Tuesday 13 November 2012

Waxwings, Always Welcome!

I think my last blog entry was a tad on the epic side for a week's stint in Norfolk, so I'll try to keep this one a bit shorter! 

As with a lot of my trips, Saturday's was very much last minute. I had no idea where to head on Friday night, and still hadn't decided until after breakfast the next morning. One word lingered in my mind. Allestree. You see, some years ago, I'm fairly sure Steve Seal and Dave Hutton lead me over there in search of a waxwing on an estate, and as is often the case with those two, the photographic rewards were fantastic and memorable. Back then there was just one bird to look at, but this time, over 50 of them had been reported. 

It was cloudy, but the forecast was for it to brighten up, so the course was set and just over an hour later I arrived in the housing estate near Derby, quickly spotting a few togs with their lenses pointed skywards, to the top of a tree. Sat there, were about a dozen waxwings. Super! 

I took a couple of shots initially, in the gloomy conditions, in case they all flew off, which they did several times, as there was a sparrowhawk patrolling the area. Thankfully, each time they'd gather again in one of the taller trees nearby, returning to the berry-laden rowan trees we were staking out. 

Though they weren't just making the most of the berries on offer, as they'd often launch off at speed, returning seconds later with an insect, caught on the wing. 

They are also incredibly agile, taking berries from the very ends of the thinnest branches. 

Sometimes a bit too thin! 

Aside from the posing these birds do, their calls are lovely, like a soft trill phone. But the best thing about them, is seeing them in sunlight, and after a while, the clouds parted and bathed the area, the trees and the waxwings in sunshine, transforming the scene. 

With the faint breeze catching their fluffy crest, the birds seemed to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine as they posed on the top of the tree, but they looked just as fine when feeding from the clumps of berries - the combination of colours was a real sight for sore eyes after the gloomy weather on a lot of recent trips, and throughout the summer full stop! 

As usual with these birds, they quite often pick berries that are too big to eat, and play catch with them... 

Or drop them completely! 

It was quite still that afternoon, so we were able to get good sharp shots as they fed and posed, and at the end of the day, when the golden setting sun cast its glow across us, there were some lovely images to be had, and I took full advantage. 

The day had been fun, especially finally meeting with Kev Joynes and bumping into Darren Chapman again, though I did feel sorry for Kate who had wanted to come along, but had been let down by someone who had arranged to meet her. I suggested to her that we could try again Sunday... 

Which we did. Forecast to be clear and sunny, and after a few tweets, text messages and emails in response to my photos from Saturday, I guessed there might be a few more folks around! 

While the light was fab, the birds were less accommodating, and didn't feed much from the trees we were watching. That didn't quell Kate's joy at seeing them for the first time, as she plonked herself down on the pavement below the tree to get close enough for a 400mm. 

When they did come down to feed, as before, they generally fed from the middle of the tree where the light was lacking, or from the back, where it was impossible to see them clearly. I had by now dug out my 100-400mm and was attempting to catch the waxwings in flight. Not easy as the 50D isn't great at locking on, and the birds' flight is undulating and they change direction in the blink of an eye. 

With it being a Sunday, I had to leave early to meet with family to head to the pub, so I left mid-afternoon. I hoped the others would have more luck with the shots they wanted, but it appears the birds remained awkward. I did see a small flock on another tree some distance from the road we had been camped on, so perhaps they were feeding there. The light wasn't so good down there though! 

A good weekend in fine weather, with better company photographing one of Winter's most colourful attractions. Not a bad result for a very late decision!