Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Grimsbury Woodland: willow tit & chiffchaff amongst big flock of passerines

Happy Christmas to all my heartofenglandnatureblog readers.  Thanks for your company over the past few months; my blog stats show over 5,000 page views so far; that's really encouraging.  Looking forward to a full year of blogging in 2015!

Christmas Eve has been a lovely sunny day and I managed to catch an hour or so at Grimsbury Reservoir and the adjoining woodland.  The reservoir was fairly quiet for birds - 117 Canada geese were crowded together in a tight flock, four wintering great-crested grebes were still present and a single herring gull was loafing around with a lesser black-backed gull (actually quite a good sighting here!).
Canada geese
Walking just beyond the reservoir and entering the woodland nature reserve, I could hear the chattering of a flock of tits and other small birds.  As I started watching the flock through my binoculars, I was surprised that the first bird to come into view was a chiffchaff.  This warbler is a scarce winter visitor in our area, and it's presence indicated that the likelihood of there being quite a few different birds in this flock. So it proved.

The woodland along the river is dotted with alder trees; their ripening cones attracting a flock of goldfinches.  Below them on the woodland floor, a small flock of chaffinches were feeding amongst the leaves.  Treecreepers, at least three of them, were busy feeding on the tree trunks, using their very delicate bills to probe for hidden insects.
treecreeper
Scot's pine are well established here too, and are very attractive to goldcrests, coal tits and long-tailed tits and it is possible to get really good views of them here, with a bit of patience.
long-tailed tit

The highlight for me was at last (I have tried a few times!) finding a willow tit feeding amongst the flock, working it's way along pine branches, searching for food, constantly active.  Not too easy to photograph so just "record shots" below, but these show some of the features that distinguish them from the very similar marsh tit.  These include the diffuse edge black "bib" (unlike the very neat bib of the marsh).  The diagnostic pale wing panel was also very noticeable at times (but not well captured in the photos here).
willow tit feeding on alder tree

willow tit feeding on Scot's pine

Willow tits are declining rapidly in the UK and have become very localised in our area.  They like patches of damp woodland with willow, birch and alder.  Grimsbury woodland nature reserve is currently one of the few places left in Oxfordshire where you have a chance of seeing them.

I could have stayed watching and photographing this flock of birds for much longer but there was Christmas shopping still to do.....

Thats all for now until after Christmas.  Best wishes,  Mike


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