So the snow fell yesterday and it’s still here today. The warmest it got was minus 4 degrees at midday, so the snow is still crisp and powdery. I took Scarlett for a quick walk to the field behind my house this morning. There were the usual rabbit tracks and quite a few fox tracks, but the main thing I discovered was that hauling an all-terrain baby buggy through 4 inches of powder snow really is as difficult as it sounds.
In the afternoon, despite all the warnings not to travel unless it was absolutely vital, I got in my car and went for a drive along the snow-covered, icy roads to the village of Woburn. I was risking life and limb to witness a great wildlife spectacle: the Woburn waxwings.
Waxwings are birds, related (I think) to larks. They are residents of Scandinavia but sometimes come to Britain in winter, to feed on berries. These invasions – ‘waxwing winters’ have apparently been recorded since as long ago as 1679.
For a week or two now the birdwatching grapevine has been humming with reports of waxwings in the area. The biggest flock is in Woburn, where 350 birds have been reliably counted. This is a big number of waxwings. Now, you must understand that I don’t class myself as a twitcher. I’ve always made a point of sticking to the area around my house, looking for birds and animals but not travelling far from home just to tick off a species. For me, understanding my local patch has always been the important thing. At least, I did until we got a huge flock of unusual migrants a few miles away. This was enough to get me skidding my way along the treacherous, icy roads.
The waxwings were easy to find. A small gaggle of birdwatching paparazzi was gathered to watch and photograph them. My RSPB Pocket Birds book says of that waxwings are “exotic looking and very tame”. The book is very accurate on this. Firstly, waxwings are very handsome birds. Dark pink, with black and white bars on the wing tips and a charming crest. They do look exotic. To see a whole flock – hundreds together – was a fantastic sight.
Secondly, the main waxwing flock in Woburn was concentrated in a berry bush in the front garden of a house by the main road. This was very convenient for birdwatchers as it meant we could get a real close view. Every now and then the flock would scatter a little but they’d come back almost immediately. They were not in least bothered by the passing cars, the photographers, or even people walking past on the pavement a few feet away. It made for a great spectacle. In addition to the hardcore birdwatchers, many people stopped walking or even stopped their cars to find out what everyone was looking at.
I’ve crossed a line today. I’ve gone from a casual local-patch birdwatcher to a proper twitcher. But for the experience of seeing a whole flock of such good looking birds I was quite happy to make the journey. Besides, if the waxwings have come all the way from Scandinavia to visit our corner of Mid-Bedfordshire, it would be rude for me not to welcome them in person.