One if my favorite times of the birding year is the arrival of the Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in our area. I saw a flock the other day on campus, but they were far away, as was my camera. This afternoon I took a short break at Fox Grove on the Tuolumne River between Modesto and Waterford.
I saw another flock of yellowish birds in the distance, and the telephoto confirmed it was a group of Cedar Waxwings. There were maybe two dozen of them in the dead cottonwood tree.
The birds come through the region while migrating between the tropics of Central America and Canada. They are year-round residents in the northern states. They feed primarily on fruits, which protects them from the nesting antics of cowbirds: the cowbird chicks can't live on the fruit diet and generally don't survive. The waxwings will supplement their diet with the occasional bug, however.
I'm hoping they'll return to the flowering pear in my front yard soon. They always surprise me when they arrive, because they are almost motionless and silent when they bed down for the night, and I therefore don't notice them except by chance. Then I feel a little creeped out as they stare at me...
Fox Grove is a 64 acre county park along the Tuolumne River between Modesto and Waterford. Some of the park is groomed (and ecologically barren) grass, and there is a large colony of feral cats. On the other hand, a lot of the park is recovering riparian habitat, and there are some good birding opportunities. I haven't spent a lot of time there, although I saw a Hooded Oriole there last spring.