The Heralds Of Winter

When my mind wanders, I struggle to think of a bird that raises a clamour among those of an avian inclination half as much as the Waxwing. A species which, to me, embodies everything endearing about British wildlife: confiding, colourful, charismatic and a joy to behold, whatever the weather. Living on the East coast – often the best place to encounter Waxwings, should they arrive – these birds are the true heralds of Winter. And following last week’s fleeting encounter, a few days past I was lucky enough to find a flock of my own. Enjoy the visitors in welcome solitude as they fed for half an hour in the grounds of my local pub.

Setting out after first light, the jaded sun of the transitional period between Autumn and Winter ascending, I had expected to find a few Waxwings. They are, after all, rather numerous this year: with flocks numbering well into the hundreds prevalent right up the coast, and smaller parties cropping up in almost every county in Britain. I was not, however, expecting to find one such large flock mere five minutes from my front door. But I did, with over 140 Waxwings unearthed in the grounds of the Bank Top pub, in Bedlington. The birds showed marvellously in the breeze, punk-rock crests blown into a whole manner of comical shapes as they scoffed the few remaining Whitebeam berries still clinging to the denuded trees. The flock occasionally rising, calling and returning once again, as dog-walkers passed, oblivious, under their perch. It was all rather lovely.


Spurred on by the seasonal spectacle unfolding on the edge of my local patch – where urban sprawl meets Country Park. I soon opted for a walk around the estuary, where two more Waxwings fed amid a tangle of Spindle in the company of a few Redwing and a lone Mistle Thrush – yet more winter visitors to the patch. Birds which, alongside the numerous Blackbirds exploding from every thicket, made for a most enjoyable half-hour amid the thorns. The real treat, however, came on the estuary itself where yet more Winter visitors fed on mud left exposed in the wake of the retreating tide.

Here some 120 Dunlin fed, dainty feet working flat out as they swept the flats in an unruly rabble of pale feathers. Redshank were numerous, with at least 100 observed, while other familiar characters had likewise arrived in force: Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover Turnstone and, better still, a dozen Black-Tailed Godwits. A species that I seldom recall seeing during my childhood here, that now appears to have replaced the dwindling number of Bar-tailed Godwits on the Blyth. I wonder why? Topping off the leggy smorgasbord, 50 Lapwings soon dropped in, metallic calls resounding over sludge; quickly followed by 300 or so Golden Plover. A quick scan of the flock as they descended revealed a single Grey Plover huddled amid their ranks. Surprisingly inconspicuous, despite the colour difference.

Elsewhere on the Blyth duck numbers remained low – last weeks Wigeon having departed and still no Goldeneye or Gadwall back from their travels. Sixty Teal, two-dozen Mallard and a dapper drake Red-Breasted Merganser the best I could muster. There is still time yet. The blow softened somewhat by the presence of a somewhat out of place Little Grebe in the harbour, a Little Egret and three Grey Wagtails looking far from grey in the growing light. The journey home revealed a Dipper, a little upstream, delving in and out of the river where it narrows and the saline waters of the estuary blend with the fresher outflow of the River Blyth.

Checking back in at the pub, the Whitebeams stood bare: of both berries and Waxwings. The earlier assemblage gone and two peeved birders the only indicator as to their former presence. It mattered not.


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