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