Despite the blue sky, it was bitterly cold out today, with a strong, face-numbing north-easterly.I opted for a walk round Old Sulehay Forest, which is comparatively sheltered, and was surprised at how late everything is. I saw the first few primrose flowers, but the wood anemones, which were flowering well this time last year, have scarcely put their leaves above the ground. And not a single violet or lesser celandine in bloom.
There wasn't a huge amount of bird activity either. I had brief sightings of a nuthatch and treecreeper, and the usual tit gangs were foraging in the tree tops, but pretty much the only bird song was from great tits. I watched this marsh tit fossicking around among moss and catkins, no doubt searching for tiny hibernating insects.
The Marsh Tit is a small, mainly brown bird, with a shiny black cap, dark 'bib' and pale belly. In the UK its identification is made tricky by the very similar appearance of our race of willow tit. They're so hard to identify that ornithologists didn't realise there were two species until 1897! Despite their name, Marsh Tits are most often found in broadleaf woodland, and also copses, parks and gardens.
This attractive little tit has recently been added to the UK Red List. Its abundance has declined almost continuously since BTO monitoring began. Detailed demographic work suggests that the decline may have been driven by low annual survival, and that neither increased predation nor interspecific competition is responsible. Reductions in the structural and floristic diversity of woodland, resulting partly from increased browsing by deer, are likely to have caused the decline. Marsh Tits appear to select breeding territories on the quality of the shrub layer rather than the tree canopy, and may be adversely affected by factors that damage the shrub layer, such as overgrazing and canopy closure. Fortunately Old Sulehay is a nature reserve, and it is being coppiced which should ensure that the shrub layer remains structurally varied and suitable for breeding Marsh Tits.