Hunger drives rare birds ashore and gives the twitchers a treat

Bird watchers have had a Christmas bonus this year with a flurry of sightings of the rare Arctic redpoll - a small grey-and-white finch.

There has also been an arrival of waxwings, pinkish-brown starling-like birds with prominent head crests and red, yellow and white wing markings, from the northern forests of Scandinavia and Russia.

One of the best areas for spotting is north Norfolk, where there have been up to five Arctic redpolls in fields between Cromer and East Runton, while a flock of 14 waxwings has been seen near Sheringham.

Arctic redpolls have also been identified at the William Thorpe Nature Reserve near Baslow, Derbyshire; at Brentwood, Essex; in a wood near Rutland Water, Leicestershire; near Newborough, Staffordshire; and at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' reserve at Vane Farm near Kinross, Tayside.

More than 120 birds have been reported around Britain since the record invasion began last month, with some of the largest numbers appearing in Orkney and Shetland.

The severe weather in the Northern Isles should not bother them as they are among the world's hardiest birds, known to survive temperatures as low as -60C in Alaska. Their flight to Britain is not considered weather- related but is caused by a food shortage in their normal wintering territories - which is also the reason for the sudden appearance of the waxwings.

Waxwings, which feed on berries, have been reported at Fazakerley, Merseyside; Holkham, Norfolk; and near Barnsley and Doncaster in South Yorkshire. More are likely to be reported further afield over the next few days.

Other sightings over Christmas have included smew, a duck from Scandinavia or Russia,which has been reported in Berkshire, Cheshire, Cleveland, Cornwall, Essex, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

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