It was a beautiful November day. A brilliant blue sky with hardly a breathe of wind that barely stirred the leaves of the trees that were a blaze of golden yellow, orange and browns. The sun, already past its zenith and beginning its slow descent to the horizon, still retained some promise of warmth although the air was cool. Beneath our feet the grass was wet and the track muddy as we walked parallel to a damp, grassy bank at the top of which runs a train track. In the distance behind us I can hear the caterwauling sound of the barrier alarm. Moments later, with a low rumble and whoosh, a train passes by. To the left is a water meadow, with tall rushes and grasses which are grazed by highland cows, their sandy brown hide blending in with the surrounding brownish grasses. Along the edge of the field, the trees range from bare skeletal frames with the odd leaf clinging on for dear life to those with a full head of leaves, blazing in the reds, yellows and browns of autumn. Beyond them is the dark green of the forest’s pine trees. Low lying bushes are laden with dark red berries, and it is these that hold the secret to the presence of the birds we are here to find.
Ahead on the path a small group of people gather, their binoculars all pointing in the same direction, necks craning upwards and straining under the weight of giant camera lenses that now appear to be the norm among bird watchers. It is a good sign. The gentleman just in front of us sets up a small table with camera and lense set on top, on the grassy bank of the train track. Oddly he appears to look in the opposite direction to the others. My eyes follow the other binoculars but even without their clues I can hear the soft sweet trill of the birds I had hoped to find. At the top of a tall bare lime tree I can see little fluffed up balls of feathers with a distinct tufty crest. Even though the bright sun creates nothing but a silhouette I know immediately that they are Waxwings. A little manoeuvring and I can make out the dark mask and bib, the white and yellow on the wing, the red vent and yellow band on the end of the tail. Even with this view they are such a pretty, sleek birds.
At first I see just one or two, then more appear in the tree, preening in the afternoon light. Suddenly the whole flock lifts out the tree, wheeling round and then dives into a low bush absolutely busting with bright red berries. They do not stay long, quickly retreating back to the top of the lime tree. They are such a treat to watch. It has been a couple of years since I last saw them. The last time being in Great Yarmouth during April 2013, when the birds were starting to think of returning to their Scandinavian breeding grounds. That had been a good Waxwing year. Not every year is, and the intervening winters have only seen a few records throughout the country. This year though is definitely an eruption year. We are only at the start of the winter and already there are hundreds of sightings across the country. As with my last encounter I could stay all afternoon, especially with the beautiful golden light that I know will come as the sun sets. But as with the last time, I cannot stay with work reigning me back in. As we turn and head for the office, once more we pass the gentleman perched on the grassy bank with camera and table, seemingly oblivious to the gorgeous group of Waxwings and rather bemused by the birders and their binoculars.Turns out he was there to photograph trains…well each to their own.