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Bird notes by Jim Cassels
This is the photograph taken by Malcolm Whitmore that was used on the cover of the Arran Bird Report in 2012. It is a stunning image of waxwings. These Nordic nomads are an ‘irruptive’ species, only arriving in numbers in certain winters, dictated to a large extent by conditions in their native Scandinavia. Could this winter be one of these winters?
Waxwings can be very confiding, allowing a great view of their large crest, pinkish brown body and eponymous waxy wings. The waxy tips are actually the extended shafts of the feathers, and the number seen will identify the age and sex of the bird, ranging from none on young females to eight on adult males. Listen out for their distinctive trilling call too, sounding oddly reminiscent of ‘sid-little’. In flight they look similar in shape to the familiar starling.
It has been a number of years since there has been a winter influx of waxwings.
In October 2010 there was the biggest arrival in years of waxwing in the UK. Birds flooded in on Sunday 24 and Monday 25 October. On those two days alone, over 2,700 birds were reported in Scotland, with many smaller flocks along the English east coast. The biggest flocks were reported on Tuesday 26 October, with 480 in Pitlochry and 320 in Aberfeldy according to www.birdguides.com.
Arran did not miss out in this ‘invasion’. At lunch time on Thursday 21 October five waxwings were reported at Invercloy in Brodick. This was the first report. Later that day there were 15 by Brodick Bowling Green. On Saturday 23 October in the afternoon there was up to 30 Waxwings in the trees of the Royal Hotel, Whiting Bay and the adjacent Whiting Bay Primary School. The birds were still around this area on Sunday afternoon. Also on Sunday afternoon there was a flock of around 10 birds in the trees close to Brodick Library, six around the Catacol Bay Hotel and 50 in Kingscross. In some cases, observers were getting within five metres of these very confiding birds.
On Monday 25 October reports included; 40 in Brodick, 20 over High Kildonan flying west, 13 by the lay by with the phone box in Sannox, one in a bus shelter in Sandbraes, 30 by the golf course in Lochranza, and 20 sitting on a TV aerial in Pirnmill. Widespread reports continued throughout the week with up to 100 by the Auchrannie on Saturday 30 October.
Similarly November and December 2012 were exceptional months for sightings particularly on the east of the island. Groups included 60 Invercloy on 12 November, 40 Lamlash on 15 November, 120 Brodick on 16 November, 530 Cnoc na Daill on 17 November, 50 Kiscadale on 17 November, 100 Merkland on 26 November, 58 Corrie on 3 December and 35 Lochranza on 12 December.
Since then one record in 2013, two in 2014, none in 2015, eight in 2016, one in 2017 and none in 2018 – but perhaps this winter? Be prepared for them turning up anywhere, where there are trees and bushes with bright red and orange berries even those on ornamental trees. Waxwings brighten any winter’s day.
Enjoy your birding.
Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or e mail me at email@example.com I look forward to hearing from you. For more information on birding on Arran purchase the Arran Bird Atlas 2007-2012 as well as the Arran Bird Report 2018 and visit this website www.arranbirding.co.uk
Waxwings can be easily identified by their large crest, pinkish brown body and eponymous waxy wings. Photograph Malcolm Whitmore No_B05waxwing01