It's that time of year again when the young Bearded Tits have left the nest and are starting to entertain the crowds with some photo opportunities, so off to Rainham Marshes to try my luck. The Beardies had been showing around the Dragonfly Pool, so I set off in a clockwise direction along the southern trail.
Just past the Purfleet Hide a Reed Bunting was singing its heart out on a Phragmites stem, so a good start to the day.
There were also a number of young Reed Warblers around, and the bird in the second photo is not long out of the nest as the feathers on its head and breast are still in pin.
But now on to the business at hand........Bearded Tits!!! In the nest and when they first fledge the juveniles are fed an insect diet, but after a while they convert to their more natural seed diet. As with all seed-eaters they need to eat some grit to help grind up the seed in their crop, and a grit tray has been provided in the Dragonfly Pool for this very purpose.
Apart from being very useful for the young Beardies, the tray is also useful for birders and photographers hoping to get some views as it provides a focal point, although they can of course been seen anywhere in the surrounding reed beds.
Juveniles can be readily identified as they have a dark patch between the eye and the bill. The males have orange bills and the females brown bills, so one of each in these shots. I only included these shots to explain the purpose of the grit tray as I normally prefer to photograph them in their natural surroundings, so lets see how I got on.
Luckily the male juvenile left the tray and explored the reeds around the margin of the pool allowing some much better shots to be taken. Just look at that most amazing pattern on the back.
It then transerred to another pool and began scavenging amongst the debris at water level, a behaviour characteristic of Bearded Tits
This is the juvenile female of the brood.
The juvenile male and female obviously had a very strong bond as they were also close by and on several occasions snuggled up to each other for security.
But then, as a bonus, the adult male appeared and posed above the reeds on a Phragmites stem...........
.............before diving into the pool for some low-level feeding in true Bearded Tit style. What absolutely fabulous birds and a few hours over a couple of days well spent.