Michael Blencowe Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Senior Learning and Engagement Officer will be writing a daily blog to raise people’s spirits as we go through these difficult days, helping make sure we don’t lose touch with nature and wildlife as spring arrives, even if we are self–isolating. Here’s day two of his blog…
As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever which is why, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m keeping this daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page or on the Hastings In Focus Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/525011657840898 .
I had two glasses of wine last night and shaved all my hair off. Don’t worry, I’ve been thinking about doing it for ages but I felt a little self-conscious. Now that I’m hardly going to see anyone for a little while it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I’ve always wondered what I would look like with no hair. I assumed I’d look like Hollywood hunks Vin Diesel or Jason Statham but it turns out I look like a potato.
I was watching a pair of Long-tailed Tits this afternoon in the willow tree. These birds are now pair bonding and nest building but in the winter a wandering troupe of Long-tailed Tits was a daily fixture in the garden.
A flock of Long-tailed Tits turns tranquillity into chaos. It’s like someone has emptied a box of feathered fireworks over the fence. They manically bicker on the bird feeder and swing acrobatically upside-down on the fat balls, all the while trilling, rattling and screaming ‘eee-heee-heee’ like a troupe of Michael Jackson impersonators.
These winter flocks are a group of roving relatives, roaming the neighbourhood looking to pillage your peanuts. This posse of outlaws consists of in-laws, brothers, sons, daughters. It’s a family affair. With their gorgeous pink, black and white plumage and those ridiculously long tails these flying lollypops must qualify for Britain’s cutest bird. Then suddenly they’re gone and the pulse rate of the garden returns to normal.
By late-winter this extended family will drift apart, find new partners and start new families. In March the foundations are laid for an epic construction.
Moss building bricks are lashed together with ropes of sticky spider’s webs. The walls rise, a camouflage cladding of lichen is added to the roof and a cosy filling of a thousand feathers lines the interior. The end result looks a crocheted stomach and soon there will be plenty of rumbling from inside as eight hungry chicks demand to be fed. But raising a large family can take its toll. The constant stress and search for food can exhaust a parent almost to breaking point. And that’s when something unusual and wonderful happens. Their family arrives to save them. Relatives who have not been successful raising their own family that year will selflessly help the parents and feed their brood.
Long-tailed tits and humans are two of Britain’s most social species. It made me think about the impact that the essential social distancing restrictions will have on everybody. Being unable to come into close contact with family, friends and neighbours is going to be tough – but it’s going to be vital in these unprecedented circumstances. Take the advice of Mel Brooks (click here) he’s a comedy genius so he knows what he’s talking about. Think of the the Long-tailed Tits and look out for each other – just dont get too close.
Oh, and in case your wondering what I did with all the hair I shaved off? I thought I’d support my local Long-tailed Tit community. I stuffed it into a peanut feeder just in case any Long-tailed Tits wanted to take it and use it for lining their nests.
OK, you can laugh at me. Sure, it’s unlikely to happen – but imagine if it did – and I knew that somewhere there was a brood of cute Long-tailed Tit chicks snuggled up in a bed made out of my hair. Who’d be laughing then, eh?