One of the most wonderful things about the natural world is that it doesn’t answer back; it’s an escape from the everyday problems of life and a refuge where I can forget the day-to-day trivia, which become less important as I get older. Communicating with nature is a one-way process; it speaks to us in pictures, sound and emotion; we enjoy it, not the other way round and much of the world seems not to appreciate its wonders and what it offers. In the rich West, everyday life proceeds at a complicated pace, there are so many distractions mostly fuelled by technology, but nothing compares with the simple pleasure of looking at a flower or a bird.
There’s so much to see and enjoy in the common things of nature. At this time of year juvenile Blue, Great and Coal Tits have yellow faces and are easily told apart from adults; they’re noisy and some are probably still attached to their parents. Marsh and Willow Tits are not easy to tell apart and it was the ‘petuw, petuw, petuw’ call that gave away the young Marsh Tit in the valley this morning. They’re less common nowadays, but I can often find them in deciduous woods and they’re still visitors to garden feeders, but alas not mine. Willow tits on the other hand are much more elusive and I haven’t seen one for a long time.
The origin of bird names is intriguing, but these 'twins' are particularly confusing. Marsh Tits should be associated with marshes and Willow Tits with willows; it’s not that simple. The former is generally found in woodlands and not marshes, whereas Willow Tits, although often found in willow thickets, normally live in marshy places. There must be an explanation.
There’s a similar dilemma with Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees; Carolinas are found outside the Carolinas and both have black caps. Like our almost identical twins, they’re difficult to tell apart and when I’m in the US, I mostly relying on others for wisdom. I’ve never knowingly found them together and so have had little chance of learning the difference.
Marsh and Willow Tits were originally considered one species and only separated just over 100 years ago. Audubon certainly knew there were two distinct chickadees, but I wonder who first separated them.