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  • Writer's picturePeter Howarth

A Morning to Myself

Finally, a morning to myself. The last few weeks haven't been particularly busy but have in one way or another stolen every morning from me. At last I can get out before sunrise and experience the morning properly, surrounded by the beautiful dawn chorus. A choir made up of individual artists coming together to create something glorious.

My aim this morning is simple, find a Bearded Tit. Possibly my favourite resident bird in the UK, Bearded Tits are under threat from habitat loss and changing weather patterns. Making them a focus of reserves that are lucky enough to be home to them. The trouble with Bearded Tits is they are incredibly elusive, especially during the spring and summer months. The best chance of success is to catch them in autumn and early winter when they start eating grit (this is due to a dietary change from insects to seeds).

One thing I have learned over the years is that Bearded Tits tend to be a fair weather bird, preferring still crisp mornings over damp and windy ones. Aware of this I checked the weather forecast regularly the night before, it was far from promising but I decided I should take a punt. This might be my only opportunity of the year to see these amazing birds, so come morning I grabbed my gear and set off into the darkness.

Arriving at my chosen location a little after 7am, the waiting game begun. Staring out into the Reed beds you wait for the tell-tale call that will announce their presence. Hours ticked by and still nothing, eventually I was joined by a RSBP volunteer and a man called John Wilson. Mr Wilson has studied Bearded Tits for years and both he and the RSPB volunteer suggested I walk the length of the Reed bed as there had been more activity recorded further along this year.

And so the marathon began, pacing back and forth along the reed bed. Listening. I often stand with my eyes closed putting all my focus into what is going on around me. A chainsaw in the distance, the distinctive whine of traffic, a repeating chirp behind me; a Dunnock or a Robin maybe? Still no pinging.

On and on I walk covering the same ground over and over. Then in front a flash of brown! Is this it? I creep forward, another flash. A Reed Bunting, its tail seems wrong but I had already seen a few in the area so I dismiss it and walk on. 20 or 30 yards on I stop, I can't get that tail out my head. The more I think about it the more I am sure. It had to be a Bearded Tit. Turning back I choose an area to settle.

There is something mesmerising about reed beds, the contrast shades of yellow and orange can play tricks on your eyes. Often you struggle to focus, every movement is a potential sighting. There is one colour that isn't common in reeds and that is grey. So as my eyes focus in on that beautiful grey face, my heart catches in my throat. It can be nothing else. Looking down my lens I lock eyes with a stunning male Bearded Tit. Movement to the right, a female. I scan the reeds for more, nothing.

D7500 Sigma 150-600 1/320 sec at f/6.3, ISO 500

It feels almost fitting. A gift from the reserve, an amazing pair of Bearded Tits for me and me alone. My perseverance rewarded. Unfortunately, the birds had appeared further away from me than expected, any attempt to approach would spook them. So instead I watched and enjoyed this special bird only few people in the UK have seen or even know about.

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