The elusive waxwings


Waxwing. 600mm + 1.4 extender hand held.

Several winters ago there was an influx of waxwings from scandinavia, greater numbers than usual. At that particular time I did not attempt to track them down to photograph them, something I now regret. So this winter when they arrived in significant numbers I made the decision I would attempt to get some images of these winter visitors during their brief stay here in the UK.

Checking various websites for sightings and locations it was clear that the birds were in my local area. One recording even confirmed a flock of almost thirty here in my home town of Oundle – could I find them? No, nothing, non, nein, niet, nada, zip, squat, nowt.

The next sighting later that week had them located in the nearby village of Polebrook, a flock of 30-36 had been spotted in gardens and on television arials. I loaded my camera gear into the car and drove through the village to try and find them, once again nothing. It was clear these birds don’t stay in one place for very long and are constantly moving. Unable to find any waxwings locally it was beginning to look like I might have to travel further afield.

After christmas and new year I read online that a flock of 100-120 waxwings had been seen on an industrial estate in a town a short distance from home the previous day. I decided to give this a try, knowing with my luck that the birds may have already moved on and once again it was another wild goose chase!. The weather was forecast to be dry but cloudy the following morning, however the weather turned out to be a lot brighter than was forecast so at least the light was better for photography should I get lucky. I found the location easily and went for a short walk to see if I could spot any waxwings.


Waxwings. My first sighting, I looked up and there they were. 600mm hand held.

A couple of people were walking along the footpath with binoculars, scanning the bushes for any sign of the waxwings. I was directed to where the birds had been sighted the previous day. I never leave camera equipment in my car while I am away from it, so I had decided to carry my camera attached to my 600f4, with me while I checked things out. My tripod remained in my car. After an hour or so there was no sign of any waxwings and my arms were starting to ache. The bushes all around were still laden with berries so it was a perfect waxwing location. As time ticked by some people decided they had had enough and moved on to other possible locations. A dozen or so waxwings were spotted through a scope in a treetop some distance away so I decided to wait a bit longer. Looking at a far off bird through a scope and having the bird in front of you filling the frame of a 600mm lens are two different things. Photographers will understand what I mean by that.


Waxwing portrait format. 600mm + 1.4 extender hand held. Aching arms!


Waxwing. 600mm + 1.4 extender. Slight crop.

A short while later I glanced up in a nearby tree and there were 12 waxwings just sitting there. I never saw them fly in I just looked up and there they were. I took a few images with the 600 hand held, with my arms already aching from carrying it for so long. I moved a bit closer and kept shooting. I wasn’t in the best position regarding the sun, so I tried to move into a better position. The waxwings flew from the treetop down to some lower bushes for some berries and then back to the treetop. I worked my way round and kept shooting, a couple of the waxwings flew down to the lower branches of the tree but this put a security fence between myself and the birds. I tried to move into a better position so the fence would not obscure my view. I added my 1.4 extender to increase my reach and took a few more shots, by this point my arms were tired and I could hardly hold the camera steady. I walked back to my car to get my tripod, a couple of birdwatchers had seen the waxwings and were walking in my direction. I pointed them to the location and returned myself a few minutes later with my tripod. There was no sign of the waxwings, as soon as my back was turned they disappeared . I waited for a short while to see if they would return, with no sign of the birds in the end I decided to call it a day.


Waxwing sitting in a tree. 600mm + 1.4 extender. slight crop.


Waxwing. This is the last image I took before deciding to get my tripod. The birds had gone by the time I returned. 600mm + 1.4 extender.

I did not expect to get any decent shots from hand holding a camera and 600mm lens, at least I managed to get something of a bird I’ve never photographed before. As with all of the subjects I photograph, next time I will try to improve on the images I have taken.

View my other work here –

Copyright 2013 Derek Watt.


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