by Simon Knight
This past weekend I had an amazing afternoon in the park watching a pair of hardworking, caring and protective parents. It was one of the best wildlife moments that I have had this year. As you can see from the pictures, the parents were long-tailed tits who, in my opinion, win the award for ‘cutest bird’.
I could hear long-tailed tits calling in the nearby brambles and the old oak just beyond the brambles. I hovered around the area that the calls were coming from and sure enough, the first bird appeared. It had a beak full of something, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in my viewfinder before it disappeared back into the brambles. A second tit appeared and briefly perched right in front of me, again I was too slow with my camera, but this time I was able to watch it as hopped its way through the thorny labyrinth and to my amazement, I watched go to its nest and feed its chicks!
Even though I couldn’t get a perfect view of the nest, I could see that it was an incredible feat of engineering, constructed from moss and lichen and so well camouflaged it was almost impossible to see amongst the brambles. What an amazing little home! Now armed with the knowledge of where these busy parents were heading to and from, I was able to establish a pattern in how they approached and left the nest, with a preferred perch used upon exiting the nest and a couple of perches used on the return journey after hunting for insects, spiders and caterpillars. So rather than madly waving the camera around as the birds appeared, I could pre-focus on an individual bramble perch and press the shutter button when the bird appeared in my viewfinder. Simple! Well not exactly, I still missed quite a few shots as I never really had more than two seconds with a bird in the viewfinder. The little cuties couldn’t afford to hang around long, they had hungry mouths to feed!
There was some drama to add to the occasion too as a jay appeared in one of the oaks beyond the brambles. I’m sure they jay knew there was a nest in the area and had also learned this as I had. The long-tailed tit parents flew up into the oak towards the jay, giving continuous alarm calls. This lasted for a couple of minutes before the jay got fed up and flew off and immediately the long-tailed tits returned to hunting and feeding their offspring. What amazing little birds!
I returned the next day to observe the area that the nest was in and there was no activity at all. But during my walk around the park for the next hour or so, I saw four long-tailed tit families with fledged chicks, all in the brambles with parents feeding them. So I think that it’s a safe bet that the parents I had been watching were successful. One thing is for sure, even though the brambles grow like crazy and look a bit unsightly when not in flower or fruit, they are probably one of the most important habitats in the park, providing valuable protection for nesting birds and many other animals.