Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 21, 2019

Reed Life

A delightful winter’s day on the Essex marshes (the RSPB reserve of Bowers Marsh) – crisply cold and beautifully bright, the sun igniting the heads of the reeds into so many feathery flares and picking out the assorted birds scattered across the shallows and grazing fields in striking sharpness.

And birds there were a plenty, but it was not the plovers in their hundreds and the gatherings of winter waterfowl that stole the show, but birds of an altogether more surreptitious nature.  A keen ear may have heard quiet, but purposeful ‘ping-ping’ calls sprinkling among the reeds edging the open water.  The eye might then have caught a twitching among the stems and then perhaps a dart of a matching brown flash crossing a gap in the stand or over the tops of tall grasses.  They would be Bearded Tit, or as some may refer to them, Bearded Reedling.

bearded tit - male 2 (scaled)

Bearded Tit (Panurus biarmicus) – male.

The name comes not so much from a bearded appearance, but rather the males sporting an impressive, drooping moustache.  They are birds entirely restricted to large reed-beds and scarce they are too.  The RSPB reckons on 630 pairs scattered around the UK, large near the south and east coasts of England, but also in the Northwest of England and Eastern Scotland.  As a non-migratory resident, hard winters are a significant hazard to them and a check to their numbers.  With all this in mind, to watch at leisure ten of them clambering among the reeds not more than 10 metres away, gorging themselves of reed seeds, was indeed a real treat and a true delight.

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