Dear Readers, sometimes a walk in the cemetery can yield something so exciting that it’s been all that I can do not to publish the photos until today. On Wednesday, when I was wandering between the graves and looking out for new Wednesday Weeds, I gradually became aware of the high-pitched contact calls of a group of long-tailed tits. Normally these little birds are almost impossible to photograph, because they hop from branch to branch like feathered monkeys, but on this day I was in luck, because among the adults there were some youngsters, who promptly parked themselves on a branch not three metres from where I was standing.
With their racoon- masks and red eyes, the fledglings look like tiny avian bandits, but as they sat on the branch, preening and waiting for their parents to bring them some food, they seemed utterly trusting to me, in the way of so many young animals. Fortunately, they are part of a group of very watchful elders. I counted at least four adults in the group – some of these may be youngsters from the previous brood, who have failed to breed themselves this year and so are helping out with their siblings.
The fledglings often cuddle up together, as if remembering how closely they were packed together in the beautiful nest that their parents built. I found a failed nest close to East Finchley station a few weeks ago, but there’s a photo of a completed one below. It’s made of lichen and cobwebs, moss and feathers. It’s believed that one of the vernacular names of the long-tailed tit, ‘Bum Barrel’, actually refers to the nest.There are moments in our lives when time seems to fall away because we are so absorbed in what we’re seeing. After the first few frantic minutes, when I anxiously tried to get some photographs so that I could share this with you, I put my camera down to enjoy the sight of these new creatures. They seemed like the essence of concentrated energy, fizzing and clicking and shuffling their wings. They sat on their twig for an inordinate amount of time, looking around with equanimity, as if everything in the world had been designed especially for them.
Of course, their world is full of dangers, not least the eventual coming of winter. Long-tailed tits barely weigh more than a goldcrest, and like all such small birds is in constant danger of freezing when insect food is rare. However, long-tailed tits try to offset the cold by roosting together, their tails sticking out and their bodies crammed as close as possible. This sociability saves their lives in many cases.
So, these fledglings have had a good start in life, and are surrounded by a supportive extended family, who will help them to learn what it means to be a long-tailed tit. How I wish that all young human creatures had such guardians in their early years, and such support as they grew up, for the world is scarcely less dangerous for them than it is for their feathered counterparts.
And for those of you who have been following the fox story, there is nothing to report this week, other than that all the foxes are present and correct, there are no cubs, and also there is no mange! Just at least three relaxed foxes.
All photographs copyright Vivienne Palmer. Please attribute and link to the website if you use them.