10 April 2019

· Wirral ·

En route to Dad’s, a return visit to RSPB Burton Mere in the hope of spotting my first ever bearded tits.

I was as thrilled as ever to see so many avocets near the reception building. They and the little egrets were unheard of on the Wirral when I was a boy. Godwits, geese, lapwings, ducks, but no time for any of those today: I immediately headed off to the viewing screen at the reedbed. It was a glorious spring day. Chiffchaffs and other warblers calling all around. Little grebes and tufted ducks. Little egrets making their weird Donald-Duck-gargling noises from the woods behind. Reed buntings feeding in their eponymous reeds. A raven gliding high in the blue sky, flipping upside-down occasionally, as they do. But not a single bearded tit (excluding Yours Truly).

I decided to hang around for a while, nature waiting, as I like to think of it. Other people came and went. I chatted with one retired gent, clearly an expert birder, who informed me the beautiful calls emanating from the reeds to our right were those of the elusive cetti’s warbler. So, not only did I learn a new bird-call, but also how to pronounce cetti’s [chetty’s].

After an hour, I headed off to see what was going on at the Marsh Covert hide. Geese, loads of bar-tailed godwits, shovelers, lapwings, teal, a pair of gadwalls. On my way back to the reedbed, I spotted several brimstone butterflies flying above the drainage ditch, and a chiffchaff chiff-chaffing its heart out high in a tree.

But still no bearded tits. A couple more reed buntings flew across the pool and disappeared into the reeds directly in front of me. I trained my binoculars on the spot where they had disappeared, and a blue head immediately popped out from the reeds. My heart skipped a beat… No, definitely not a reed bunting. For all of three seconds, I found myself face-to-face with my first ever bearded tit! A magnificent male. Not bearded at all, but moustachioed. (Not a tit either, if you want to be really pedantic.) The Scouse woman standing next to me gasped. “Was that what I thought it was?” she asked. I confirmed it was. She was practically in tears. It turned out she’d visited the reserve many, many times looking for bearded tits, and now she’d finally seen her first. Just like me.

Another expert birder joined us. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the writer Robert Macfarlane. Nice chap. We talked birds and cameras. He was lucky enough to see the white stork that visited the reserve last week. Our conversation was interrupted by the call of what I now recognised as a cetti’s warbler ringing out from the reeds immediately to our left. A little brown blob shot out of the reeds and headed off low across the pool. My second new species in under five minutes!

Cetti’s warbler
Cetti’s warbler

Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook

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