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What To Look Out For - November 2018

  • Sat 27th Oct, 2018

Big-eyed Birds from Bulan*

Birds can crash into your life when you least expect it, even from outer space! One of the craziest birds in the UK has to be the Eurasian Woodcock. During daylight hours or when dazzled by bright lights they seem to have no sense of danger or direction. I remember seeing a Woodcock appear in the centre circle of a flood-lit St James’s Park at Newcastle United Football ground during an evening match in 2006. The game was stopped as one of the players carefully wrapped the Woodcock in his shirt and carried it off to release it, safely away from flying football boots. The arrival of Woodcock on a clear night led to an old superstition that they arrived from the moon…

Eurasian Woodcock © Richard BainesEurasian Woodcock © Richard Baines

Their kamikaze behaviour seems even crazier when you consider that Woodcocks have a mega pair of eyes. They are large and located very high up the side of the head creating a unique opportunity to see more than nearly any other bird; often cited as the only bird with almost 360 degree vision. This is a great adaptation for keeping a beady eye out for approaching predators or hunters.

Another woodcock crazy encounter happened on the 26th October this year as I stood on the edge of Flamborough Headland watching migrating birds arrive on one of our Birding Discovery Day tours. An inbound Woodcock flew up and over the cliffs within a hair’s breath of a friend’s ear, we all heard the whistling feathers as it zoomed past us at great speed.

Look out for these awesome birds anywhere on the coast in the next few weeks, they are arriving from Europe to spend the winter on our island but watch out they can drop in anywhere! Once they arrive they seek out earthworms in old woodland and grassland habitats. If you flush one from the ground they may sit tight until you are very close then fly up almost under your feet.

Woodcock are one of many birds which benefit from wildlife corridors, habitat links stretching from the coast many miles inland. The North York Moors National Park is a fantastic example of a landscape with large areas of habitat creating many opportunities for wildlife to thrive. Imagine how pleased a Woodcock would be having flown 500 miles across the North Sea to simply drop into a woodland rich in invertebrates close to the cliffs.


Return of the Berry Boozers

In the last 10 days the first few waxwings have arrived on our eastern shores from the wild forests of Scandinavia. The Bohemian Waxwing is one of the world’s most charismatic bird species; from their unique trilling call to their wonderfully confiding nature they are always great to see. After arriving in the UK they often move inland quickly, seeking out areas of the country rich in berries from trees such as Rowan or Cotoneaster.

Bohemian Waxwing © Richard BainesBohemian Waxwing © Richard Baines

As these berries ferment with the first frosts of winter, Waxwings have been known to overdose on alcohol causing them to fall out of the sky or collide with buildings! Fortunately they do have a very useful adaptation; a larger than normal liver to help them cope with getting drunk. Young birds are thought to be more vulnerable as adults appear to be able to avoid older more powerful berries.

Bohemian Waxwing © Steve RaceBohemian Waxwing © Steve Race

They are highly social birds making every effort during winter to stay together in their gregarious flocks. Behaviour such as ‘gift passing’ helps keep their flock bond strong. Lookout for Waxwing flocks almost anywhere there are lots of berry bushes especially in urban areas where they exhibit great site fidelity often returning to the same area year after year. In recent years Pickering town centre and outside Scarborough B&Q have been their preferred berry boozing joints!

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature