Super Bowl Sunday at Aqua Caliente in Tucson: The Plague Birds (Pestvogel) are here. That's what the beautiful waxwings were called in Holland where I first saw them, the Bohemian Waxwing in that case. Medieval Europeans were pessimists by default. Wars, starvation, and worst of all, the plague were recurring catastrophes that nearly every generation could expect to experience. Every sudden change from the usual was seen as a harbinger of disaster. Waxwings are birds of the northern forests where they breed in large groups without individual territories. During non-breeding times they do not really migrate, but given the right conditions, they may form large swarms that stray opportunistically into orchards or into southern areas with good berry crops. So when, every decade or so, they suddenly appeared in such masses that they were hard to miss, the Dutch took their sudden arrival as a sign of the plague.
|Bohemian Waxwings in Germany|
|Cedar Waxwings in Gainesville, Florida, Watercolor 1991|
Anyway, last Sunday there was a lot of action in drooping bundles of tiny black dates that provided a nice background for the subtlety colorful birds.
About 200 birds were taking turns between feeding bouts and breaks in the nearby Salt Cedars.
They started feeding in shady spots under overhanging palm fronds when I still felt rather chilly, so if you want good sun exposure for photos, you have to get there early. Sometimes, though, colors are truer in the shade than in the harsh sunlight.
Some very feisty Robins were also gorging themselves - hanging in the palms as well as collecting the berries from the ground.
A Common Yellow-rumped Warbler posed nicely - I have a foggy memory of a Robert Bateman painting just like this.
A Sora visited shortly and on the back path I saw and heard a Beardless Tyrannulet but another birder was pursuing it with a better camera, so I didn't want to push too close with my short lens.
Thanks to Lois Manowitz whose flickr photos alerted me to the Waxwing invasion!