Long-tailed tits

Illustration of a Long-tailed Tit by Hannah Foley (hannah@owlingabout.co.uk)The Hogweed in the verges has now gone to seed and the Rosebay Willow herb is slowly dying back, leaving room for the bright yellow of Common Ragwort and the deep purple of Hardheads to festoon the road side. We passed this bounty of colour on our way to swimming this morning. At the pool Little Owl congratulated me on my cozzie, “Mum, I love your swimming costume. It’s so big!” Classic.

I had no idea Common Ragwort was so dangerous. It can poison livestock by causing liver failure. It seems to be particularly abundant this year (along with the Daddy-Long-Legs), which makes sense as decreases in populations are associated with dry summers and we all know how wet last year was. On the plus side, Common Ragwort is friend to over 200 species of invertebrates and the most commonly visited flower by butterflies.

From insects to birds: this week’s bird is the Long-tailed Tit. I’m still doing well with the Wren and the Robin, but I haven’t been able to pick out a Dunnock’s song yet. It would help if I was starting this in spring when the song birds are at their most tuneful. I have seen a Dunnock however. Finally I’m able to account for a large proportion of the SBBs (Small Brown Birds) we get in our garden, so I think it’s just a matter of time before I start to tune in. Simon Barnes’ description of the Dunnock’s song as a “burble” is a helpful one to keep in mind and the clip of it does remind me of a babbling stream.

Simon Barnes talks about the importance of understanding birds in their time and place. He says, “In order to recognise and begin to understand the birds, you need to recognise and understand the times and the places. And that works the other way round as well, creating a rather pleasing virtuous circle, in which each visit to a place adds to your understanding of its birds, and each acknowledgement of a bird adds to your understanding of its place.” I love that. I feel like understanding “the times and the places” of birds might help me to understand my own “times and places” too. Because, we’re all out of sync as human beings aren’t we? We expect to have what we want when we want it. And now we’re having to re-learn (or at least I am) the simple joy to be found in the natural ebb and flow of the “times and the places”. I could go off on quite a tangent here but instead I’ve put up a quote from The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill. It’s always comforting to find someone else (especially one so eloquent) who feels the same as you. It helps to feel you’re not entirely mad.

Text from The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

Anyway, Long-tailed Tits. I have a lovely memory of seeing Long-tailed Tits. I was looking out of my in-law’s kitchen window on to a frosty garden full of bare branches when suddenly a flock swarmed in and out again. Long-tailed Tits are tiny birds and they thrive in community. In winter, a time particularly hard on the littlest of birds, they huddle together to keep warm. There’s a brilliant picture of a crowd of Long-tailed Tits huddled together taken by a lady called Pippa Allen here. The rabble that I saw moved as one, so that they seemed more like a single creature. Here is the link for the song of the Long-tailed Tit.

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