Country diary: small birds forage for food in the damp branches


Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex: A nuthatch lurches along the bough of an oak, looking for insects and grubs

The morning air is cold and grey with moisture. Rain patters on the soft, brown leaves and muddy paths between the trees. The woods and heathland seem silent at first, but when I stop and listen, I hear the soft whistles and seeps of small birds – great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits, goldcrests – roaming through the branches above, looking for food. Four squirrels chase each other like carriages in a toy train, weaving between the trunks, before they scramble up an oak tree and disappear in the canopy.

A nuthatch lurches along the bough of another oak. It leaps across to a neighbouring tree, squealing and flapping its broad, grey wings. Another nuthatch rises to meet it, shrieking, and the two birds briefly lock their feet mid-air in combat. Then the second bird retreats and flies off. The first returns to looking for insects and grubs, probing the bark.

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