I may have got this waxwing thing cracked - maybe.
On New Year's Eve, on the outskirts of Northampton, I saw a flock of 123 waxwings. They were sitting in the top of a tree and small groups would fly off and then they or others would return. People were walking past on the pavement underneath and the waxwings were cool about it. They twittered and burbled in the tree top. Not quite the last birds I saw in 2010 but a good way to end the year.
And then yesterday at Cheltenham racecourse, after the second race (where Oscar Whisky was pretty impressive, and I wished I had backed him but I thought the odds were too short, and, by the way, the ground will be very different at the Festival in March) I saw a distant flock of birds fly to the top of a tall tree. If it hadn't been a waxwing year then I might have assumed that they were starlings, but even at a distance I thought that they seemed 'waxwing possibles'. And they were 14 waxwings - a good racecourse tick, and on a day when I didn't have a bet (and so didn't lose a penny) a good start to the new year.
And this year will see me pass a significant milestone - at the end of March I will have completed 25 years at the RSPB and more than half of that time will have been as Conservation Director. It has been great, and it continues to be great, but I feel it is time to look for new challenges and so I will be leaving the RSPB in April. So there are probably fewer than another 100 more blogs in me on this site!
Some time after Oscar Whisky returns to Cheltenham and the jumping season's traditional end at Sandown at the end of April will see my last blog here. But between now and then there is plenty to write about, plenty of nature conservation to get done and maybe even plenty of waxwings to be seen?
Being unique is a claim that we can all make.
Being irreplaceable is, however, a rare talent. While I am sure the RSPB will find another great Conservation Director, I doubt that they will easily find someone who can match your enthusiasm and sheer passion for the issues that are at the heart of bird conservation. (For those who don't know, I spent five years sitting opposite Mark at RSPB Council Meetings).
On behalf of birders everywhere - thank you for all that you have done.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654