Willow Tit Fest (Obsession?!)

March 06, 2014  •  5 Comments

'His Nibs' writes .... The weather this winter hasn’t been kind as I'm sure many will have noticed ... and feeling a little trapped I decided that I would spend a few hours over at the ‘flash’  whenever there was a couple of hours decent weather. The target species would be the Willow Tits - as Pennington, along with Three Sisters Recreation Area, are possibly two of the most reliable sites in our area for this species.  Even though these birds are only 10 minutes walk from our doorstep we only had a handful of images. It's so easy to think  ‘we can do those anytime’ - some thing that is so close to home, but if that something disappears, or circumstances change opportunities can be lost. This has happened to us several times. The one that annoys me most is while working for over 20 years as a park ranger, I didn’t photograph the foxes that lived where I was based for over 18 years. These foxes had got used to being fed and after leaving their den would come straight to our compound - very often in sunlight! Occasionally I would stand in the middle of the compound while a particular fox would collect the food I had scattered about. One of my public events was the very popular series of spring/summer Urban Fox Watches. I was lucky enough to do these over 4 years. I would put food down between 10 and 50 feet away from the windows of the room we watched from. Up to 5 foxes would visit, sometimes 2 or 3 would turn up at the same time. They would usually appear in the light but the powerful outside lights served as a back up. Very often this was the first time that the public had seen a fox, so to see them this close in daylight was a real privilege – but it was something I took for granted. After an hour or so watching I would ask if people had seen enough – once they had - I would then let any children stand at the open door and the last visit of the evening would see a fox come with in 3-4 feet of the door for the last of the free offerings – it was always a special way to end the event... Unbelievably I never photographed them – I kept thinking at some point I would, but then a move to another base with no food going out and its become an opportunity missed....

 During a walk around the entire Flash, taking in as many paths as possible, I came across an area that had a higher number of the more common woodland birds, including several Willow Tits, so this would be an ideal place to start. I returned the following day and put some food out on a tree stump and birds soon appeared. A couple of days later I found out that another photographer John Tavenor and local dog walkers had been feeding the area for some time also, so their effort would hopefully make it a little easier for me!

The first session resulted in 45 shots, a mixture of Willow, Blue, Great and Long tailed Tits, but back on the pc only one was worth keeping for various reasons including the usual – head slightly out of focus, unnatural looking poses, already managed to pick food up and some were just totally blurred due to a combination of lack of light and the speed with which the birds came down to the food and picked it up. Even with tempting branches close to the stump it certainly wasn’t easy to predict which they would land on!

For the second session a few thin twigs had to be removed to make the chosen perches more tempting. The weather forecasters had promised us a decent morning although that was hard to believe as it was raining quite heavily at 7.00am. As I approached the area at 9.30 J.T. was less than 100 yards in front of me but before I could get there he had already started to scatter food about – this made it a bit more difficult as they then had plenty of options to choose from. Birds soon appeared but it became very obvious that there was another problem – a pair of Blue Tits had now started to claim territory and were chasing other Blue, Willow and even some GreatTits off. Unfortunately the 3 Willows seem to get chased off more than any others but they continued to spy their chance and would nip in quickly grabbing a sunflower kernel, before flying off to some nearby brambles for safety. Just over two and a half hours and 16 images before the sky darkened and it was time to go – I didn’t get back to the car before the heavens opened dropping hail stone that soaked me through. Back on the pc and another two images worth keeping.

For the third session I thought about moving 20 -25 yards away from the original stump, which might make it easier for the Willow Tits to feed, being a bit further away from where the Blue Tits were defending territory.  The forecast was for rain by dinner and I didn’t think there was time to tempt the birds away, so I persevered at the same spot. Light was very poor, just the occasional 5 minutes or so of sun before the cloud rolled over again. The Blue Tits didn’t chase the others off quite as much, but with only 34 shots and the prospect of rain not far away, at midday I decided to call it done. Less than half an hour later I was back home and it was raining – just two images of Willow Tits worth keeping – roll on some bright light.

