An enchanting, scarce, colourful and elusive little bird exclusively found in extensive reedbeds that confusingly isn't a member of the Tit family at all!
Superficially it resembles a Long Tailed Tit, at least in shape and length of tail, so this is probably how it originally got it's name, though it's alternative name would be a much better fit.....the Bearded Reedling!
Now, as I'm being a little pedantic, I may as well continue further, as the Bearded Tit doesn't actually have a 'beard' at all, but a 'moustache'!
As in most humans, it's the males not the females that are facially adorned, but the plainer females have an understated beauty themselves!
So I suggest that a less misleading name be used for this delightful bird from this moment on...
The Moustached Reedling!
There, now that's much more accurate! :)
Anyway, living on the Somerset Levels for the last 30 years, amazingly it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first saw these charismatic birds!
It was at Westhay Moor nature reserve, and is now the most reliable place in Somerset to see them! Why is that, you may ask?
Well, at Westhay, the Somerset Wildlife Trust, who own the reserve, put grit down on the boardwalk to one of the hides in the reeds, especially for the Bearded Tits/Moustached Reedlings. During the Summer these birds eat the plentiful insects and feed them to their young, which are high in much needed protein to aid growth.
During the Autumn and Winter their diet changes to seed, but they struggle to digest them, so need to take on grit to help grind the seeds up.
So every morning Bearded Tits visit the boardwalk at Westhay to take advantage of the grit put down for them. If it's windy, they rarely go up to the top of the reeds, but you are usually aware of the presence deep in the reeds by their 'pinging' calls to each other which is a unique and distinctive sound.
They can then appear on the boardwalk from seemingly out of nowhere.
Photographing them here is not easy as the surrounding reeds create a shade that make it quite dark, even when they're on the boardwalk in the open! In these situaltions I have to push my ISO up to about 2000, so I can keep the shutter speed high enough to capture them sharply as they constantly hop and move about. I also lay flat down on my stomach to get a more pleasing birds eye view and consequently a better background other than just a wooden boardwalk! This is uncomfortable, but worth it!
I did manage to get a few pics of them in the reeds, and thanks to Steve Balcombe who alerted me to a particular male bird perched at the top of a reed, I managed to photograph it in flight as it flew across past the boardwalk to the reeds on the other side!
This pic is one of my all time faves, and was pretty popular on my Twitter where it's attracted over 1300 'likes' so far! :)
Wonderful wonderful birds....I can never get enough of Moustached Reedlings! ;)
Below are a selection of my pics of them, plus other shots since my last post 2 weeks ago, including a Spoonbill at WWT Steart Marshes being shadowed by a Little Egret as it hunted, so it could grab any fish it disturbed and a Lapwing chasing a Kestrel away from it's patch on the marshes;