The Willow Tit is probably Britain’s fastest declining bird. It is presumed to be extinct as a breeding bird on the Fylde and yet birds continue to appear. One is visiting a feeder at Inskip, one was seen at a feeder in Preston last year, I heard one near a feeder at Little Singleton the other week and one has appeared at a feeder near Marton Mere the last couple of weeks. Yes I have over egged the fact they are all turning up at feeders, the reason for this will become clear.
On a dreary, drizzly February day I decided I would have a quick look for the Marton Mere bird. To be precise it’s visiting feeders at Mere View Farm, a few hundred metres up from the nature reserve. I will probably never have an easier twitch. I parked up as close as I could on the approach road and ambled down to the farm, stood where I could see the feeders without staring into the windows of the house and the Willow Tit called immediately behind me. It then zipped onto the feeder and helped itself before equally quickly leaving and flying past me.
Marsh Tits and Willow Tits are very similar, so much so that it was only realised the latter occurred in Britain as recently as 1897. This bird was straightforward as it was giving the distinctive alarm call, but the pale wing panel which Marsh lacks was also obvious. If you really are unsure and see a bird well a recently confirmed feature for splitting the species is that Marsh Tits have a pale spot at the base of the bill and Willow don’t. I didn’t get that sort of view today, but it was a privilege to see one.
So back to the feeders. It is increasingly considered that supplementary feeding of small birds in areas where Willow Tits occur is damaging their perilous prospects. In essence feeding is thought to favour generalist species (so in the tit family particularly Blue and Great) and therefore make things more difficult for specialised birds like the Willow and Marsh Tits which therefore lose out increasingly in competition for nest sites. How ironic then that feeding stations are being used by the last ones hanging on in the Fylde, unless of course there are others not being seen away from these ‘honeypots’.
I’ve included a map below for anyone local who is interested in seeing the Blackpool bird. Park at Staining Nook and walk down the track to farm and view the feeders in the garden from the area marked by the black star. And don’t forget to listen as well, a repeated scolding churring may be heard before you see it and will help in pinning it down.