The past few weeks have been busy, full of murmuring clues to say another term is coming to an end. The snowdrops are emerging, making the first steps into the open after a sleepy winter. The wind gusts through Highfields, whipping past Hallward and winding down the hill towards George Green.
With the wind comes an extra hour of light, and a buzzing excitement for warm summer evenings relaxing by a coot and mallard-littered lake. Alas, today was not a warm day, nor did it bring the excitement of many birds splashing in a sun-kissed lake. On the contrary, the most sensible animal creatures were hiding out of sight, either in a lecture theatre or a sheltered bush. As a less sensible individual, I was outside, mesmerised by some other not-so-sensible individuals up a tree.
A Waxwing flock is something that causes quite a stir in the bird world, and actually, it’s fair to say that it will cause quite a stir in the world of normal people too. Throughout winter, there is a trend of national waxwing news that starts in a frenzy over any glimpse of a rose, yellow or coral waxed feather. It then trickles down to the odd post, informing locals that there these birds are nearby, before disappearing for another year with the last flock heading back to Northern Europe.
Until today, I became slightly disinterested in the waxwing posts, simply because they weren’t anywhere too near us and I preferred the feeling of disinterest to envy. This afternoon, however, my attitude towards the winter migrants changed, after finding that the waxwings had come to visit Nottingham.
My heart jumped up to the height of the trees on which they were perched. Their calls like a mellowed teachers whistle, tirelessly chirping and twittering to each other as they busied around the trees looking for any morsel that could be stripped from the branches. They clung with ease, moving side to side like a hypnotic pendulum in hurricane Doris, but despite the force of this gale, the gusting seemed quite insignificant, after discovering this flock.
Once settled on a particular piece of lichen, each bird would contort itself like a weightless acrobat to reach the afternoon’s meal. Bending themselves in such a fashion was effortless, and with the seamless clothing of rose feathers that surrounded each body, it was hard to imagine that any jointed limbs aside from legs existed at all.
After a while, this species’ flippant nature was made apparent. Within a minute of settling on a tree, one bird would flick its tail to dive for another nearby, before the rest would follow in a twittering swarm. The waxwings soared just centimeters from my head, paying little attention to this gleeful human individual, me, frozen in time against the immediate surroundings. Soon, one bird would visit the grass to forage, and so each bird in the flock would abide by the leader’s decision once more and swoop down to enjoy some berries that had fallen in the wind. Of course, it would not be long before another bird became more interested in a different perch, leading the troop up to the next momentary home.
I knew as I left that I may not see the waxwings here again, or indeed see them at all until the following season. With their skittishness for a tree comes the same skittishness for a city. By now, they will be miles away in a neighbouring county, or even farther across to a new country altogether. Whilst there was no telling where they were now, I am almost certain that they will be fluttering around a berried bush filling that place with the same joy that flooded my afternoon.
It is not long before we say goodbye to the waxwings for another summer, as they make their way back up to Northern Europe for the breeding season. Thankfully, before my luck was up to catch a sighting for another year, I was blessed with a visit from this very special visitor on the university grounds. It was unforgettable, and a lifetime first for me.
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Images courtesy of Georgie Bray