Pete Mella's writing portfolio

Stuff I've written. All my opinions are my own, not those of any current or former employers.

Encounters With Waxwings

Short article published in Bird Watching Magazine. 

Sheffield seems to be something of a Mecca for waxwings, which arrive in most winters to gobble up the Steel City’s rowan and cotoneaster berries. Despite this fact, and me living there all my life, I’d never seen one of these Scandinavian beauties, and I decided to embark upon a quest to rectify this embarrassing situation.

The winter of 2007 saw me at a time when I was feeling my feet as a “proper” birder, after regaining the birdwatching bug after time out to go to university and pretend to be cool for a few years. I was starting to learn my way round the web-based information networks, and glued my eyes to BirdGuides and the Sheffield Bird Study Group websites, poised for a quick and dirty twitch to see one of my dream birds. Sadly 2007 proved to be the worst waxwing winter for over a decade, and the best I could do was twitch two individuals in a furniture warehouse car park – probably the only ones within the City boundaries all winter – that promptly flew over my head and vanished. Not the views I’d been dreaming of!

After this disastrous start to my quest, I feared for the worst the following winter, but needn’t have worried. A wasted dash across the City during my lunch hour when the first pioneers were reported didn’t bode well, but soon I got a tip-off that a flock were feeding off rowans outside a pub in Crosspool – a mere ten minute bus ride from work. Another lunchtime twitch, and this time successful, with a party of around 20 birds descending into trees around me, some just a few feet away, gorging themselves on berries and royally irritating the street’s resident mistle thrush. It was a beautiful November afternoon, and they posed for photos in the best light you could hope for.

As the winter went on I had a peek at a number of local flocks, including 100 outside a police station in Hillsborough, and 200 in that fabled waxwing magnet – the car park of Asda in Handsworth (what it is about waxwings and supermarkets we may never know…). Once I got my ear in with their distinctive pulsing trill I could find them a mile off, and had a pleasant surprise on Boxing Day with a self-found flock during a walk while visiting the in-laws in Cheshire.

Best of all, my morning journey to work was enhanced immensely by another flock I found, which spent over a week at the tram stop near my house, sitting in a tree on the platform seemingly oblivious to commuters below.

The Sheffield waxwings lingered well into the spring, and the last ones I saw were a dozen hanging round the Sheffield Wednesday football ground in early May, the winter visitors looking slightly incongruous among the lush leaves while swifts swooped overhead!

So will the winter of 2009 be another waxwing-packed season? Time will tell, but I’ll be listening for that trill everywhere I go, hoping these preposterous, crested, pink birds will liven up some more frosty mornings.


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This entry was posted on December 22, 2009 by in Bird Watching, Wildlife and tagged , , , .
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