Though Waxwings in their breeding grounds of northern Scandinavia and Russia feed on flying insects, in winter their diet is very heavily fruit-based. When they come over to winter in the UK in numbers (which occurs periodically, every few years), their diet is largely berries, particularly those of Rowan and cotoneaster.
So, the best place to find Waxwings is in gardens or along streets with berry-bearing trees or bushes. Or, classically, and most productively in car parks in towns and cities, where berry-bearing bushes, hedges and trees are the town planners’ vegetation of choice for breaking up the lines and decorating car parking areas.
Waxwings are most often encountered in the north and east of the country, but in a good Waxwing winter, they may spread as far as the south-west English counties.
To look for Waxwings, get to know your town’s or city’s best concentration of fruiting trees (which are often near supermarkets!). And keep checking through the winter to see if the crested Viking invaders arrive! They are a sight to brighten up any Christmas shopping trip!
October presents a choice for the rarity hunter seeking some time away and the glory of finding that special bird. There are the potential North American waifs, supplemented by European and occasional Asiatic migrants on Scilly. Then, there are the Northern Isles (Shetland and Orkney) or perhaps the Hebrides in the west, where North American birds may make landfall and (especially in the Northern Isles) there is a chance of something exotic from the east.
Or you have the relatively domestic and accessible sites of North Norfolk.
The genius of North Norfolk is it has a bit of everything, all organised along a single, relatively accessible and manageable coastal strip. There are vast numbers of waders using The Wash and visiting Snettisham, Titchwell and Cley and so on, bringing rare visitors with them. There is seawatching, bringing skuas, divers, auks, ducks and tubenoses galore. There are dunes and coastal bushes providing cover for tired migrants (and inevitable rarities). And there are woods, fields, hedgerows, marshes and reedbeds aplenty.
Top 10 birdwatching sites in Norfolk
- Burnham Overy Dunes
- Wells Wood
One of the great delights of a British summer is a visit to one of our fantastic seabird colonies. There is nothing quite like the sight, sound and smell of thousands of fish-eating, noisy seabirds squeezed together on a tiny ledge or wheeling around overhead or skimming just below. Whether you watch from a boat at the base of the spectacle or from a cliff top, the experience is wonderful.
Birds usually include Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Puffins, and perhaps Shags and Gannets, all of which are quite difficult to see close up away from the breeding grounds. Get out and enjoy the magic!
Top seabird cliffs
1. RSPB Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire
2. RSPB Fowlsheugh, Aberdeenshire
3. Skomer, Pembrokeshire
4. St Abbs Head, Lothian
5. Sumburgh, Shetland
6. Herma Ness, Unst, Shetland
7. RSPB South Stack, Anglesey
July is a turning point in the calendar for many waders. Many species breed in the high arctic, taking advantage of the abundant food of the long days and relative lack of disturbance, before heading south to winter in the UK or further south, even as far as Africa. Failed breeders start coming back south even in June, and July sees the first waves of neat juveniles on their first migration.
Although this is a quiet month in many habitats, it can be rewarding to visit classic muddy wader habitats (estuaries, mudflats and mud-fringed lagoons) to enjoy the returning waders. Here are some key sites to try.
10 to places to see waders
1. Aberlady Bay, East Lothian
2. Druridge Bay, Northumberland
3. Morecambe Bay, Lancashire
4. Belfast Harbour, Antrim
5. Teifi Estuary, Wales
6. Rutland Water, Rutland
7. Snettisham RSPB, Norfolk
8. Pagham Harbour, Sussex
9. Meare Heath, Somerset
10. Hayle Estuary, Cornwall
Lowland heaths (heathland below 300m, above which it becomes moorland) are landscapes of acidic soils, rich in shrubby plants like heathers and Gorse, and trees such as Scots Pine and Birch.
Like most habitats in our country of smallish islands, heathland is almost certainly manmade in origin, only being prominent after deforestation and grazing a few thousand years ago.
There are currently less than 60,000 hectares of lowland heath left in the UK, which is only a fifth of what we had 200 years ago. It is a habitat very rich in invertebrates and plants, as well as vertebrates such as all six of our reptile species.
Bird-wise it is much lower in diversity, but what it lacks in species numbers it makes for in quality. Birds such as Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Wood Lark, Tree Pipit and Nightjar thrive in this country. And it is these species which are the big draw for birders during spring into summer.
No birdwatching year is complete without at least one visit to a heath, and particular lingering into the dusk to see and hear the wonderful Nightjar.