Thursday, 27 January 2011

Day of the Bombycillids

Waxwings photographed from the bedroom window earlier this week. I doubt there will ever be another winter like this for this irruptive but usually rare species - at least not in my lifetime.
It sounds like a Fifties B-movie, doesn't it? But today was very much one for Bombycilla garrulus, and indeed it was the best locally so far this winter.

After a single bird flew past the window at home this morning, I decided to drive to work via Grove Avenue, Muswell Hill N10, where I first found a flock of birds about 12 days ago. I saw only 14 there yesterday lunchtime, but later in the afternoon my brother Auk had 120+ (a great result, as he hasn't birded properly for about three decades, but still secretly hankered after Waxwings). This morning, the flock had grown to a massive 285 - a figure that would have been a London record two months ago, and possibly still could be if I had been able to keep track of sightings. They made quite a sight flying down to feed on berries just north of the junction with Lansdowne Road, but were quite mobile.

Flushed with that success, I continued on to work, but just before turning off Western Road N22 into the car park at the Birdwatch office, caught sight of another 100 Waxwings feeding on sycamore buds along the railway line! These are probably the birds first seen in the same trees by David Callahan and Ian Lycett on Monday, but I strongly suspect they are a different flock to the Muswell Hill gathering. Allowing for unseen birds feeding in gardens near Grove Avenue (I could see some birds disappearing from view behind the houses), there may easily have been 400+ Waxwings to the north and east of Alexandra Park this morning.

I didn't have a camera with me today, so instead enjoy this shot of a group of Waxwings which appeared outside my bedroom window on Monday. I never tire of seeing them or photographing them (this shot was taken with my new Canon EOS 7D, which has performed impressively so far, and seems to auto-expose more accurately than the 50D).


  1. Great photo Dom & thanks again for the tip-off!

  2. Thanks for all this information. I'll be trying to get over there all the way from Putney tomorrow morning to see if I can find any. I've been searching for Waxwings all winter, with no luck so far.

  3. There was no sign of the big flock this morning, but I did have 10 Waxwings fly south over the house at about 9am, along Rosebery Road towards Alexandra Park. Phil - the best strategy is to drive the roads in this neighbourhood, especially Grove Avenue and then Cranbourne Road. If no joy, spent some time out of the car and listen, as they are very vocal and you might pick up their trilling calls before you see them. They often gather on TV aerials when not feeding. Good luck!

  4. Thanks for that. I'm about to set off now...although I don't have a car so it'll be tube, train and walking for me! I've got all day, so I'll just wander around the streets and the park looking for them.

  5. Hi Phil, there has already been one Waxwing this morning, in the top of the large beech tree near the bottom of Cranbourne Avenue, in a garden on the south side of the road. So you may get lucky! There's also a male Blackcap that has been showing well in the same area, and a Redwing.

  6. Great! So hopefully I'll get lucky today. If you notice a little guy wandering around wearing specs, a camouflage jacket and carrying a big camera lens, that'll be me!

  7. Thanks for all the information. I got to Muswell Hill around 11am and spent the morning wandering around the streets, but with no success apart from a nice Mistle Thrush and some Long-tailed Tits. A couple in Cranbourne Road told me to return between 3-4pm as that's when a flock of Waxwings had been feeding on the tree in front of their house most afternoons. I did, but still no sign. Then I saw a flock of c12 high up on a tree in the alley behind the shops between Roseberry Road and Grove Avenue, which soon moved on behind the houses. I then bumped into a family looking for the same thing. They saw one on its own in Grove Avenue, but they told me that they'd heard that some had been seen in the car park behind Marks & Spencer on Muswell Hill Broadway, so I went to have a look.

    There's a row of trees (possibly Rowans?) at the bottom, just in front of LA Fitness, and c50 Waxwings were flying in shifts from the top of a very high tree behind the gym, down into these trees at the foot of the car park. Positioning myself in front of the building and out of the line-of-sight of the birds in the high tree behind the gym, they were happy swoop down over my head and take the berries. I shot around 200 frames in 10 minutes before I think they went off to roost as the sun was going down.


    Thanks again for all the information. It turned out to be one of my best birding days yet.

  8. Fantastic photo, Phil, and delighted that your long trip over eventually proved worthwhile. I went over to the M&S car park on Monday afternoon and found one live and one dead bird, the latter possibility a traffic casualty, though in decent condition. It has now gone off to become part of the Natural History Museum's collection at Tring.

    The big numbers of Waxwings seem to have left the area now, though two popped up in my garden again on Monday.



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