A birding white-knuckle ride.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

A morning walk to the King’s Wood near Winscombe on the edge of the Mendip Hills was to prove to be an exiting end to a great weekend of birdwatching. Well, when I say exciting, it probably wasn’t as exciting as the splendid male marsh harrier we had seen the day before on the Levels, or indeed the amazing head-shaking ceremony the great crested grebes put on for us at Cheddar Reservoir. The nesting great white egrets, one of Britain’s rarest nesting birds at Ham Wall (now that really was exciting!); the fly-past by four cronking ravens, our first spring wheatear, and two different sightings of mink were as close to a white-knuckle ride in birdwatching as it gets – but for me, the birds of the National Trust’s King’s Wood was to prove the most exciting of all.  


It was the last morning of a lively weekend with two charming ladies from Bristol – Helen and Anthea. I am sure they would not mind me classing them as ‘Keen Beginners’. We had introduced them to the different habitats that Somerset offers and in the woodland we hoped that we would add to our growing list of birds for the weekend. We did. 

We quickly spotted an obliging nuthatch and the usual tits, goldcrests and thrushes that you would expect, along with distant drumming woodpeckers. All very nice in their own right.

But what made it for me was three rather somber little birds that appeared with a group of blue tits. They were marsh tits. Well, you can see why I was so excited.

As I turned 58 last week, I can now officially say that I have been birdwatching for over 50 years, and there are not many British birds I have not seen, however the marsh tit is one of them. Even Stephen had only seen one once before in Somerset. 

Stephen explained that they, and their close cousins have been mis-named, as the marsh tit does not live in marshes, nor is the willow tit especially associated with willows. If anything the little black-capped and grey flanked marsh tit would be more accurately named if it was known as the oak tit. 

Anyway, I quelled my urge to ‘high-five’ Helen and Anthea and run round one of the splendid ancient sweet chestnuts as if I had scored the winning goal at the FA Cup Final. 

In saying that, I think they knew I was quite chuffed.


Ancient sweet chestnut

Ancient sweet chestnut

Graeme Mitchell