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Russian visitors flock to the Dales

ANYONE OUT for a walk in the Dales could be forgiven for thinking they have been mysteriously transported to the forests of Russia, as the area has been inundated with unfamiliar birds which have flocked to the North of England to gorge themselves on this year's exceptional berry crop.

Flocks of waxwings and redwings have been sighted across the area, and have attracted birdwatchers - or 'twitchers' as they are known - from far afield. Twitchers are bird-watchers who seek out rare species and when close to their quarry, begin to twitch through fear of missing out on the sighting!

Redwings have been recorded in large numbers in fields and hedges throughout the Dales. They are a smaller cousin of our native song thrush, and breed in Scandinavia and Russia in birch and pine forests - the so called taiga. They are frequent visitors to the UK in the winter, where they enjoy our comparatively mild temperatures. At this time of year their breeding grounds are enveloped in several metres of snow, and temperatures rarely get above minus 20 degrees Celsius!

The waxwing, another taiga breeder, is an exotic-looking bird, about the size of a starling, but greeny-brown and with large distinctive crest. Their name derives from the strange, red waxy tips to their wings, whose purpose is not really understood. Flocks have been sighted in many gardens in Settle and also at sites in Giggleswick and Gargrave. They are particularly fond of rowan (Sorbus) berries and if you have such trees in our garden, you may have been lucky to have already hosted a lively flock of this species.

Their arrival in Dales is part of an 'invasion year' in this country, which occurs about once every four years. It is thought to coincide with bumper berry years, or the scarcity of food supplies in their taiga breeding grounds. This year's berry crop has been spectacular, so the birds are working their way through the local supplies before heading back to their breeding areas in late March.

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