You wouldn’t know it looking out across the mudflats right now though. The grey cloud looks… impenetrable. An iron curtain is being drawn across the estuary from the Point of Air towards my position at Thurstaston, more rain looms like unwelcome guests at Christmas. I don’t fancy another dousing so I beat a hasty retreat back home. Forty rain soaked minutes later, as the kettle boils, I peel off my wet socks (how good does that feel?) and start to warm up with a brew and a fire. My waterproof (well, nearly waterproof) jacket hangs on the back door, several shades darker and a lot heavier than when I left the house this morning. Every now and then a drip from it drops to the wooden floor. The kindling starts to glow in the stove so I throw on the first logs sip my coffee…. and relax.
I cast my mind back a couple of days, away from the cold grey dampness of this dreary Saturday….
My dad and I are enjoying a plate of proper Full English breakfast in areal café (by real I mean“old school” because you can’t get a macchiato and nothing comes with a dressed rocket salad) before hitting the Patch with our cameras. Outside the sun is shining and clouds are non-existent reminding us that the sky is still blue, great conditions for a spot of photography.
Full to the brim with breakfast we set off to Burton Mere Wetlands. My usual haunt between Thurstaston and Heswall has been battered by storm after storm so the Blackwits and the Pintail have left for a more sheltered spot leaving me looking elsewhere for a subject to photograph. We arrived on the reserve and had a good mooch about. There was an obliging Snipe close to the reception hide, but through the glass windows I couldn’t really get any pictures to write home about so we sauntered over to the Marsh Covert hide for a chat. There are never really many birds there so it is usually free from people and a good spot for a chinwag. After putting the world to rights but not taking many pictures my shutter finger was getting a little itchy so we trundled around to the feeders where a bunch of small birds were busily feeding away.
Like most people who start on a wildlife watching path it was garden birds that first inspired me. As a young child, in the (now felled and chipped) plum tree in my mum and dad’s back garden we hung a red netting bag of peanuts. As my interest in birds grew those nuts were followed by more elaborate feeders with a range of foods and a homemade bird table with a bizarre Perspex rain cover. Soon we had a fully fledged feeding station regularly attended with a plethora of birds. Here I saw my first ever Blackcap, it was big news when a Sparrowhawk first flew through and I still remember my excitement when a 50-odd strong flock of Redwings and Fieldfares landed in the bare branches of the plum tree. Now I spend most of my time on the mudflats with long distance migratory shorebirds but after just 2 minutes by those feeders I realised that I shouldn’t have neglected these common garden birds.
Reflecting on those early birding days I would always start any list of what I had seen in the garden or on a walk in the same way:Blue Tit
Coal Tit(Any thoughts of lists in order of classification, habitat, county etc were non-existent at this point.)
These were the common birds that got me started on natural history study and thinking about it that morning I realised that they are poorly represented in the archives of the many tens of thousands of images I have taken since my dad bought me a silver Canon 300D way back in 2004.
So standing on the path at BMW I resolved to spend more time with the smaller resident birds of the Patch.
A Coal Tit landed on a peanut feeder as a large rat scuttled across the path in front of me. While taking the Coalie’s picture it dawned on me that the year list that I have started for the Patch doesn’t contain Coal Tit! On this list there are migrant birds from the far reaches of the high arctic, the odd rare vagrant blown far off course but no Coalie. Unforgivable.
Siskins, another for the Patch list, arrive in the high branches of the alders and I remember when we had them in the plum tree for the first time. Suddenly I miss that old tree. It was a great climber and I knew every foot and hand hold of its trunk. You could get high enough to see over the garage roof and into the front garden so you were able to see who was playing out on out street (important information when you are 7). The Siskins sing in the sun and I can feel some of its warmth on my back, or is the warm fuzzy feeling nostalgia for childhood summers spent in the branches of the plum tree? Either way it is a good feeling.
A few Blue Tits were taking turns on the feeder now and I concentrated on them for a while. Blue Tits, number one on my list and, looking at them again, as if I had never seen one before they became my new favourite bird.
They are coming in really close and the camera picks up all the detail in the vibrant light. I should be looking at the details of the plumage; working out the coverts from the tertials, but all I was really thinking was... they are kind of cute.
After I had filled several of my own and one of my dad’s memory cards, we all went our separate ways. Dad and I headed to our respective homes to review and archive some of our images while the Blue Tits carried on, well…carried on being cute. That evening, revelling in the familiarity and overlooked beauty of these birds I decided to paint some part of the house in a shade of blue found on a Blue Tit.
If Blue-Tit-Tail-Blue isn’t a paint colour then it should be…