I’m not sure when this happened, but I’ve become an invertebrate activist. Attending the fifth annual New Networks for Nature event last week, I found myself keeping eyes and ears alert for all things spineless. I must say, it took a while before I was satisfied. With apologies to Hattie Ellis, whose presentation on the contribution of honey and bees to human culture was really quite interesting, honeybees don’t count. Everybody likes bees nowadays, don’t they? So I was delighted when Brett Westwood began his contribution to the ‘What Does It Mean To Be A Naturalist?’ session by putting up a photograph of a slug, sat on top of a mushroom. Now that was more like it! A lemon slug at that. Not a creature I’d ever heard of before, but I think it’s fair to say that lemon slugs were one of the surprise hits of the weekend.
I enjoy marking holidays on this blog, as I have Christmas or Halloween in the past. I reckon there’s always a way to bring any subject back to birds. Perhaps I should indulge a sense of celebration more often by sifting through the calendar for more obscure dates such as ‘International Talk Like A Pirate Day’* and covering those as well. Which reminds me that yesterday was St David’s Day: that patron of Wales and wearer of leeks. Lest I offend potential Welsh readers, I should point out that this isn’t an obscure holiday at all round here, but the national day of one of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries.
Or is it a country? I’ve never been entirely sure. England certainly is, Scotland is currently arguing about whether to become a fully independent one, and Ireland is a nation divided between two states. Wales, though, both stands proud and alone on the one hand, but also subsumed by its larger neighbour on the other. The English crown annexed it as a principality, though as to when or how my knowledge of history is too slight to say. Despite this, Wales almost seems more at home with itself than any other part of Britain. I’ve no doubt there’s a problem or two lurking somewhere deep in the valleys, but to the casual observer such as myself Wales simply gets on with being Welsh.
Near the wood proper, I heard a marsh tit calling, and then, from some youngish stands of coppiced hazel, the tell-tale, scolding little ‘zi-zi, tah-taaah-tah’ of a willow tit. Two eventually showed up, feeding busily and staying mostly out of site. I followed them by ear – they’re talkative birds – as they moved along the trackside. When I did get brief glimpses, they were of bullish, bold-looking, slightly scruffy tits. I couldn’t make out many of the key details which would separate marsh and willow tits on sight alone – and it’s not exactly easy; if anything the major difference I could see here was colouration, with the willow tits looking distinctly and attractively peach-washed, darker overall than a marsh tit. For now, the call was more than enough and is generally the safest way to tell the difference.