Post Christmas Treecreeper
Taking down the Christmas cards on Twelfth Night I was struck by how many featured a partridge in a pear tree. Not a very likely sight – partridges are strictly birds of the fields and hedgerows, and, alas, the population of our native grey partridge is in steep decline. My own star bird seen over the Twelve Days was very different: small, unobtrusive and a rare visitor to our garden, spotted on two successive days – first investigating the rough creviced bark of the hawthorn near our dining room window, then running nimbly along the underside of a branch of the oak tree. It was a treecreeper.
Treecreepers generally live in woods, but our neighbourhood suburban gardens are very like woodland glades to this tiny bird. It is beautiful in an understated, elegant fashion: its breast silvery white, its back a subtle mixture of streaks and speckles in rich shades of brown. This colouring makes it well-nigh invisible when it is at rest against the trunk of a tree, its strong tail braced in support and its long slender bill perfectly adapted to probe the bark for spiders and other invertebrates. It has long toes, excellent for clinging and enabling it to defy gravity as it explores the underside of branches with as much nonchalance as when it’s right way up. In winter it will often join flocks of tits and finches so, if you encounter such a flock on a woodland walk, it’s worth pausing to have a good look, as there may be a treecreeper or two among them.
I used to be alerted by the bird’s soft sibilant contact calls but it’s too high pitched for me now. I have to rely on sight. Not too difficult because, as it moves from tree to tree, a treecreeper will always start low on the trunk and move upward, spiraling round it like a small brown mouse – very unlike the brightly coloured nuthatch which moves in any direction in the tree and often betrays its presence by a loud call that even I have no difficulty hearing. So it’s comparatively easy if you catch the bird on the move. However, I well remember an occasion in Coverdale when I was clambering down a steep wooded bank and came eye to eye with one. It was stock still, firmly clamped to an oak and slightly bending outward at an angle to the trunk. It looked just like the stump of a twig. Only its bright eye betrayed it. We exchanged a brief stare, and I hastily scrambled away.
Jenny Dixon, Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Photo by Lars Falkdalen Lindahl [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons