Rose-coloured Starling at Crawley, Sussex + Oxford Waxwings – 10 & 11th Jan

The first-named is a bird I have intended to visit for some time. The now second calendar year juvenile has been gracing a suburb of the Gatwick Airport metropolis since early November. But I wanted to wait until its moult progression more closely resembled the splendid pink and black plumage of an adult (outsourced picture below right).

There are 30 plus British records of Rose-coloured Starling in most years, some of which like this particular youngster over-winter. It is a scarce south-east European and south-west Asian breeder, and the normal wintering grounds are in southern Asia. I had seen a first winter juvenile once before in my home area close to Oxford in January 2010. But that distantly viewed bird had just looked like a very pale common Starling in a large flock. So when Ewan, who had seen the Crawley bird closer to its arrival (pictured below left) said he was going for a second look and invited me along, I jumped at the opportunity.

Arriving in the residential district of Broadfield (TQ255345) late morning we found the RCS at once, its presence being revealed by two other birders. We too were able to walk right up to the low trees it was favouring beyond a garden wall where clearly a large amount of bird food was being put out. Then for the next hour or so we just snapped away with our cameras, while more birders came and went, mostly on time out from their jobs and also doing a check on the juvenile’s progress into adulthood. Now and again local residents would drive by smiling knowingly inside their cars: “birders again”.


Rose-coloured Starling (2cy juv) at Crawley today

As the partially moulted bird moved around it became readily apparent just how well things were coming along. My favoured Helm guide to bird identification describes juvenile RCS as pleasant, bland-faced, innocent looking birds with rather loose, fluffy plumage; and I have to agree. The images in this post were captured with my 300mm telephoto lens. It really was that easy, unlike the recent Dusky and Blue Rock Thrushes.

The above sequence shows the frequent bill cleaning behaviour that the bird engaged in. Also in addition to the more developed glossy black plumage, how the beak is turning from yellow to pink and a noticeable crest is forming. I believe the moult should be completed by February when I will be greatly tempted to observe this bird again if it remains. After all I have yet to come across one in southern Europe.


Common (left) and Rose-coloured Starlings for comparison

Back home in Oxford, one of the stand-out birding events of the new year has been the much anticipated arrival of Waxwing in the city. 2016/17 has been touted as an irruption winter since the early influx of large numbers of the Scandinavian berry bandits into Scotland and northern England. Now for the last four days a small group of six birds has been active along one arterial road in north Oxford, paying frequent visits to an ornamental berry tree from more lofty surrounding perches, as Waxwings do. I have visited the location in each of the last two days, and these (below) are my better digiscoped records of the occasions. The right hand image illustrates just how thoroughly the berry tree has been stripped of its fruit.

On the subject of local birding, my Oxon county year list for 2016 had I been keeping one would have ended on 173 (plus two heard only). Somewhere in the 170s is usual unless one doesn’t go on holiday in the passage season, is able to drop all other commitments and go after every county bird, and is an excellent networker to get all the tips quickly from other birders. So topping my 2012 and 2013 totals of 181 will have to wait for another year, if I should choose to indulge such a widely denied practice. The 2016 Oxon year rather fizzled out in December, but then two Bean Geese arrived late afternoon on New Year’s Eve, the month long presence of three Cattle Egret has been revealed on a north Oxon pig farm, and more Waxwing are likely as forecast “Arctic blasts” look set to “batter Britain” through January.


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