Marlpit Birds

Birds of Marlpit Community Garden February 2016

Flood at Marlpit Community GardenThe wet weather we have had over the past few months (December was the wettest month ever recorded in Britain) has now resulted in a sizeable pool of water lying permanently in the eastern corner of the field, and a flock of gulls can frequently be found there, consisting largely of our commonest gull, the Black headed. The name is something of a misnomer, for the head is in fact a deep chocolate brown, rather than black, and this is only in summer; all that remains in winter is a dark smudge behind the eye.

Larus ridibundus, Black-headed Gull with winter plumage.

Larus ridibundus, Black-headed Gull with winter plumage. Photo Tish

First-winter Larus canus, Common Gull

First-winter Larus canus, Common Gull. Photo Tish

This can be difficult to see from a distance, making them a little difficult to distinguish from their relative the Common Gull. I haven’t yet seen any of these in the Community Garden this winter, and they don’t breed around Norwich, their nearest breeding sites being on the north Norfolk coast. But they do frequently appear in winter, and you could spot them around the pool now; look out for the lack of a leading edge to the wing found in the Black Headed Gull, and slightly darker grey on the back. They are also slightly larger than Black Headed Gulls, and have greenish yellow legs and bill, rather than red ones as is the case with Black Headed.

Larger still is the Herring Gull, and these are occasionally present around the pool. They have a pale grey back, but can be reliably distinguished from Common Gulls by having pink legs and yellow bills.

They are similar in size to the Lesser Black Backed Gulls which have also been present in the Garden, but these have much darker grey backs and yellow legs. They used to be seen mainly in summer in Britain, leaving for the Mediterranean in winter, but some visit us in winter from Scandinavia, these having darker grey backs than the British breeding birds; one of these was present around the pool on 2nd February with the Black Headed Gulls.
Members of the Tit family have been noticeable in the Garden lately. A flock of Long Tailed Tits has been in the forest garden at the end of the site. These delightful little birds have very long tails indeed – of their total 14cm length a full 9cm is tail, leading to them looking like balls of wool with knitting needles stuck in them. Unlike most Tits they do not nest in holes in trees, but build their own nests out of moss woven together with spiders silk and lined with feathers, with a covering of lichen on the outside. The spiders silk allows the nest to expand as the young grow – something which is extremely useful as Long Tailed Tits have very large families, up to eight babies.
They should be breeding in the next month or two, so see if you can spot one of their nests in bushes around the Garden

Chris Keene

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