Head to many of the larger reed bed sites in Norfolk and Suffolk and you have a good chance of encountering these little birds. In many cases you may not even see them. From the tall, waving reeds their nasal ‘ping’ bounces around like a pinball machine. If you do see one, it is often a small, seemingly brown ball of feathers, trailing a long tail zipping across the tops of the reeds. If you are lucky enough to catch sight of one stationary you are confronted with a small, beautifully marked and delightful little reedling that is at home gripping on to a vertical reed stem. The brown is revealed as a tawny, orangey brown and there are stripes of creamy white and black on the wings, a long rufous brown tail trailing behind the stocky little body. The males have a silvery blue grey head, small bright yellow bill, brilliant orange eye and stunning black moustaches… so I guess Moustached Tit did not have quite the same ring as Bearded Tit. The females, while lacking the silvery grey head and moustache, are still just as delightful but in a more subtle way.
So yes, while throughout the year you may be lucky enough to hear or even see these little, restless birds in the larger reed beds of the region. But at our comparatively little reed bed at Cranwich? Well as a matter of fact yes! In the past few years the characteristic pinging of a pair of Bearded Tit has been heard in the reeds fringing the margins of our pools. Clearly while many Bearded Tits remain in their large reed beds year round, some disperse during the winter. The calls at Cranwich have only been heard in the autumn and spring, there is no sign of them breeding… yet.
So with the final session of the season underway it is with some excitement that through the still, cool autumnal early morning we hear that pinball ping. With the sun beginning to warm the cool air it was with delighted surprise that from the bird bag I took out a stunning, male Bearded Tit. The first time I had held this gorgeous bird in my hand. The next net round brought the added pleasure of catching a female.
So here we are, on our little reed bed site with a pristine pair of Bearded Tits. Both adult and young of the year replace all their feathers at the end of summer, so there is no way of telling whether these were young dispersing or adults moving away from the breeding sites. Where did they come from? In all likelihood to answer is nearby Lakenheath but may be somewhere further afield? But where do they go to? Remain at Cranwich for the winter or carry on to some other destination? And where will they return to breed? One day could the answer to that be Cranwich? Ringing this pair will hopefully help to start providing some answers…