Bird Watch - Have you seen a waxwing yet?

A handsome waxwing
A handsome waxwing

Thanks for all the feedback on the lack of blue tits – one of the themes of last month.

Just as last month’s piece was winging its way along the optic fibres, a rarely witnessed event involving two other tits, coal and bearded, was beginning to take shape.

They were showing signs of ‘irruptive’ behaviour.

Why and what does it mean?

Imagine a conifer woodland with maybe 10-15 pairs of coal tit, all rearing a nice healthy crop of youngsters.

These jump out of the nest and start looking for food, encountering other like-minded youngsters and start to form even bigger roaming flocks and all is well as they tootle around the forest for two or three months.

Then it all goes a little bit pear-shaped.

Rather like the time when we stuffed ourselves with ‘E’ numbers before Jamie Oliver taught us all how to eat properly, the youngsters become excitable and hyperactive and an overwhelming desire to escape the confines of the conifer forest takes over their tiny brains.

It is sometimes difficult to work out why this happens but it is often related to one of two things.

Either there are too many coal tits for the size of the woodland due to the breeding season being brilliant, with hot summer weather and loads of caterpillars for hungry nestlings, or there is a shortage of food as autumnal temperatures drop, the insects start running out and the cones are not producing the alternative sustenance.

From the end of September, the skies were filled with gangs of coal tits winging their way south.

On one day, October 10, 164 flew over Heysham Nature reserve and perhaps as many as 400 passed over there in total.

The behaviour was completely different to the twos and threes you might see on your bird feeders.

Typically, they arrived at Heysham Nature Reserve from the north at pylon height, descended into a bush, jumped around making a racket for about half a minute, then vertically took off and headed south.

We ringed a few at Heysham and it will be interesting to see how much further to the south they went before settling down and also will any of them ‘go home’ next spring?

The other tit irruption was very high profile as it involved the Leighton Moss bearded tits.

This is a bit of a worry as the population is not high at the moment and therefore the reason is quite possibly a poor reed crop due to the wet summer and the resulting high water levels.

Finally a famously irruptive bird is on its way back – it’s time to kickstart the regular Visitor request for waxwing sightings.

They really do seem to have become more regular in recent years and plenty have been piling across the North Sea over the last few days and peak numbers do not usually arrive until mid-November so watch this space, watch any red berries and please let me know if you see any –PMrsh123@aol.com.

If you are worried about hordes of twitchers or there are other sensitivities such as the berries being in a tree within school grounds, please could you just give a general location or let me know when they have moved on. Thanks.