I am watching a herd of cattle grazing and there is a small white heron
following the cows, feeding on insects they disturb, and occasionally flying up
and picking flies off their faces and sometimes landing on their backs. No, I'm
not on the plains of Africa I am in Bishop Middleham!
On a different autumn
day, I am looking up into a berry-laden tree and at the top is a remarkably
colourful bird; a plump bird, slightly smaller than a Starling with a prominent
crest. It's reddish-brown with a black throat, a small black mask round its eye,
yellow and white on the wings and a yellow-tipped tail. It certainly looks out of
place on the edge of a housing estate in Wheatley Hill.
The first bird I mention was a Cattle Egret, they are slightly smaller than a Little
Egret, but with a shorter neck, shorter legs and much more compact body
giving them a stockier impression. They also have a shorter, stubbier bill,
which is dark in juveniles but quickly turns yellow. Cattle Egrets have shown
one of the greatest range expansions in the world of birds. At the beginning of
the 20th century, the western form of Cattle Egret was only established in
southern Spain, Portugal and North and tropical Africa.
Over the next few
decades, they spread south to South Africa and began to spread north across
Europe. They even managed to cross the Atlantic to reach South America, and
have dispersed throughout that continent and up into North America, with
breeding recorded as far north as Canada. And now they are become more
common in the UK with several birds having been seen in the North East
The second bird is a Waxwing and signs are looking good for a Waxwing
winter. It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor from northern Europe
and can be spotted in flocks on bushes full of berries - it isn't fussy where the
bushes are and it frequents towns, car parks and gardens. Waxwings prefer
rowan and hawthorn berries, but can be enticed with hung-up apples.
invasions of large numbers of Waxwings (called 'irruptions') occur when the
berry crops fail in Northern Europe. It was mid-November when I saw my
Waxwings and there were lots of reports coming in with large flocks in
Scotland and smaller flocks in the North East and even some in
Middlesbrough. So on your winter walks why not check out the fields with
cows in and the berry laden trees, you never know what you might see.
You might also like to sign up for 12 Days
Wild, the Wildlife Trusts festive nature
challenge, encouraging you to do one wild
thing a day from 25 December to 5 January
In those weird days between
Christmas and New Year, winter wildlife is just
waiting to be explored! Your wild acts could
be little things to help nature - like recycling
your Christmas tree or feeding the birds – or
ways to connect to the natural world, like
walking off your Christmas dinner in the
woods or admiring the beauty of stargazing
visit wildlifetrusts.org/12dayswild to sign up.