The Birch and the Blue Tit3 minute read

Blue Tit in a Birch

A birch tree is a magnet for several species of birds, including a blue tit, in part five of the Rosthwaite to Dock Tarn nature writing series. This piece can be read as a stand-alone piece; however, if you haven’t already done so, you may wish to read the previous parts first (oldest to most recent): The Clapping Wood Pigeon, The Fiery Robin, A Peacock Butterfly, and The Greenbottle Fly.

The Birch and the Blue Tit

Upon entering the forest that overspreads the western face of Great Crag, my ears are treated to a somewhat different set of sounds.

A constant hum of vigorously-moving water grows in volume as I meander deeper into the mass of oak trees that dominate this woodland. Although dominant, these oaks are not endowed with the statuesqueness typically associated with the species—they do not stand straight and tall, and do not appear impressively strong or sturdy—rather their frames are slight, twisted and distorted, a consequence of the nutrient-poor upland substrate into which they find themselves rooted.

Despite their circumstances, these stoical beings do not complain; they make do. Like all organisms, if they are not in a position to thrive, then they strive to survive as best they can, and for this they have my respect.

Descending sweetly down from the woodland canopy, the peeping calls of commonly occurring titmice can be heard loud and clear above the noise of the nearby beck, a beck whose honeyed hum has now evolved into a hefty roar.

An enormous carpet of moss smoothens the surface of the forest floor, cushioning and concealing, the contours in the carpet indicative of a rocky world beneath.

I continue upwards along the windy path, moving in and out of light and shadow as sunlight is strained through the oak leaf sieve above my head to form delicate, slanting streaks of light that permeate the woodland understorey and marble the mossy floor.

I soon arrive at the woodland’s uppermost edge. A rowan tree, its leaves pinnate like those of ash, is first to grab my attention. The leaves, however, are not the most striking thing about it, but rather the great many bunches of scarlet berries that already decorate its crown.

The rowan tree does not occupy my consciousness for long, for a nearby birch tree brims with avian activity that begs to be inspected more scrupulously. I creep closer and closer towards the action, carefully skirting a bed of bracken before settling into a crouched position so that I am able to observe without causing alarm.

At first, I catch only glimpses of birds flitting frenetically between willowy branches; flashes of black, white, blue, green or yellow belonging to acrobatically inclined great tits and coal tits. But then, on an exposed extremity, a female siskin can be seen as plain as day feeding messily on a catkin crammed with birch seeds. Trails of dislodged seeds and cast-away hulls drift slowly down to earth from her position in the tree, and she thereby reveals why this birch has become a busy hub of birdlife.

A blue tit, too, suddenly comes into view, taking part in the timely feast. The elegant little thing is a bit smaller than a great tit and a touch larger than a coal tit. As its name suggests, a lavish blue hue colours a significant portion of its plumage, namely the crown, wings and tail; and the mantle, although undoubtedly green, too contains a tinge of blue. The underside is solid citrus yellow with a vertical, black, slit-shaped stripe situated at its centre.

Radiating from the bird’s tiny, stubby beak, a black stripe passes through and beyond each beady eye and circles down and around to meet back at the beak, thereby enclosing a pure white cheek. The same white fills the gap between eyestripe and crown, the whole physiognomic arrangement inviting comparison with an elaborate mask.

Soon enough the birds move on, at which point I leave the charm of the trees behind and set foot onto the exposed fell top where heather and bracken thrive in their element.