Scan­di­navia and East­ern Eu­rope, waxwings head straight for these places be­cause they’re full of food.

As we lis­tened to the waxwings trilling like 1970s Trim­phones, the kids no­ticed a strange, pale-green goo drip­ping from the branches of the tree like some kind of ar­bo­real ec­to­plasm. It took a while to work out that these were mistle­toe berries – or rather what was left of the berries af­ter the birds had eaten them and then ejected the sticky seeds. It ap­peared that they were gath­er­ing berries from else­where in the area and then re­turn­ing to this tree to di­gest them.

Hang­ing around built-up ar­eas does mean that lots of peo­ple get to see you. White van men wound down their win­dows to ask what we were look­ing at and one guy even got out for a quick gan­der through my binoc­u­lars. “Oh wow, they’re proper beau­ti­ful!” he said with gen­uine de­light. And he was right. With their pow­dery pink plumage, punky crests and black eye­masks, waxwings are se­ri­ously, well, sexy.

Sud­denly the flock took off, head­ing for a car­pet ware­house on an­other food-find­ing flight round the block. Back in the car, my el­dest son still had some­thing on his mind. “So Dad, what is a ‘Sexy Adult Store’?” There’s no es­cape: I’ve got a 45-minute drive home to come up with an an­swer. Gulp.

“WITH THEIR POW­DERY PINK PLUMAGE, PUNKY CRESTS AND BLACK EYE-MASKS,WAXWINGS ARE SE­RI­OUSLY, WELL, SEXY.”

Here you’ll find an icy wilder­ness made up of some of the most beau­ti­ful and wild scenery you could imag­ine and a range of fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife, in­clud­ing Po­lar bears, wal­rus, pen­guins, seals and whales.

In 2018 Ex­o­dus Trav­els are of­fer­ing wildlife and pho­tog­ra­phy fans the chance to travel with three ex­tra­or­di­nary lead­ers, Chris Pack­ham, Mark Car­war­dine and Paul Gold­stein – on two very spe­cial Po­lar Pho­to­graphic Char­ters.

Chris is, in the words of The Times ‘ the heir to David At­ten­bor­ough’. Not only a BBC pre­sen­ter, RSPC fig­ure­head, and con­ser­va­tion­ist, he is a bril­liant pho­tog­ra­pher and a hugely pop­u­lar ad­di­tion to our Po­lar ex­pe­di­tions.

Mark is a zo­ol­o­gist, ac­tive and out­spo­ken con­ser­va­tion­ist, award-win­ning writer and pho­tog­ra­pher, a TV and ra­dio pre­sen­ter, mag­a­zine colum­nist and a con­ser­va­tion con­sul­tant, to name just a few! He and Paul have worked to­gether fre­quently and are an in­vig­o­rat­ing part­ner­ship.

Ex­o­dus guide and award-win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Gold­stein has of­ten said that he is hap­pi­est on the plains of the Ma­sai Mara or the decks of a Po­lar ves­sel hav­ing spent a year of his life in the Poles.

These three Po­lar cham­pi­ons will no doubt bring the knowl­edge, knowhow and ban­ter that will make these trips un­for­get­table hol­i­days of a life­time!

When they ar­rive in the UK, waxwings head straight for berrypro­duc­ing trees and shrubs that can be found in su­per­mar­ket car parks.

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