Thursday, 14 June 2012

Tit Willow, Tit Willow, Tit Willow

On Thursday we revisited a trip of a couple of week’s ago.
The first difference this time was that there was a Yellowhammer singing right next to the level crossing, and a Tree Sparrow on a fence surrounding one of the new Rabbit hutches.  The first section of the walk was a lot quieter than it used to be only a couple of years ago, but there was a Song Thrush, Magpies and Goldfinches flying over.  At the first junction we turned left, and this is where the action started.  In the Oilseed Rape there were a couple of Reed Buntings, a Whitethroat and a massive mixed flock of finches: Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Chaffinches & Linnets.  In the afternoon a pair of Bullfinches swelled the finch species seen, as they dropped into the same crop.  At a stump there were several tiny baby birds which I assumed were Wrens in the bad light, but the photos seem to show they were Whitethroats.
Willow Tit

 Chaffinch [female]
 Chaffinch [male]
 Willow Tit
 Willow Tit
A Yellow Wagtail flew from the OSR field across the path carrying food, and headed almost the whole length over a field of wheat before being lost to sight.  At the end of the path a male Great Spotted Woodpecker was observed by almost all participants, and Alan identified a pair of Bullfinches in the same area.  We started to retrace our steps and encountered our 4th Yellowhammer, and a Wren.  A little further on we heard a distinctive nasal ‘tchay-tchay-tchay’ and we were able to pick out 2 Willow Tits.  A couple of years ago I used to see Marsh Tits near here, but these were definitely Willow Tits.  Hopefully, the photos taken will prove this. The afternoon bird was the finest Willow Tit Ken has ever seen out in the wilds – the Willow Tits on the Potteric Carr bird table don’t count!   In the afternoon the birds were still present, but were several hundred yards further east.  This is the second encounter with Willow Tits in previous Marsh Tit hotspots in a week.  Are they finally making a comeback, or are young birds dispersing after a very successful breeding season, or have I just been lucky?
 Willow Tit
 Record shot of a Linnet
 Common Tern
 Common Blue Damselfly

In the morning Phil spotted 3 Herons fly up from the water-skiing lake at this point, whilst in the afternoon 7 took to the air at roughly the same juncture.  Margaret was the first to spot a distant speck in the sky – a singing Skylark, even though she couldn’t hear it!  Shortly afterwards Brian found one of the best birds of the day when he saw a male marsh harrier hunting low over the wheatfield.  At the end of the lane we turned left & joined the path to the river.  On reaching the fishing ‘complex’ the air was full of many low-flying House Martins and a few Swifts.  There were a few damselflies at our feet, which I hope we managed to avoid, and soon we also saw a fresh looking Speckled Wood.  There were many more of these in the afternoon when the sun came out – but the only other butterfly was a Red Admiral in the afternoon sunning itself not far from the river, just before we surprised the skinnydippers.   The river seemed high both in the morning & the afternoon so there were no waders to be seen and only a Lesser Black-Backed Gull over the water.  In the reedbeds there was some desultory song by a Reed Warbler, and more energetic renderings by both Reed Buntings and a Sedge Warbler.  This area was almost devoid of birds in the afternoon.  
 Fledgling Whitethroats
 Male Common Whitethroat

On the return leg there was a sharp ‘peep-peep’ to our right and shortly afterwards a Kingfisher headed through a gap in the hedge and headed towards the fishing lake.  Later more peeps were heard & I snatched a view of it returning, probably on a mission to catch fish for its chicks.  Later even more sharp calls were heard, and even Chris can now say he’s heard a Kingfisher, if he can’t actually confirm he has actually seen one.  A Blackcap revealed itself opposite the entrance to the angling complex, after singing beautifully.  The weirdest thing on the return journey was a small dark mammal (seemingly with no visible legs) moving swiftly across the road.  A Shrew seemd to be the best bet.  It certainly seemed even smaller than a mouse or vole.

Stop Press.  Here's what the UK's leading expert says of the above Willow Tit pics:  It's definitely a Willow Tit, and it's a juvenile (can tell by tail feather shape). It could be a new juvenile from this year, just dispersing, or one from last year which hasn't started the moult yet, but I'd verge towards the former because it's quite dapper. The clinching all-dark bill is evident on pretty much all of the pics. Plumage-wise, juv Marsh and Willow can be almost identical on the head at this time of year, so bib and crown is no use. The greater coverts are also distinctive (dark centres), but it's pretty subtle.

Marsh and Willow Tit juvs are dispersing at the moment (they do it as soon as they're independent, about 10 days after fledging), which is when they make the biggest movement of their lives. They normally move a few km, but could go much further (10 km or more), so it suggests that a pair might have bred nearby perhaps within 5 km, but isn't conclusive. It might also decide to keep moving before it settles, if it doesn't find a friend (they're looking for a vacant territory and a member of the opposite sex).

1 comment:

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