The fourth session didn’t start off as usual. The day had started bright so I quickly grabbed my kit and headed off to the Flash. I parked up and opened the boot and straight away realised I didn’t have the tripod – it’s a good job we live so near -  less than 15 minutes and I was back and off to the feeding area. The birds soon appeared, but the frequency of visits was slower than previous, and with brighter light I managed a few shots each time the Willow Tits appeared. It wasn’t easy guessing where they would land and sometimes they were just too fast at picking food up and leaving. The cloud appeared and I was back home before dinner – 60 images, but again only a couple worth keeping.

The next session lasted just an hour and a half – after a frosty night I thought birds might be a bit more hungry, but unfortunately the cloud arrived almost as soon as I did and without a decent shutter speed and only 37 images taken. With lots of jobs waiting at home I couldn’t justify standing there and gave in.

The following day the rain had stopped by 10.00 so I returned for the longest session so far – 5 hours. The sun came and went at regular intervals and the birds seemed to make more visits, but again, two of the Blue Tits continually chased the other birds - especially the Willow Tits. I watched with interest as one of the Blue Tits disappeared into a hole in a Cracked Willow and didn’t emerge for several minutes – a probable nest site and the reason for the continual harassment of all the other birds. Only 16 Willow Tit shots – 6 worth keeping -   but with the other birds, a really enjoyable session and I think my best Willow Tit image to date.

My seventh session was the shortest – just an hour. I had an 11.30 appointment, but with the sun out and birds to be fed it was worth taking the camera just in case. No willow Tit shots at all this time – you can’t win them all!

Fed birds on 17th and 19th  - didn’t see any Willow Tits ...

The next session lasted about 4 hours – it was mainly cloudy with odd bits of sun and a bit of rain! Again there were 3 Willow Tits visiting with 2 turning up together  - obviously a pair - they headed one way and the single bird went in completely the other direction. A dozen or so visits resulted in 20 images, but some were a sequence of the same pose, so only 2 shots were kept. Again the Blue Tits were chasing others off as best they could, but with at least 6 Great Tits visiting, this proved difficult for them.

Saturday – not the best day for photography due to the number of people, but with quite a bit of good light forecast, it was worth a chance, as this could be the last session before the birds move away from food supplies to claim territory. Willow Tit visits were very sporadic with up to 45 minutes between returns, so it could be time to call photography done here until autumn. Three birds visited and 26 images taken with only 2 kept ...

Along with the target species other daily visitors to the food included Blue and Great Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Chaffinch, Long Tailed Tits and Woodpigeons - Oh – and a Bank Vole at the bottom of the stump that appeared like magic whenever food dropped to the floor! During the last session a Coal Tit turned up. A Bullfinch appeared further along the track but didn’t come to the food while I was there and Great Spotted Woodpeckers could be heard calling during most sessions. A Sparrow Hawk made the occasional appearance but didn't stop to 'feed'! 

As well as photography sessions I also made many visits just to put some food out and watch without having to think about photography. I can really say that I have enjoyed the last couple of months taking pics on my local patch and I know that I will be doing some more later in the year....


Comments

5.Pauline and Ian Wildlife Images
Ian says thanks guys! All I can say is its driven me nuts editing willow tit, after willow tit and hello here's a few more willow tits ... and have you done my latest willow tits he asks ... oh fer, fer, fer goodness sake!!!!!!!!!!
4.www.shallcross-images.co.uk
Well Ian the obsession shows in the effort you put in and the Tit pics are as good as it gets for sharpness and quality. Cheers D.C.
3.Chris Hawes(non-registered)
Ian, these are stunning shots. Some of the very best I've seen of this species. Even from the very first session, the quality is really high. Fantastic stuff!
2.Neil(non-registered)
That should have been "nice shots Ian" now I've woken up enough to translate 'his nibs' lol
1.neil(non-registered)
Cracking stuff Pauline, images were certainly worth the effort. I've been going back to the feeders at work for a less glamorous species, the dunnock, but like you say we have to take the importunities when they present themselves and I didn't have a nice dunnock shot before this week. Though for some reason I didn't feel the need to photograph the chaffinches ;)
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