Saturday, 20 January 2018

Fifth Day of a Five Day Binge

On Thursday morning we awoke to a blanket of snow, around 5 inches of it, deepest covering since the hard winter of 2010/11, so the 'best' snowfall our youngest has ever seen.

We were snowed-in basically, the perils of living in a cul-de-sac, no gritters and no passing traffic to help clear the road, so a day off school for the kids, and I spent most of the morning shovelling snow with a couple of neighbours to ease access to the road.

But I digress, my main concern early morning was whether 'Waxy' would return. I didn't have long to wait. As the day brightened just enough to see the bottom of the garden in decent light, a now familiar figure swooped in and onto the tree where the half apples hung. I quickly grabbed my camera as I wanted a photo of her in the wintery conditions.
But today the apples were covered in snow. I watched through the viewfinder and snapped away as Waxy took a few tentative pecks at one of the snow-covered apples, it was obvious they were frozen solid. She stopped and looked from side to side a couple of times, turned around on her perch and flitted off in the direction from which she'd arrived, causing a mini snowfall from the tree as she did so.
I immediately had a gut feeling that was the last I would see of her, and so it proved :-(

Thursday 18th January, just after 8am 

A quick inspection of the apple and a couple of unproductive pecks.

A startled 'What do I do now?' type of look.

The very last pic I took of 'Waxy' before she flitted off to pastures new :-(

I have to say I was quite sad, and spent the rest of the day (in between tasks) looking forlornly out of the window. My gut instinct told me she wasn't coming back. I hoped I was wrong, so it wasn't until Friday morning, when she didn't show again, before I finally conceded my five day flirtation with this Scandinavian beauty had ended, thanks to a freak un-named winter storm.

You may note I've started referring to her as 'she', well I thought I'd try to age and sex the bird from my photos. The criteria as follows led me to conclude she was a  first winter female, though please feel free to put me right if this is not the case :

This photo shows most of the main features needed to age and sex a waxwing.
The most obvious feature is the width of the yellow tailband - Wide on male, narrow on female (tick?)
The number of red waxy tips on the secondaries - few on female (tick?), lots on male
A feature I can't tell on this photo is the black throat patch - On the male it forms a sharp border with
the chest, the female is more diffuse, Ron's photos on NotManyWords show this feature better (tick?).
The age is told by the white and yellow on the primary tips -
Adults have white tips and bright yellow fringing, juveniles have no white tips with pale yellow fringing (tick?).

So there you have it, those features help me deduce a first winter female, unless like I say, anyone knows different?

All in all a very interesting few days in the garden. The presence of the waxwing has kept me at the windows for far longer than usual, and a supporting cast of new garden ticks and a bit more has resulted :

A flock of 8 then later 9 greenfinches is the most I've seen for some 12 years, since the finch disease all but wiped them out locally (and further afield) so very good news indeed.

On Sunday I had a goldcrest, a nuthatch and 2 long-tailed tits all together in one tree, the goldcrest being a garden first, I've seen them in trees over the road fairly regularly but first time in the garden.

Other birds nice to see have been the regular bullfinch pair, couple of jays, another squadron of long-tailed tits, a GS Woodpecker, and on Thursday morning in the snow, numerous large parties of redwing flew over from the valley, and a couple of smaller parties of Fieldfare, actually the first I've seen this winter and a long-awaited flyover garden tick.
Best of all the wintry conditions brought an excellent sighting of first time visitors, with up to 4 Yellowhammers coming to the garden in the last few days.

One of four Yellowhammers brought to the garden by the wintry conditions.
A kind of consolation prize I guess :-/

I have to admit I was saddened at the disappearance of 'my' waxwing. But the apples were frozen solid thanks to the overnight snow and freezing temperatures, she couldn't eat them so had to find food elsewhere, that's the way of survival, its the only reason they visit us in the winter. She's probably miles away now, but I do hope she found a new food supply and makes it back home ok in the spring.

Thanks for the memories,'Waxy'. And you can be sure I'll be keeping the trees loaded with half apples 'til April, when the last waxwings return to the continent ;-)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Lots more Wax in 'ere

The Waxwing has taken up temporary residence in the garden, feasting on the plentiful supply of apple halves we've been putting on the trees.
On Tuesday it spent the whole day in residence from first light, disappearing for no more than 20 minutes on a couple of occasions and during periods of sunshine offered some cracking photographic opportunities for myself and Ron (NotManyWords blog) who popped round to get some better quality pics than my best efforts.

On Wednesday it was there again at first light on a bitter morning. We were out until lunchtime but Waxy was present on our return, though during the afternoon was a bit more flighty, a mob of magpies had started eyeing up the apples and their frequent sorties to the garden made the waxwing uncomfortable, flying off regularly but always returning 'til last light, and again giving some good opportunities for photographs through the double-glazing at sunnier periods.
As can be seen from the next batch of photos, the light was very changeable, giving a range of poor to not bad efforts from my S-X1 :

Those two photos were taken seconds apart, showing how the bird changes from relaxed to alert
when a magpie flies in
Sitting in the tree outside the front door

Not often I can watch a waxwing
while sitting on the bed   

One of my favourite shots against the backdrop of the valley

Crap shot, just wanted a pic in the snow shower
on Tuesday morning

My favourite pic - not best quality, just love the pose.
Timed just right as a sudden gust of wind from behind raised its crest for me. 

So that was four full days it had spent with us, and came in at first light again today for a fifth morning running after a night of heavy snowfall, but more on that next time.
Again, no apologies for the over-indulgence, photo-count now well over 400 and rising.   

