One of the reasons we birders love Waxwings is that they are so different. Not only do they look thoroughly exotic with their chestnut/pink plumage, pronounced crest and bright yellow and red waxy wing flashes, they also behave differently from other birds. Not for them wild rocky coasts, bleak moorland or species rich woodland - no, they prefer supermarket car parks and housing estates!
are also different as they are such a conspicuous irruption species,
most winters we don't see a single one but then we get winters like
2012/13 when they seem to be everywhere. This last winter was really
something very exceptional, as a look at the graph below shows. Without
a doubt it was the best Waxwing winter ever recorded along the shores
of the Dee Estuary and North Wirral, and I've looked at records going
back well into the 19th century! Nationally it has been a remarkable
eight years as we've had three major irruptions (2004/05, 2010/11 and
2012/13) when we would normally expect them every ten years or so. So I
hope you managed to see them last winter as we might not get any again
for over a decade!
Going back to the 20th century we had very few Waxwings reported in the Dee Estuary area. The major irruption of 1965/66 is a typical example when many hundreds were seen elsewhere in the country yet here we seem to have just had a few single figure flocks. But every 'Waxwing Winter' is different and this next graph nicely illustrates that.
In 2004/05 birds arrived late with good numbers not appearing until the fourth week of December, and most had gone by the end of January. Even though more birds were involved than the next big irruption in 2010/11 there were only 20 flocks recorded in 2004/05 with birds going around together in large numbers including over 100 in Ewloe in December and up to 93 in Greasby in January. In contrast there there were 60 flocks in 2010/11 but most flock sizes were less than 20 birds. Birds arrived early that winter with three on Oct 24th. But they were virtually absent during January and February and it wasn't until mid-March that we saw birds heading north again.
In 2012/13 they arrived early with 10 on Nov 9th, they built up rapidly so by the following week the weekly total was 378 with many birds in Deeside Industrial Estate. There were a lot of birds in Wirral as well and flocks stayed all winter albeit with a quiet period in January. Returning flocks were early and the total number of records for the first week in February was 443, the highest number of the winter. A total of 111 flocks were logged with the largest being 100 at Deeside Industrial Park on Nov 17th, most flocks were between 20 and 50 strong and widespread.
Irruptions occur when there aren't
enough berries in Scandinavia for the Waxwings to eat. Some years there
is a complete failure of the berry crop and that happened in 2010 and
2012, which is why birds arrived early and in such numbers into the
country. In 2004 there were berries available but very wet weather
meant that these rotted and it was then that birds moved south. Other
irruptions occur when the Waxwings have had a
particularly good breeding season, the sheer numbers of birds means
that the berries cannot last all winter and
birds move south and reach this country later in the winter, often not
until the New Year.
Why the Waxwings arrived in such good numbers into our area this last winter I don't know, but large flocks arriving in Scotland in the autumn do seem to have split up early and became widespread, and obviously they found plenty of food here in our housing estates and supermarket car parks. It will be interesting to see whether the last 12 years will be typical of what to expect in the future with big irruptions occurring every three or four years or so, or whether we will look back and see it as a golden age for Waxwings - never to be repeated!
1. The total number of records for each week in the graphs is just that, i.e. the numbers for each flock were summed each day then added together for the week. Undoubtedly this exaggerates the total numbers of birds we have had - e.g. a flock of 20 staying for three days would be a total record of 60. But there is no way of knowing how big the turnover of birds is on a daily basis, or even if a flock of, say, 40 seen in Irby one day are the same birds seen the following day in Heswall. But I have treated each winter the same so we are comparing like with like.
2. I have stuck strictly to the Dee Estuary and North Wirral coast area, so the large flock in Seacombe in 2001 is not included, nor those in Birkenhead this last winter.
1. Dee Estuary Birding latest sightings
archive - www.deeestuary.co.uk.
2. The Migration Atlas, BTO, 2002.
3. Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWPi - interactive edition).
4. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1967 to 2011.
5. Clwyd/North-east Wales Bird Reports - various between 1975 and 2011.
6. Phil Oddy, Waxwing Influx 2004/05, Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2005.
7. David Norman, Birds in Cheshire and Wirral - a breeding and wintering atlas, 2008.
8. R.K. Cornwallis and A.D. Townsend, Waxwings in Britain and Europe during 1965/66, British Birds Vol.61 No.3 (March 1968).
|White Wagtail||14th March||Leasowe Lighthouse||8th March||11th March|
|Wheatear||17th March||Leasowe Lighthouse||9th March||13th March|
|Sand Martin||28th March||West Kirby||28th Feb||12th March|
|Willow Warbler||6th April||Red Rocks||20th March||16th March|
|Swallow||10th April||Red Rocks||17th March||20th March|
|House Martin||12th April||Hilbre||4th April||25th March|
|Cuckoo||13th April||Caldy||14th April||20th April|
|Whitethroat||15th April||West Kirby||1st April||8th April|
|Swift||17th April|| Sealand
||26th April||17th April|
26th May, 12.38hrs (BST), 9.6m.
27th May, 13.27hrs (BST), 9.6m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
Also see 2013 Events Diary.