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THE YEAR 2000 WAS ROUNDED off nicely by the appearance of small numbers of Waxwings, arriving ahead of a cold weather system from the continent. After an initial sighting of two from Beccles on December 25, it wasn't long before Lowestoft hosted three at St. Margarets Church on December 27. A day later three appeared at Kessingland. This group increased to 14 on January 1-2, 2001 before dispersing. Also, on January 1, 28 were present in Oulton Village. The highest count during this period was of 40 opposite the Hotel Victoria on January 7.
Whilst numbers remained low in the U.K, postings to EuroBirdNet make it clear that significant numbers were present in Europe, in particular Scandinavia. For example Jan Nordblad, from Finland, posted the following information on December 29, 2000, which certainly made our flocks look very tame by comparison.
"Waxwings also here. Yesterday 5,500 were counted by one observer walking 3 hours in the northern Helsinki suburbs. Fieldfares 9,000 same route. Pine Grosbeaks in many places along the south coast."
Understandably many local observers cast their minds back to the events of the winter of 1995/6, the last invasion year. Surprisingly there were only two Suffolk records for December 1995 and no-one realized at the time they would be the fore-runners of things to come.
The first birds to arrive locally in the new year were 18 at Oulton Broad and 4 at Kessingland on January 7. By the third week of January groups of between 30 and 60 were being reported from many locations. The majority of the records came from Lowestoft itself, but that was almost certainly due to observer coverage. It seemed as though wherever there were berries there were Waxwings, and notable counts were received from Gorleston, Bradwell, Corton, Oulton Broad, Pakefield, Kessingland and Beccles, with smaller counts received from several other locations in our recording area.
Although Lowestoft produced the most reports Pakefield was 'the place' to see Waxwings locally. In particular Ashburnham Way. Here after an initial sighting of 8 in the car park of Somerfield supermarket, numbers started to build considerably. It wasn't long before the first three figure count, 150, was made nearby at Bloodmoor Hill on January 30. This group then moved a short distance to Ashburnham Way. Here the flock increased steadily and on February 5, peaked at 280, as more birds moved in from neighbouring Lowestoft, Oulton Broad etc. After which the numbers started to tail off, dwindling to 30 by February 11. However, there was an isolated count of 200 on March 3, possibly a sign of birds beginning to head back to the breeding grounds.
The final record locally involved three at Breydon Way, Lowestoft on April 10. Two at Woodbridge on May 5 became Suffolk's latest. Overall the dates and records from Lowestoft reflected something of a national trend. If only the Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, had chosen Ashburham Way instead of inner city Nottingham. Maybe next time! A full account documenting the occurence of Waxwings in Suffolk during early 1996 can be found in edition 109. of 'The Harrier', Ling, S et al.
Observations of Waxwing Behaviour
by Robert Wilton
TO MY KNOWLEDGE THE FIRST notable flock of Waxwings to appear in Lowestoft in January 1996, were 60 or so found by Richard Smith in Ipswich Road on January 23-24. This particular group soon fragmented into smaller, more wide ranging groups. One of which chose to feast on berries along Yarmouth Road at the junction of Harris Avenue. They remained here for just over a week.
On January 27, Ricky Fairhead and myself observed this group, which had grown to 37, perched in trees after feeding. Around this time there was still a covering of snow around. Every few minutes a couple of the birds would fly onto the roofs of the houses and proceed to jab their bill's into the snow to remove scraps of berry. They then proceeded to 'snow bathe' much the same as House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, 'dust bathe'. Both techniques appeared to be successful, restoring pristine plumage.
On January 4, Colin Jacobs was watching a group of twelve at Harvest Drive, Pakefield. Here he observed them eating snow. BWP notes that between meals large quantities of water or snow are consumed, and that they have also been noted flycatching snowflakes.
Ling, S (Ed.) Waxwings in Suffolk 1996, The Harrier. SOG. Bulletin No. 109.
Cramp, Stanley (Chief editor) 1988, The Birds of the Western Palearctic: Vol V
by Stephen Graham
BACK IN THE WINTER OF 1988-89 large numbers of Waxwings arrived in Suffolk coinciding with a national influx. During this period, due to the birds remarkably tame nature and the numbers involved (no doubt linked to an adequate supply of food), I was able to make observations of birds on a number of occasions, with the result that I noted two features of the birds behaviour which are, apparently, seldom witnessed in this country.
My first observations were of apparent 'hawking' for food, presumably insects, when a flock of 20 appeared at Bloodmoor Road, Pakefield on January 2, 1989. As I was watching the group from the opposite side of the road, I twice observed a bird or birds launch themselves from a tree into a ponderous banking glide to catch an insect. Confirmation of this behaviour being seen by others elsewhere came with a note in 'BTO News No. 160' which mentioned such activities being observed in Norfolk at the start of the invasion. Lars Jonsson's, Birds of Europe notes that in spring and summer, they take insects caught in flight recalling a feeding Bee-eater, Merops apiaster.
The second aspect of Waxwing behaviour that I was fortunate enough to witness was courtship. A flock of nine birds first appeared in Sand's Lane, Oulton Broad in February and I was able to watch them at close quarters. On the first occasion I watched as a bird with what appeared to be a twig approach a perched bird . The perched bird began to beg as one would expect a young bird to behave, adopting a crouching posture and flapping its wings, whilst holding out its beak - in this instance the offering was promptly discarded.
Twelve birds were present on March 18 and two were especially active. To start with the birds would hop from branch to branch after each other. After this, one bird stayed on a twig, whilst the second approached and reached out towards the first. The two birds then opened their beaks but no call was uttered, and no gifts were seen to be exchanged. Neither bird made any noticeable body movements such as had been observed before.
Payn, W.H., 1962. The Birds of Suffolk. Ipswich.
Jonsson, L.,1994. Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East.
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