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The Waxwings of Woodley Precinct


The January air was cold and crisp, the sky a clear blue canvas and the slight warmth of the winter sun provided welcome relief from the chill wind. We had walked to our local shopping precinct, our New Year’s resolution being to support local businesses rather than add to supermarket profits.
The parade of shops forms three sides of a rectangle around a grassed area with paving, benches dotted at intervals and several trees. One is a lovely copper beech and most of the others are rowan trees, at this time of the year bursting with ripe, red berries.
A small crowd of people standing around the trees distracted us from the shops with their faded facades, flaking paint and warm interiors, the smell of fish and chips and the constant flow of individuals, hopeful of a big win, who were strolling between the newsagents and the betting shop.
Several cameras with massive lenses set up on tripods drew us towards the group. Everyone was looking up at the trees and a closer inspection revealed a flock of birds in one of the rowans.
‘Waxwings,’ stated a man with a huge lens pointing up towards the birds.
I wished we owned such a powerful camera because I would have loved to have taken a photograph of these striking birds, their outline sharp against the winter sky. Each bird sported a resplendent chestnut-coloured crest, which swept back from their forehead. All were engrossed with their berry bonanza.
As the number of spectators grew, some of the staff from the shops came out to investigate this sudden influx of visitors to the precinct.
‘They look as though they’re wearing something on their heads,’ one girl said.
‘Yes, they always wear bobble hats in winter to keep them warm,’ my husband said in an authoritative manner.
‘Really?’ the girl asked, surprised, before she spotted her colleagues giggling and realised his joke.
All afternoon the birds alternated between the precinct trees and the rowans on the other side of the busy road, flying as one back and forth. The next day it was the same and the day after that. Then they were gone and the precinct felt empty and ordinary once more. People still came for their bread, their fruit and vegetables, to post a letter or have their hair permed, but the magic had gone.
And when, the next year, council workmen started on precinct improvements and local residents were asked what trees they would like planted, we replied ‘rowans – for the waxwings’.
We didn’t get the rowans – or the waxwings, which had apparently decamped to Stockport Bus Station, according to those in the know. I’m sure they will be back though.Woodley is renowned for its winter waxwings.
Mrs Chris Smith is a librarian who dabbles in poetry and writing.
 

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