With the days being as short as they are at this time of year, I try to minimise any driving, to maximise time photographing during the daytime. So unless a mega rarity crops up that really takes my fancy, I see what's around locally.
Whilst out at a Christmas meal with family on Friday, I missed a call from Bob, who kindly left a message to say that the waxwings were back at Hartlebury Trading Estate, and as they were feeding on yellow berries, it might make a nice change. That answered my question of where to go on Saturday!
On the way I chose to try out the SatNav feature on my iPhone for a change to my normal one, and found the American voice rather comical, though the occasional delay with it instructing me at junctions, and its terms for routes (though it pronounced that word the British way) slightly confusing. Still, it's a Beta apparently and I soon found myself driving down towards a small crowd of togs standing near a tree, laden with yellow berries. So it works fine!
The birds were around, and as is typical with waxwings, they were feeding, then flying off to a higher perch on another tree to digest the berries taken.
Despite the weather being supposedly decent, after the first half an hour or so, clouds drifted across and made the shots of the waxwings rather dull. And as usual, whenever the sun did make an appearance, the waxwings were elsewhere.
This didn't stop me from taking shots of other birds though, and I was pleased to see both redwings and fieldfares also taking the berries.
The redwings tended to remain in the middle of the tree, which didn't make for quite so pretty shots, though one could say that they're pretty enough by themselves to warrant a photo.
Learning from the waxwings on how to reach the berries at the ends of branches, one blackbird balanced down the thin stems to reach them, and in a rare moment of sunshine positively glowed in doing so. Undoubtedly the best blackbird pics I've ever taken, as they're a bird often overlooked, or found poking around amongst shrubs, and not in the clear.
During the day, the waxwings started to fly off away from view, so we wondered where they were off to. John (Starkey) opted to have a look around the estate, and while he failed to find them, he did spot a green woodpecker. Later on, when the waxwings had been AWOL for some time, we both headed off to look for the woodie, but it had gone too. Fairly typical with my luck, ignoring last week's fluke.
All the smiles from seeing the birds during the day vanished when one of the togs failed to secure his camera and 500mm lens on the tripod head properly, and it fell - in apparent slow motion to all us horrified onlookers - down to the concrete, where it bounced a couple of times, and rolled into a puddle. No-one said anything for a second. The camera was broken along with the converter which wouldn't come off, but Bob tested the lens with his Nikon, and that miraculously worked fine. All insured, but we all felt so awful. I shudder thinking about it now.
On the way home, with Bob's advice, I called in to a local Christmas tree centre and picked up one for home. Barely fit in the car and various obscenities were uttered when decorating it, as the needles spiked my hands! Still, the odour from it lifts my spirits every time I enter the room.
With no mega-interesting birds appearing, I thought I would perhaps try again on Sunday. Waking up, I peered out of the curtains to see fog. Great. I chose to have a bit of a lie in. Was soon bored of that idea and went out anyway, only to discover that it was just Birmingham under the mist, and beyond the Lickey Hills, glorious sunshine awaited. Back down at the trading estate I was greeted with rather annoyed looking faces. Not at me, but at a ringer who had just left, having caught a couple of the waxwings and scared the rest off.
Brilliant, especially when the birds were already flighty before. After a chat with friends, I chose to drive off around the estate to see if I could work out where they'd gone to hide. I tried all the roads I could see and probably raised the suspicions of the local security guards as I tootled around peering out of the screen. No sign of the waxwings anywhere, but I did see a green woodpecker. It was initially in a tree, but flew off (of course) when I lined the camera up at it.
On my drive around, I'd seen an area of ground I considered perfect for such woodpeckers, so drove back over there, parked up and waited. I was in contact with Ken back at the waxwing site, in case they showed up, but I could see blackbirds, robins, goldfinches, greenfinches, rooks, magpies, the occasional raven, gulls, redwings, jays and then, at a distance, a green woodpecker appeared.
It was a distance too, and my view was obscured by a thin wire mesh fence. But with nothing in the waxwing tree, I stayed put and hoped. It took a while, but eventually the woodie came within reasonable range for some shots, and with me in my car, it didn't fly off either, even when it heard the shutter going.
Add to the mix a bit of sunshine, and I took a load of shots. I wasn't sure if they'd come out what with shooting through the fence, but having seen them on the PC now, I was pleased I did.
The majority of the time I was photographing a female (black patches under the eyes) as she fed on the ground, or when spooked, perched on a post or tree.
But there was a male around - maybe a juvenile too, as can be seen from the shots - the male has a red patch under the eye. He was more vigorous with his digging, and hence mucky around the face. Dirty boy! Both seemed to find a great deal to eat on the ground though.
Then a call came in - the waxwings were back. Dilemma. Should I stay or should I go? Without breaking into a song, I stayed. I have hundreds of photos of waxwings, and hardly any of green woodpeckers. And as there were two birds edging closer, I crossed my fingers of some better shots.
Suddenly I heard the gulls going mad, cast a glance down the road and saw them chasing a buzzard. The peckers, which had been playing statues for most unusual sounds they heard, chose to abandon that idea and fly off, cackling loudly as they did. The light had also all but gone, and I headed back to see the waxwings (and friends) before heading home.
As a footnote to this blog, an image of a fieldfare I had taken on the Saturday has been chosen by the BBC as the banner image on their Facebook Springwatch group page, for the forthcoming Winterwatch programmes. I am chuffed to bits, to put it mildly, especially as they have included a credit on the main image.