Monday 18 December 2017

The Gloucester Penduline 18th December 2017

Leaving my home at ten this morning, a forty five minute drive westwards across the North Cotswolds got me to Plock Court which is on the outskirts of Gloucester and is a large recreational area comprising of sixty nine acres of playing fields, informal green space and a specially created wetland area for the benefit of nature and to alleviate flooding of a nearby housing estate. The wetland area consists of a series of separate, small and shallow ponds filled with Great Reedmace (bulrushes), each bulbous bulrush head now ruptured into a fluffy mass of cottony seeds that stood like miniature mop heads on dead stalks above the bent and broken leaves at their base. It was here, feeding on the bulrush heads that a Penduline Tit was discovered a couple of days ago.

The name Penduline comes from the fact that these birds build a delicate pear shaped nest from spider's webs, wool and animal hair that hangs down from a twig or branch. 

Penduline Tits are not really a true tit but are closely related to the tit family and are found over a very wide geographic area from Portugal on the Atlantic Coast right across mainland Europe as far as Siberia and Japan in the East. They breed as close to Britain as France, and northern populations in Europe migrate to southern Europe where they join the resident populations for the winter, so it is very unusual for one to turn up as far north as Britain in mid winter. 

They are a very rare visitor to Gloucester, this being only the second record for the county, the first being of two birds a couple of years ago and only a mile or so from Plock Court. They are also rare in Britain, although with a population of almost 1.5 million birds and which is still increasing, it is, maybe, not such a big surprise that they are being seen more often in southern Britain. Even so it was well worth the short car trip to go and see this one. When I got there around twenty birders were standing around waiting for it to show itself from its hiding place in the tangled mass of dead bulrush clutter in one of the ponds.

Ten minutes later a small movement betrayed its presence and then it ascended up a  stalk of bulrush and there was the familiar dove grey head with the black bandit mask over the eyes, the rich chestnut upperparts and paler buff underparts. They are a pretty bird, fractionally smaller than a Blue Tit with a tiny needle like, pointed bill, that looks for all the world like a carpet tack, and which they use to prise insect larvae from the bulrush heads

I stood and waited with the others. A male European Stonechat was also haunting the bulrushes and a Sparrowhawk caused it and the local Blue and Great Tits some alarm as it flew fast and low across the ponds. 

After a twenty minute wait the Penduline Tit flew up from the rushes and over to a nearby hedge that separated the fields from the adjacent A40, a busy and noisy main road.

We duly followed to the hedge and the Penduline Tit flew a few metres further along the hedge. Everyone was now following it and I got the distinct impression it was unsettled by all the movement and would perch in the higher branches and twigs before moving along the hedge in a series of short flights to try and get away from its sometimes inconsiderate admirers. It would then fly back into one of the patches of bulrushes only to be surrounded as everyone duly pursued it to whatever bulrushes it had favoured. Needless to say it remained low and out of sight.

It did not remain long in the rushes before flying up again and back to the hedge and this went on, back and fore for quite some time.Virtually everyone had a camera and wanted to get a photo so it was given little rest and it became obvious that it was now becoming increasingly unsettled.

I had some good views of it in the hedge but grew tired of watching the unthinking behaviour of some who persistently pursued it around the area and did not really give it an opportunity to settle. I did observe that it was ringed with a metal ring on its left leg, no doubt from a ringing scheme somewhere but maybe not in Britain. It would be interesting to see if there is a good enough photo to be able to read the ring number as then its origin or at least where it was ringed, might be revealed.

The ring number was read and it showed this Penduline Tit was ringed on 28th October this year on Alderney, which is one of The Channel Islands.

Please click on any of the above images to view an enlarged version


  1. Great blog and enjoyed the photos. Shame about the behaviour of some so called bird watchers and photographers