Hail in the willows

Christmas Eve, Nottingham. Attenborough Nature Reserve. Raining.

I sat in the reserve centre watching mallards and grebes out of the window. I then started to feel this is not what one should be doing on Christmas eve, so ran back to the car – getting soaked as I wasn’t really wearing the right clothes – to drive back to my in-laws’ house. Five minutes in the car and the rain begins to subside. U-turn. Back to the reserve.

Plenty of wintering ducks and even more winter thrushes, including my favourite:


Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

I was heading for a specific part of the reserve.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 19.25.59

Delta Sanctuary, Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottingham (River Trent to the right)

The Delta Sanctuary is one of the largest willow woodlands in the region. Two days before a Willow Tit had been seen there – the first since 2013.

I watched Blue Tits and Great Tits circle through the bare, but surprisingly thick, branches and bushes, along with a few Bullfinches which I find increasingly uncommon in the South (I didn’t find a single one on the patch in  London this year, although they have been seen).


Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

I played the odd Willow Tit call, but nothing happened. I stayed in the area for some time – as it was alive with birds and it is rare to be in a woodland so rich in several types of willow tree, along with alders and birches, all in the waterlogged ground; it felt like a mini rewilding project.

But after about half an hour of absorbing bird calls, something stood out. I looked up and saw a small tit making a lot of noise. Unfortunately my camera was still set with very high iso settings to peer into the gloom to see the Bullfinches deep in the bushes. The Willow Tit was on bare branches against the sky and by the time I had corrected this, it had flown deeper into the sanctuary, and I was left with a few washed out photos (heavily edited below) and my memory of this life first for me.


Willow Tit (Poecile montanus)

The habitat I found the Willow Tit in is exactly the sort of place where it should be found, but seems to be increasingly rare leading to the population crashes that have resulted in this bird being given red conservation status.



I stayed to get some better shots, hoping the diminutive capped titmouse would come back, but as I waited the sky rapidly darkened again. As I wondered if I should head back to report my find and head home, I quickly realised that the weather was faster than my decision making. I was caught in a hail storm that not only soaked me to the bone, but also stung my skin as the hail stones lashed against the side of my face and hands (I tried to capture it on video when it had subsided enough for me to bring my phone out).



2 thoughts on “Hail in the willows

  1. Ron Bostock

    Hi James
    How about me stealing one of your pics?… nothing financial involved but rather a concern about the effects of intensive farming on the Skylark population. Strangely I had a mad urge to pen a poem (not something I have done before apart from the odd bit of drunken graffiti)… your “Yellowhammer meadow picture” looks ideal as a background. If I am allowed to lift it you will receive a framed copy for your mantlepiece…. please consider that “Fair exchange is no robbery” Ron (Lancs)


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