16 Jul 2014

16 July 14 - Photospot5: Long-tailed Tits - My Favourite European Bird

If asked to name their favourite European or UK bird, a lot of birders would probably instinctively choose their rarest bird, or the rarity they saw which few others have seen or perhaps a species that they have found. Many years ago, I was asked about the best 10 species I've seen in the world. Automatically, I began thinking of Gurney's Pitta, Banded Pitta, Sun-bittern & Quail-plover as four strong candidates. These are all great tropical species. However, I then surprised the birder who asked me the question with Long-tailed Tit as the only European candidate. This sparked the retort, what about Wallcreeper, followed by a number of other species, including a few of the biggest UK rarities we had seen over the years. Yes, they were all great to watch, some very rare in Europe, but they didn't generate the same excitement for me as a group of Long-tailed Tits.
Long-tailed Tit
Why do I like them so much. First they are great social birds. They can be a lot quieter when they are breeding. But outside the breeding season, they are always going around in noisy parties and constantly calling to each other. This has the added advantage of pulling into other species into the flocks outside of the breeding season. In South America, the birders learn the flock leaders as the rest of their bird flocks tend to follow these leaders. Long-tailed Tits are probably the main UK flock leaders. The obvious followers are Blue Tits, Great Tits & other Tits, but also they attract Warblers, Crests, Treecreepers & Nutchatches.
Long-tailed Tit: Juvenile. They are constantly on the move & looking around for that next snack
For me, there is the added potential of checking a Long-tailed Tit flock in the late Autumn, with the hope there might be an interesting Warbler like a Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas's Warbler or something rarer, following the flock. I've found several local YBWs after hearing Long-tailed Tits & narrowly missed finding a Winspit Pallas's Warbler (as another visiting Birder got to the flock just ahead of me).
Yellow-browed Warbler: Abbotsbury (4 Nov 13)
Additionally, they are a great shape & very distinctive. It's not a bird that is hard to identify & being a common bird, then it's not too hard for most birders & birdwatchers to see. They do spark an interest for the beginner birdwatchers, which hopefully will get them more hooked on birds. They are an erratic garden visitor for me. For several weeks, they will be around most days & then they disappear back to the local woods and I won't see any in the garden for several months. This erratic nature also helps to stop them being taken for granted.
Long-tailed Tit: Juvenile. The whitish forehead & crown, purplish nape & mantle and absence of pale pink indicate this is juvenile bird
On a few occasions we would catch a family party in the nets when I was a trainee ringer, in my pre-university days. Not only were they great to see up close, they were also great characters. It was the only species we caught, then ended up being rebagged until all the flock had been ringed. While waiting in the bags, one would occasionally call. This would result in the others calling back from their bags. As I said great characters. Eventually, we would get to release the whole group at the same time.
Long-tailed Tit: Juvenile
They are also very inquisitive birds. A bit of quiet pishing will often get them to come close to check out the noise. With a bit of luck, this can sometimes be so close that the bins won't focus. It's always great seeing good birds, this close. Who could not like Long-tailed Tits?
Long-tailed Tit: Juvenile. Great to see so many juveniles in the flocks at the moment. Clearly, a good breeding season
Feel free to leave a Comment on your favourite European bird & why.

No comments :

Post a Comment