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Joy of Wax

Been a few months since I had anything of note to post, the summer peed me off, I got the autumn blues and can't stand the cold in winter, plus the last few months of the year is always my busiest time with the run up to Christmas and all.

Anyhow, a special event helps kick start the new year, and like last year (see first post of blog) it involves my favourite songbird, the Waxwing.

It's been a poor winter for them after the 'infestation' of 2016/17, few records of twitchables in the region and I may be right in saying the Borough of Gateshead hasn't had a single sighting. Despite this, a few days ago I stuck some halved apples on the trees at the bottom of the garden, (if not a waxwing, then blackcaps might be attracted to them) but with no sightings locally it was more in hope than expectation.
Entering the conservatory (still half asleep) on Sunday morning, movement caught my eye through the thin film of condensation and I did a double-take as my eyes focussed on the yellow-tipped tail of a bird on one of the apples.
"Christ on a bike" I exclaimed (loudly but to myself) "A bloody waxwing!"

My binoculars were upstairs so I rushed up, waking the household as I did so, and confirmed the sighting through the bedroom window, beginning a whole day of staring out of various portals as I took in this Scandinavian beauty and reeled off some 250 photos, the first batch of which were hopelessly out of focus as I couldn't stop shaking, or even get the camera on the right settings.

But wow! The bird I've always wanted on my garden list, couldn't believe it. A couple of fellow Gateshead birders were invited round to share in my joy, but little did I think it would stay all day, doing what waxwings do, feed up, fly off for a rest, fly back in after a while, repeat cycle. It's taken a while to sift through all the photos, they aren't great but still the best I've managed of a waxwing, for once not taken from below looking up in to the trees (with no apologies for the over indulgence) :

Waxy and apple - First shot without the shakes

Getting stuck in - double glazing and dull day to contend with

Last of the poor first batch

Head pattern and colour is superb on this species

I started to notice the 'regular' birds were starting to get agitated and gather in the tree of the
waxwing (bottom left)

It became alert, but not because of the attention it was getting

It was the neighbours cat, coming in for its daily poo. 

The waxwing flew into the chestnut tree outside the garden, a number of tits and finches followed it,
coming from trees over the road as well as the garden.

Smaller birds continued to flit around the waxwing, it was like mobbing behaviour, though they never
approached the waxwing aggressively, possibly out of curiosity at this strange exotic-looking
bird they'd never encountered before. 

Once the cat was gone, the waxwing spent a good while at the apples

Later in the day when the Sun got out for a while, I reeled off a few shots I was quite pleased with,
though still through the double glazing. Others needed to be brightened up in Photoshop.

And by the end of the day (last sighting approx. 4pm) three of the half apples had been devoured, leaving just the skins hanging from the branches.

Monday morning it was sitting in the tree outside the front door when we came back from the school run, what a heart-warming sight on a stressy Monday morning. I put another couple of apple halves on the tree but due to the iffy weather and us going out most of the morning, sightings were few and brief overall, but I'm hopeful that if I keep supplying the apples, it may hang around for a while longer. One visit in the afternoon coincided with a nice bout of sunshine so I ventured outside and got a few snaps without the double glazing in the way, not that it makes much difference to my photo-taking ability.
So will post a few more at a later date.
I'm still ecstatic at getting this one in the garden, waxwing lyrical perhaps.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


Back to Monday and I had a meeting in Thornley Woodlands Centre so took advantage of being on that side of the Valley by taking in a visit to Far Pasture, my first since late June.
As a site it's seen better days. Overgrown and high water levels mean there's never much more than the residents to see on the main pond, and viewing from the road is now much hampered by the thriving hawthorn hedge blocking sight of the main field opposite the car park. The roadside verges are way overgrown, covering the fence all the way along which was always likely to attract numerous basking darters in late summer.
Despite all this I really enjoyed a couple of hours wandering up and down the road looking for dragons, this had been my local patch for 12 years, it has given me some of my favourite wildlife watching moments, it was like visiting an old friend back in my home town, and in the main I wasn't disappointed.

My target was Ruddy Darter, last year I failed for the first time to find one at Far Pasture despite many visits. Today I checked and double-checked every darter I encountered along the roadside, but no luck.
Up to 3 Migrant Hawkers and a single Moorland were sighted in the bull field area (and half a dozen bulls), but it was the forbidden pond which came up trumps.
It's looking a lot better now, and the darters seemed to like it with over a dozen ovipositing pairs and several single males patrolling and fighting, but the biggest surprise was the damselflies. I would expect to get Emeralds this late in the season and saw 2 males, last year I had a late common blue on September 18th, today (11th) there were 3 present, but the biggest surprise was seeing a Blue-tailed damselfly with them, my previous late record being August 20th in 2015 (though I had reports of 8+ the same year at Kibllesworth on Sept 7th).
I also had a possible Ruddy Darter sighting here, a small red darter hovering in front of me momentarily before zipping off over a nettle bed never to be seen again, it looked good, deep red abdomen, bulging at the tip and looked relatively small, but I guess I'll never know for sure.

Basking dragons on the visible sections of roadside fence - a male common darter

A female common darter

The same female common darter


Big zoom record shot of one of the three common blue damsels on the Forbidden Pond

Big zoom record shot of the male blue-tailed damsel in the same area

Still plenty of Red Admirals around, been a brilliant late summer for this species

And another
All in all a great session with 6 (possibly 7) species seen not a bad effort for this late in the season(I'm sure if I'd made more of an effort I could have found a Southern hawker as well.) And despite its shortcomings I really miss my regular visits to Far Pasture, will have to make more of an effort next year.