When people say to me that some bird or other is most easily tracked down or identified by its call, I shuffle my feet in embarrassment and try not to admit how hopeless I am generally at recognising bird calls. Luckily there are web sites for that kind of thing – though they don’t help much when you’re out in the field, trying to work out what it is you’re hearing.
But at least I have learned to spot the wittering of long-tailed tits, which hang out in gangs and chat to each other almost constantly as they’re going about the business of looking for food. This tiny chap was a member of a small flock of about ten birds that flew over my head as I set out on my walk this afternoon, and which I then spent a good half hour trying to track down. After searching all the likeliest places in the village, I’d almost given up and was walking back towards home, when I suddenly heard the tell-tale chatter, and watched them zoom in over a tall hedgerow and land in this sycamore tree, where they proceeded to keep up a running commentary while they searched the branches for insects and grubs. Suddenly they all took off, flew across a nearby orchard, and disappeared – by the time I’d walked around the corner to intersect with their flight path, they were nowhere to be seen.
Because they were up in quite a tall tree, the angle here wasn’t ideal – I could really do with extendable legs, like a tripod. Also, long-tailed tits are in almost constant motion, so many of my shots suffer from what I call UBM (Unintentional Bird Movement); but luckily this one’s attention was caught by something further along the lane, and it sat still long enough for me to get focus. The same bird is in the extra photo, explaining something to the rest of the gang.