Waxwing winter

I had a great start to the New Year hanging out with the twitchers near Lewes Skate Park. I’ve been amused by the Waxwing Watch on the Lewes Wildlife page for a few weeks now, and have been waiting for a calm day with good weather to go and take some pictures of our ‘irruption’ of birds. Today was the perfect day for it.

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The beautiful crested birds with red and yellow tipped wings are rarely seen as far south as Lewes. Their native home is in Scandinavia and northern Russia, but when their favourite foods are in short supply, they migrate. In the UK they are most often seen in Scotland and on the East Coast, but this might only be every few years.

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In medieval times waxwings were believed to be harbingers of plague, but these days the birds seem to inspire more excitement than fear. As I found when I headed to the park with my camera and new macro lens proudly slung over my shoulder, only to discover a number of people with much more impressive equipment than me.

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There was a fairly large group of us poised near the bushes, waiting to snap the birds as they flew down to eat the cotoneaster berries. I hung about for an hour or so while my daughter slept in her pushchair, watching quietly, waiting for the birds to fly down every so often to binge on the fruit.

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It’s really hard to get a sharp, uninterrupted shot of the birds feeding among the bushes. I got a handful of snaps I’m happy with, but the best Lewes waxwing pictures I’ve seen so far have to be those by Lisa Geoghegan, who was snapping away next to me on the hill. You can check out her Flickr stream here.

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In spite of myself, at first I thought it a bit odd that so many people would choose to spend New Year’s Day standing by a bush with a camera for hours, but in no time at all I was totally involved. I can see why people go to so much trouble for, and get so enthused about birdwatching and nature photography.

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There’s something calming about quietly observing, focussing on the movements of another creature. It’s one of those rare activities that forces you to slow down, and really appreciate the beauty and peculiarity of what might otherwise be thought of as an over-familiar, even mundane, environment. I like that.

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