Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 15, 2017


One of those delightful quirks of the natural world – rare birds in the heart of town.  The birds in question are waxwings, the town Basildon (or Pitsea to be more precise), part of the urban spread of South Essex.

Waxwing are breeders of the far north.  Birds wintering in the UK would have bred among the coniferous woods of Arctic and sub-Arctic Russia and in Northern Scandinavia.  These are, generally speaking, not places to spend the winter and so on leaving their breeding grounds they decend southwards, largely into Southern and Central Europe.  Some however, will come further west and most winters will bring a couple of hundred birds to the east coast of Britain.  Some years though, are irruption years.  A good breeding season and insufficient winter food (berries) in their more normal haunts causes invasions which can result in many more hundreds, even thousands of birds crossing the North Sea on a quest for more food.  In the winter of 1965/66 a record 11,000 were estimated to have come here.

This winter seems like a good one for waxwing, to the extent that I was able to watch a flock of 20 or so in the middle of said town.  Urban wildlife in our gardens and parks is one thing, but being able to enjoy these birds outside a certain large outdoor equipment retailer’s store is quite another.  They were attracted by the bunches of scarlet berries clumped on some ornamental rowan, a tree often favoured to break the monotony of retail estates and the like.  And this wasn’t the first time.  A while back I was wowed by some 100 odd in the self same part of town.

The light was terrible on drizzly, damp day, but I did manage to capture the occasion for prospetity.


Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus). Ross Gardner 2017.


Part of a waxwing flock in Pitsea, Essex. Ross Gardner 2017.

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