My First Wonderful Waxwing Encounter!

My twitter feed over the last few weeks has been full of reports of waxwings flooding into the country. These stunning passerines are flooding into the UK from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia .. and what a treat they are! Like masked bandits, they seek out their bounty…. berries, particularly Rowan and large flocks can strip whole trees in hours! Their name comes from the bright waxy-like feathers and colouration on the wings. I have missed out on seeing these birds, let alone photographing them, so when I heard they were getting closer to me, I was very keen to see if I could catch up with them. 

Today, I headed to Allestree, in Derby where friend, Pete Walkden, had photographed them yesterday  There were reports coming in of up to 50 individuals feeing on the Rowan trees in a suburban street. It was a beautiful autumnal morning… clear blue sky and the lovely light that only autumn brings…. I was hopeful!

I arrived and the large collection of 500 & 600mm lens and tripods confirmed I had found the right location. Getting out the car, with no tripod and only my hand-held 100-400mm lens can make you feel somewhat inadequate, but sometimes that smaller lens and the flexibility and mobility it gives you can actually be an advantage!




At one point, I was sitting on the floor, almost under the tree, in front of all the others who had to be a bit further back because of their big lenses!


Meeting up with Pete, I was disappointed to hear that a small flock had just moved on… so nothing graced the Rowans, hung heavy with vibrant berries contrasting against the golden leaves and blue sky. I kept my fingers crossed that they would return. Within about 40 minutes a twittering  announced the return of a small flock, their undulating flight distinctive as they made their way to the top of one of the Rowans. Firing off a few shots, we all waited for them to move down to the berries, which were on all of the lower branches. In fact, they spent most of their time simply sitting right at the top of the trees, occasionally making their way down briefly to the berries, accompanied by a machine-gunning of shutters.

Every time, they got closer to the berries and I could see them in the frame, my heart raced… it was so wonderful to see them and to get some photos was going to be a bonus.

A lot of the other photographers there had photographed waxwings before, many showing off their amazing images on iphones and other mobile devices. Many seemed after that ‘perfect’ shot… a clear view of the waxwing, unobstructed by any stray branches or leaves… but in reality most of the time they are amongst this wonderful foliage.. amazingly camouflaged despite their distinctive markings. Although I did not want branches across the face, I was happy to shoot away even when they were within the foliage.  I like shots that tell you a bit more about these birds; put them in context a little.


Over the following 4 hours, small flocks came and went, sometimes treating us to fantastic views of them plucking the succulent berries, tossing them and then struggling to swallow them down… it was photographer’s heaven… the combination of rich colours, autumnal light and blue skies, not to mention the waxwings. I had a quick look on the back of the camera, and I was excited about what I had captured.


It is always wonderful to see a new species, but having these photos to remind me of the experience is great. Keep an ear out for these birds in your area… well worth a trip out to see… and if you can, take your camera too!

These are a few of my favourite shots. The others can be seen on my Flickr site HERE




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