Monday, August 18, 2008

Animal of the Week -- August 18, 2008

Look! What's that over there in the bushes? Pass the me the binoculars will you. OH MY GOD! It's a lesser spotter Animal of the week.

It's all been crazy talk of bigfoot and chupacabras from the states recently -- but predictably they turn out to be a monkey suit in a block of ice and a manky old dog. So, I am going for something totally unsensationalist.

If you were to ask me what my favourite animal was, I'd be hard pushed to come up with an answer -- I mean there are bloody loads of them. Would it be a majestic lion, or a honey-making bee? The vanishingly rare Vancouver Island Marmot, perhaps? Maybe it's a fluffy viscacha, or the parasitic carandiru that swims up people in the Amazon? Or a barnacle that replaces the body of a crab in while the crab is alive? There is so much fluffy-cute, crazy-arsed weird-shizzle going down in kingdom animalia that really I wouldn't know where to start picking a favourite. But then, maybe, just maybe...

While visiting my ma's recently to catsit while she took a holiday, I was gazing out over the patio when I noticed a commotion in the hedgerow -- 20 or so tiny black dots fizzing around from tree to tree, and I suddenly felt full of joy and realised that nothing warms the cockles of my heart as much as a flock of this week's Animal Aegithalos caudatus (long-tailed tits).

These birds are small about 8 cm long, more than half of which is their tail, they are fairly common throughout Europe and western Asia, and they are not endangered, particularly useful to people, or really in any way remarkable. But there is something about these tiny balls of feathery fluff, as they swarm over individual bushes, their black and white bodies flecked with pink bars on their wing, swapping places, following one another, emitting shrill, almost supersonic, three-note chirping calls, picking off small insects from among the bark and leaves. They are like tiny clowns -- but nice clowns, not fright-wigged, red-lipped, custard-in-the-pants, It clowns. Just following the path of a flock of these little tits down a hedgerow, or across a scrubby heath, or through a stand of trees in an inner city park or cemetery is one of life's great joys.

Also, now as we head into late summer, while you are out blackberrying, if you spot in some dense scrub a small round ball of moss, feathers, and lint stuck together with spiderwebs, you have probably found a long-tailed tits nest, incredibly well camouflaged and hidden, they are not uncommon but they are hard to spot.

So keep your eyes and ears peeled, if you see little round birds with long tails bubbling through a hedge, singing a high pitched song, take a few minutes to enjoy these charming little tits.

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