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Coming to a beach, field or berry bush near you….

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When I’m setting the seasonal wildlife challenge for each issue of Nature’s Home, it would be really helpful to have a crystal ball. Some events in nature are hard to predict, especially the arrival of those enigmatic birds that experience big fluctuations in their numbers. If I had known what November would bring, then three very special birds would have featured…

One of the best known of these is one of our most unmistakable birds, the waxwing. As reports started to arrive of flocks of them heading west and south along the Norfolk coast in early November, I began to suspect it was going to be a “waxwing winter” and it’s proven to be the case. They’re here!

Waxwing by Nature's Home's very own Andy Hay. This one's enjoying wild privet berries.

As I write, I haven’t seen one yet myself, but it’s completely normal for the first wave of arrivals to head deep inland and start munching berries further north before working their way through the UK. At the moment, the majority are in Scotland but more will arrive as berry stocks dwindle on the continent and as the birds already here exhaust supplies and become nomadic, keep an eye on any bushes near you.

Almost a shore thing
Whenever talk turns to shorelarks among birders, I take great pleasure in casually slipping in that I hold the record for the biggest flock of these stunning birds ever seen in the UK! In November 1998, hundreds of this usually very scarce coastal winter visitor assembled on the East Coast and I was in Holkham Bay on a day when the flock there happened to peak – an astonishing 240 birds. One of the best things I have seen in the UK for sure.

Shorelark by Nature's Home illustrator Mike Langman. Think skylark with make up.

There has been nothing like that number in the UK since, but as numbers there built to an also impressive 77 birds in November, I feared for my record! Laura (my wife) and I were visiting friends up there so Rich (who also happens to be a birder), his wife Cat, their toddler Raf and us found ourselves at Holkham for a walk. We eventually found the flock of these yellow and black-faced beauties, in spite of the constant rain. Our feigned surprise on “stumbling upon” the flock and pretending we didn't know they were there was seen though instantly by the girls, though. They‘ve had years of experience of us two trying to go birding at every opportunity when we meet up!

A shorelark even turned up in the middle of landlocked Herefordshire (the first ever I think in that county). You’d be incredibly lucky to find one away from the coast but if you are there over the winter, keep your eyes peeled for a flock of birds shuffling around the shingle or the tideline and look for yellow and black faces. It is the best winter for a long time for what I think is one of our best birds.

Another bird that seems to have arrived in good numbers is the short-eared owl. The secret to seeing this bird is to choose a still day (they don’t like the wind) and be out scanning rough fields and marshes for them in the last couple of hours of daylight.

Short-eared owl by Mike Langman - the owl you are most likely to see in daylight.

Happy hunting
So, although the October issue of Nature’s Home’s wildlife challenge doesn’t include finding shorelark, waxwing and short-eared owl, add them to your hitlist this winter. You might never have a better chance of finding one near you.  Don’t forget to let us know if you get lucky by emailing or leaving a comment on the blog.

  • Hi Eric. Good luck! All the bushes I have been keeping an eye on are now completely bare, so I'll need to look a bit further afield!

    The waxwings are still nearly all in the north, so hoping for a cold snap to give things a really good shake up.

  • I love scanning the bushes for these beauties. I'm happy to see a lot of these over the Winter.