Waxwing Weekend

Ken and I ventured ‘off-island’ on Saturday. We heard tell of a beautiful Desert Wheatear over Llandudno way, flocks of Waxwings and now a Green-Winged Teal!

Before we’d even left the house we’s already ‘dipped’ on the Wheatear, Alan (from the Biggest Twitch) had informed it had not been seen and had most probably gone. It was during Ken’s third call to Alan, his friend of many years, that he remembered to wish him “Happy Birthday”!

With it being December 1st, Ken was starting off his month list. I missed a redpoll in the garden whilst I was getting ready and blackbird and sparrow added to the garden list. We bumped into (not literally) the usual suspects as we headed down the A55: rook, great tit, buzzard, kestrel, starling. It was only a few weeks ago that Ken commented on the fact that he’d not seen a Kestrel down the A55 in ages. I suggested that perhaps it was he who had not been seen down the A55 in ages…and the amount of Kestrels I’ve seen along there since would suggest I am right!

Our first stop was RSPB Conwy. I love it there! It’s not got the cliffs and endless views of South Stack or anything dramatic like that, but it’s a fine place for birds and also birders. There are hides (something of a rarity of Anglesey), habitats galore and always very helpful, birdy, staff. I was happy meandering through the scrub and adding to the month list (blue tit, chaffinch, robin, coal tit), but Ken was visibly reverting to his days of being a ‘twitcher’ and we hurried straight towards where we hoped to see the Green-Winged Teal. We bumped into various elves and fairies along the way (RSPB staff) who told us exactly where to look. Unfortunately we were to dip on this bird too. Many teal had flown out onto the vast Conwy estuary and the fellow had most likely hidden away out there. A thought crossed my mind that the females of the two types of teal are indistinguishable (to me anyway!) and that there could be this one drake here causing a fuss amongst the birders and twitchers whilst there could be loads of the ladies right in front of us – just a thought.

Frustratingly, we loitered around some shadowy bushes where Ken spotted a Firecrest for all of a second. I missed it completely. I’ve not seen a Firecrest out in the wilds. I was lucky enough to see a bird in the hand when I accompanied the ringers over on the Isles of Scilly a couple of years ago. It’ll have to go down as one still needed on my list.

And so to Waxwings… We pulled in to the described car park in Rhuddlan and shuffled toward the silhouettes of birders up the path as the sun shone directly in our eyes. A guy from Yorkshire was the first we reached and told us in no uncertain terms that the birds had flown upon arrival of our car. Feeling slightly worried about this, I was relieved when they flew back in moments later. It was a real pleasure to see them again. As Ken says, they herald Christmas so it’s always a special meeting with a Waxwing.

Having seen the striking birds before, I was more struck this time by their call. A mass of jangling bells; incredible! They jingle-jangled from tree to tree in front of us. The light was fading and the photographers were heading home. It was then that I bumped into Aled and Linda, two North Wales photographers that I first met when working as a Tern Warden this summer at Cemlyn. Aled and Linda are first and foremost photographers, but we can see that the birds are getting to them. They spend far too long photographing birds not to fall for them. Ken and I felt happy getting back into the car knowing this.

I dropped Ken off at Rhyl train station so he could get home and I headed in the opposite direction to Derbyshire to see my Dad.

After a fun (and quite boozy) night out with my old man, we had a slow start Sunday morning to the Waxwings reported at Chilwell just a few miles away.

It was unmistakable when we arrived, around ten green men with massive lens. I think the paparazzi wear less cammo (the only way to differentiate). I saw a flock land behind the building, out of the view of the camera men. I popped over the road to let them know, but with their shots all lined up they were in it for the long game. Dad and I had fantastic views just around the corner which we shared with a young boy and a lady that was just grateful that someone had bothered to help her find them. Dad took a few snaps with his snazzy camera (I think he felt a bit inadequate walking past the paparazzi lot though) and I noticed that Waxwings really know how to work that camera. From the bright red berries to the clear blue skies, they have it all set up so we see them in the best light.

After having our fill, we went back to car and the flock followed us! We took advantage of this and watched a little while longer. I took the opportunity to record a little video on my phone. The quality’s not great, but I hope you appreciate how busy this tree was and you’ll hear something of that noise I’ve been banging on about. Click here to view video.

In for a spot of lazy birding after our late night, we thought we’d go to look for the Great Grey Shrike that has once more returned to Beeley Moor near my sister’s. We snuck from our car towards the small quarry and soon realised that we weren’t going to see the bird. On a moor with no-one to be seen for miles, we were dismayed to see a pair of archers and a target below us! Of all the things to scare the bird off, I wouldn’t have guessed at that. We did scour the surrounding fields, but the moors are vast, the light was fading and so were we. We stopped for some lovely Fieldfare further along the road and then headed home.

I will be back in Wales later this week for our Sunday Winter Walk, although there’s a slight change of plan…as I suspected, after all the rain recently the starling roost has moved. We will catch up with it, but in the meantime we are rearranging Sunday’s walk to be a tour of Malltreath Estuary where we hope to see Hen Harrier coming in to roost. See the ‘Wildlife Tours’ page if you want to join us!

Kathy x

p.s- Waxwings smell fruity apparently! For more waxwing related info see this chaps blog.

About nature.bites.admin

Kathy is a wildlife enthusiast who loves nothing more than to inspire people about nature. She is the Trust Development Officer for the West Wales Rivers Trust, a researcher at Aden Productions and offers guided wildlife tours on Anglesey with the amazing Ken Croft. Outside of work, Kathy arranges Anglesey Marine Week in order to promote engagement in conservation. Please see the 'Wildlife Tours' page of the website for more details of how to join a tour.

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