Or perhaps that should say "magnificent moustaches?" Either way, I'm talking about the same species. One of our most sought after birds. One of our most beautiful birds. And one that seems to be putting on a really good show this week.
I am, of course, talking about bearded tits. Tiny, orange-brown, long-tailed, reedbed-dwelling birds that often remain hidden from view for long periods, tantalisingly alerting you to their presence with high-pitched pinging calls. When they do finally reveal their presence it's all too often simply the merest of glimpses as they dash low over the reeds.
But sometimes they let their guard down and finally show off their beauty to their adoring fans. Such moments of crazy abandon are rare, but winter can be a good time to spot them as they flit around the base of the reeds, gleaning tiny seeds from the surface of the mud or shallow water. Perhaps they'll even land on a path in front of you, pecking at tiny pieces of grit which they swallow to help grind the reed seeds into something more digestible.
And that's exactly what they've been doing. I spent an enjoyable ten minutes in Island mere yesterday watching a female bearded tit feeding on the ground, in the open, barely three metres from the hide. The male had been out a few minutes earlier too. Other visitors have watched them on the path near South Hide, while the reeds between Wildlife Lookout and the sluice have produced regular sightings of small flocks throughout the week.
Bearded tits aren't actually tits, of course, but the only member of a family of birds more closely related to the parrotbills and babblers of Asia. Many people still use the old Broadland name of bearded reedling, or simply reedling, which somehow sounds so much more poetic. Most birdwatchers refer to them simply as beardies. But none of these names is really correct as the magnificent black feathering protruding from above the male beardie's bill is more of a moustache then a beard. In fact, it probably wouldn't look out of place on a Hollywood baddy.
Bearded tits (female, top, and male) by Jon Evans
Beardies aren't the only elusive species that if flouting the rules and showing off to visitors at Island Mere. Bitterns have regularly been feeding in the open close to the hide - though the one I spotted this morning was reluctant to poke his head far from the sanctuary of the reeds. Otters are still being seen daily, often for several minutes at a time, with a family of three (mum and two cubs) being the most frequently seen. They were in the pool to the right of the hide before I arrived this morning. The snipe at island Mere are, however, sticking to type and proving difficult to spot among the cut reed stems, while water rails and Cetti's warblers are, as usual, more likely to be heard than seen.
A panoramic view from Island Mere Hide - spot the bittern or beardie
Most of the ducks and lapwings remain concentrated at South Scrape or the Levels due to ongoing fence and bank work, with the redhead smew and a handful of pintails still associating with the commoner species. Two peregrines and up to nine marsh harriers continue to hassle the ducks too.
In the woods, good sized flocks of redwings, blackbirds and a few fieldfares are feeding among the leaflet, siskins and a few lesser redpolls flit around the tops of alder trees, and flocks of tits may include goldcrests, treecreepers or even a wintering chiffchaff. And don't forget to look for some of our mammals too, with regular red deer and muntjac sightings, plus the occasional stoat, fox or even badger - the latter mainly after dark, as we head home.
I'm hoping to be watching bustards, cranes and more in Portugal next week, so the next blog will be in about ten days time. What else will be spotted in my absence?