I am getting on a bit in years, having seen 67 so far. During that time I have worked for most of my time in the outdoors, first studying life in ponds, then small mammals in woodlands and grassland. For a lot of my life I led groups of children to discover the natural world around the British Isles and in all of that time the very first thing I did was to look at the weather before I set off.
The weather is changing and has changed, will indeed always change. What is different today is that as the world heats up, this change becomes ever more rapid. As a boy, I looked forward to the winter and making slides on icy roads and paths, sledging down hills and building snowmen. My children knew this too 40 years ago. Today, after a succession of increasingly mild winters, few young children will see enough snow in low levels in the Midlands of England to experience this. If lucky enough to see a fall of snow, then they will certainly see their snowman melt away after a day or two. I remember some of mine lasting for weeks sometimes.
In the bird world this lack of winter frost and cold has made it much easier for smaller birds such as wrens and goldcrests to survive and populations are rising rapidly. A couple of days ago along the railway trail I saw something that I had never seen in the past. Two groups of long tailed tits had clashed along one of the old hedges and I actually saw birds fighting and coming together and falling through the undergrowth. This had been seen in the past in known aggressive species with high degrees of territoriality such as our “lovable” robin or blackbirds. It is usually the male that is seen to fight, sometimes injuring their foes fatally. I don’t recall ever seeing it before in this species.
However in such tiny and social birds as long tailed tits, that usually come together into mixed flocks at this time of year with blue tits and sometimes great tits to forage through the trees and shrubs together, it is rare to see an entire group in conflict with another. The noise that both groups were making as they dashed to and fro, seemingly trying to prevent the other group from advancing along the old hedgerow was very unusual too. Normally the flocks keep in contact with high pitched calls, but here they were all making a low churring call, which I interpreted as a warning or threat.
The battle, if battle it was, ended after a few minutes with one group reversing its progress and going back the way it had come. The other group stayed around for longer but then went off the other way. No bird was killed or wounded, but I had a distinct impression that there had been a battle for territory and resources. Not only humans are affected by global warming.
Keith Falconer, October 2016
The featured picture is cropped from a free downloaded on Pixabay, of Three long tailed tits and a blue tit feeding in harmony with each other on a garden bird feeder. NOT what I observed!
Keith Falconer is a local naturalist with many years experience of observing and photographing the wildlife of this region. He has an amazing knowledge of birds and bugs and all the creatures that live around us. Every few weeks he share his seasonal account of what to look for and listen to across our wonderful nature trail.