Cedar Waxwing – Wilford Village, Nottinghamshire

I travelled up to Swindon from Salisbury after work on Friday evening. I had planned to set aside this Saturday to clear up as many of the Norfolk winter birds as possible, I had mentioned it to Peter and he fancied coming along. During the preceding week, however, a bird turned up in Nottingham which changed our plans totally. 

A Cedar Waxwing had been reported and was roaming fairly widely across Nottingham with a mobile flock of 500 ‘normal’ Waxwings! This made me wonder why I had risked my life and skidded off the road on an icy hairpin in February while rushing back from a single Waxwing in Dorset. We had to give this 2nd for Britain a go even though it sounded like it might be difficult and it could mean I may need to revisit Norfolk later in the year.

I arrived at Peter’s at 7:30pm and enjoyed a homemade rice pudding before going to bed at about 10:30pm. Sara had arranged to take her guide troop to London on the Saturday but in view of the 3 IRA bombs she decided to take them more locally. Either way I had the whole day to go birding.

We set the alarms for 4:20am and had left the house by 5am, we arrived in Nottingham at just after 7am and eventually found the Elf Garage mentioned on Birdline as the favoured position for early morning sightings. We joined 300 or so birders. As the light improved groups of Waxwings moved into the adjacent trees from their roost sites and at one stage I counted 250 Waxwings in one tree! This group of birds seemed fairly content and they remained in the tree for 5 or 6 minutes trilling loudly. Another smaller group of about 15 birds joined them and this caused a ripple of activity amongst the birders.

Just as people were claiming to have seen the Cedar Waxwing I too noticed a smaller bird with plainer wings just before the whole group flew off strongly towards the City Centre. Half of us decided to follow on foot but gradually along the way people gave up until it was just me, Peter and one other chap.

Peter decided to go it alone and headed off into the City Centre while me and the other birder headed back to the Elf Garage. We had been gone an hour and the bird hadn’t been relocated. At this stage I knew that I had seen the bird but I wanted a better view. Soon the pagers reported that the Cedar Waxwing had been relocated at somewhere called Robin Hood Way. Within seconds all of the birders and all of the cars were vanishing. What should I do? I couldn’t just abandon Peter in the middle of Nottingham. In the end I decided to drive off following the other birders’ cars, as I felt confident that Peter would find a way to see the bird. I was driving alone without an A-Z and without a pager, my misery was complete when the lights changed to red in front of me and the birders I was following drove off into the distance.

I drove around aimlessly for 30 minutes or more asking 5 people for directions, including a Bus Driver and a Postman! No one could help. I finally decided to head back to the Elf Garage, not surprisingly all of the A-Zs had been bought but the garage attendant drew me a map. As I got back into the car another birder, who was filling up and had a pager, reported that the Cedar Waxwing had been relocated 5 miles south of the city at a place called Wilford Village. 

It seemed likely that the bird wouldn’t return to the garage until dusk and so off I went again. I found Wilford on the map and decided that the best route would be to head back out of the city on the same roads we had taken to come in. Needless to say I got hopelessly lost again, navigating is only easy when you’re a passenger! There were no signs for Wilford and I didn’t know where I was on the map.

Meanwhile Peter had decided to head back to the Elf garage and just before arriving there was the ‘Robin Hood Way commotion’. He couldn’t see my car and when he was offered a lift by another birder he jumped in with a fully extended tripod sticking out of the window as the car screeched away from the traffic lights. More by luck than judgement the group of cars he was with eventually got to Wilford Village and Peter had good views of the bird.

Peter waited for me there but still no sign, this was when I was getting hopelessly lost in Nottingham. Peter had a five-pound note with which to get in touch with me, it seemed an impossible task and by now he was regretting accepting the lift. There were no phones or shops in sight. Peter did find a Wickes Superstore and purchased 3 unsharpened pencils and was given some scrap paper and some change. At this point Peter remembered that I had a carphone and so he proceeded to the nearest phone box and with his remaining change he had to get hold of my carphone number. 

Unfortunately Sara was out and my Parents were ex-directory. Peter therefore rang directory inquiries and asked for a Mr Hall in Salisbury! For 15 minutes the telephonist listed all of the Halls in Salisbury but none rang a bell and so Peter gave up on this line of enquiry. He began walking back to Wilford Village and on passing 2 birders he asked if their car was parked nearby, it was and he asked to look at a map.

On the Salisbury page he noticed Winterbourne Earls and that rang bells with him. He returned to the phone box and rang directory enquiries again and noted down the number for Terry Hall in Winterbourne Earls, he still had to hope that someone was in and that they would know my number. Terry answered and gave Peter the number.

Meanwhile as I was getting more and more frustrated the phone rang, it was Peter and he gave me directions. He was on the A345 near a substation. I sped off but unfortunately there were 4 or 5 substations and I didn’t notice any flocks of 500 birders or their cars. I drove around for 45 minutes and eventually found Wilford Village and I parked at the end of a long row of birders’ cars and dashed out forgetting my telescope. I joined a smallish group of birders as they were watching a tree with about 50 Waxwings in it although no sign of their American Cousin. I then decided to walk on a bit further and into a sort of enclosed church courtyard area with 100 or so birders watching scattered parties of up to 400 Waxwings in the tree tops. I was anxious to get better views of the bird and just as keen to find Peter. Fairly soon a birder near to me claimed to have found it, I ran up to him and offered to confirm the identification.

He moved over and I was relieved to get my first telescope view of the American vagrant. Over the next few minutes I had several excellent telescope views courtesy of several generous birders. In the end I decided to return to my car, drive a bit closer and then use my own scope. This gave me the best vies of all and I was able to note the significantly smaller size, much browner back and rump, plain wings, yellowish flanks and pale undertail coverts. 

At this stage the phone rang again, it was Peter, he was only 150 yards away having done a Television interview for Central TV. We decided that it was time to head off to Norfolk for the Arctic Redpolls which had been seen in Langham.

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