Usually around Girton

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Day Twenty-eight & Twenty-nine of Megan & Matt Go Wild


Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Megan (travelling from Scotland to Worcestershire, then to Cambridge)

Day 28

No adventures looking for wildlife today, we were on a mission to return from Scotland. It was a long journey, around 10 hours, and often in rain. However, I had a wonderful time admiring various landscapes. The steep-sided vista of the Highlands U-shaped valleys, once filled with glaciers and now filled with the awe of their visitors. The rainbow behind us as we left the rain and emerged into the sun, seeming to appear as if to energise us on our journey. The sunlight landscape of the Malvern Hills as we approached our destination. Proof that even long and arduous drives can be inspiring and beautiful.

Day 29

Travelling over to Cambridge, we got stuck in roadworks traffic. Oh joy. As Matt was driving, I could take the opportunity to admire the wildflower verges – spying poppies, daisies and even a tiny but distinctive flower, the scarlet pimpernel. It made the traffic less annoying, for me at least.

It was time for some (wildlife) gardening when we got back to Cambridge; planting wildflowers, adding to the log pile, and also planting some vegetable seeds. Fingers crossed for a good harvest!

Matt (travelling from Scotland to Worcestershire, then to Cambridge)

Going wild isn’t so easy when you’re inside a car for nine hours. Our journey back from Scotland on Sunday was limited in wildlife terms. But we still managed to spot things like buzzards from the cars, and we definitely managed to stay away from our screens!
Monday wasn’t quite as bad, as me and Megan pottered about in the garden in Cambridge, spotting butterflies and dragonflies and beetles, and planting wildflowers that will hopefully encourage more insects.
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Day Twelve of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in London/Cambridge)

A tale of two halves

My twelfth day of going wild is split between last night and this morning. Last night I spoke at Parliamentaphobia, an event organised by the UK Youth Climate Coalition on how young people can engage with politics and their MPs.

I mentioned the importance of young people who care about nature speaking to their MPs and asking for a future rich in wildlife. It was a small and cosy event, and the discussion there (and in the pub afterwards) were thought-provoking.

Due to disruption at Kings X I didn’t get home until half past midnight, and so this morning when I woke up I felt less than prepared for work. The worst hayfever I’ve had in several years didn’t help either.

But my walk across the fields and through the wood behind my cottage gave me a burst of energy. Skylarks danced in the air above the fields and trilled away. Whitethroats coughed out their scratchy song and a distant willow warbler trilled down through the scales like a chorister warming up their vocal chords.

Best of all was a sound that I couldn’t miss, even with my headphones in – the purr of a turtle dove. These are the fastest declining birds in the UK, and every time I hear one I am left wondering whether that’s the last time I’ll encounter one in the UK.

There was one in the small wood a few weeks ago, but I thought it had moved on to where it hopes to breed. Perhaps it has and this is a new one, or perhaps it was just ranging widely but still nearby.

Either way, I will keep an eye, and an ear, on this one and look out for any signs that it might be breeding.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

I’m not gonna lie, I am barely awake enough to write this post. We had such a busy day at Lorton today, with what felt like a million and one young children (and their parents) visiting.

Actually in reality, it was more like 80 or so people. We went pond dipping and minibeast hunting, made butterfly bunting and caterpillar palettes, and played a minibeast game. Of course, it was all great fun, but phew it was tiring!

I took a moment to identify at least one of the minibeasts – an orange and white ladybird – to species level. Rather nicely, it is one of those species that looks like its name – it’s an Orange Ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata)!

As you will see, I have tweeted about it – but I have also submitted it to the iRecord Ladybirds App, and thus contributed towards a citizen science project!

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Day Eleven of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

It was another office day for me – spending much of the time glued to my laptop preparing for events and the like. I could hear the leaves rustling outside, and a Chiffchaff that was determined to make sure that everyone knew he was present in the area.

I decided to work downstairs at Lorton, rather than up out of the way in the office. A bit more sociable for talking to visitors, plus it lets me keep an eye on live kestrel camera.

By the time I managed to grab a late lunch, I needed to get outside so headed to the picnic benches to munch. Having attended a time management training session, I was reminded of how important it is to actually take a break. I am definitely guilty of having short breaks, and usually working whilst I eat too.

I have to say, it was a lovely break. A small fly popped by to say hello, I followed the fluttering adventures of a blue butterfly across the vegetation, read a little bit of my book and generally basked in the sun. Must take such lunch breaks more often!

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

June is not just one of my wildest ever months but also one of my busiest.

Even though I was working at home today I felt the stress of several projects crunching together at the same time.

This is a short blog post, but it’s dedicated to the immense power of nature to calm and soothe us.

At my most stressed moment today I stepped out into my garden and noticed a blue-tailed dameslfly flitting about delicately near my tiny garden pond.

Among the huge poppies and oxeye daisies in my back garden this moment of quiet contemplation calmed me down and set me up for a few more hours’ work.

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Day Ten of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)


On a day spent entirely at my desk, I have to get my wildlife where I can. Most days, that’s during my regular carpool lift to work.

Not only does my 35 minute lift to work give me a chance to spot swallows, kestrels, buzzards and occasionally red kites or barn owls; it’s also when I chat to colleagues and friends at the RSPB about the projects they’re working on – migrants, waders, bees, UK overseas territories, UK woodlands and more.

My daily lift to and from work helps me make sure I spend part of each day going wild.

Megan (in mid and coastal Dorset)

Continuing Matt’s theme of wildlife on the road, much of my connection with nature today came whilst I was driving. I did take some Cub and Beaver Scouts out in the evening for pond dipping and minibeast hunting, but I particularly noticed the nature whilst driving.

I had to go up to Brooklands Farm for the morning, which meant driving along the Weymouth Relief Road whose verges have been created as butterfly habitat. It has worked – 22 species of butterfly have been recorded there so far! I saw a few of them a couple of weeks ago.

I drove across Ferrybridge as I headed back to the Chesil Beach Centre and was awed by the vista that is Chesil Beach and the shining gem of the Fleet Lagoon.

Back up to Lorton for the early evening, and oxeye daisies were bobbing their flower heads in the breeze.

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Day Nine of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s 30 Days Wild Theme was appreciating meadows. These wonderful habitats are scarce indeed, but are vitally important for our wildlife!

After a pond dipping session with a local school group (plenty of newts, dragonfly nymphs and snails!), we headed over to the meadow to look for minibeasts (aka insects and other invertebrates) there. Some fervent swishing later and I think the best find was a real big green cricket. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me at the time.

I went back after my working hours to try and get some meadow photos as most of my photos at Lorton have been of the pond or butterflies. I even took a selfie! And yes … I am wearing my hair in plaits. I know they are rather Pippi Longstocking-esque, but they are perfect for keeping my hair out the way whilst working.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

I’m focussing on an indoor activity today: for the first time this season I managed to catch up with BBC Springwatch. I was taking the helm of the RSPB’s twitter account and watched the show while live tweeting.

I love Springwatch but haven’t had a free evening to watch an episode yet.

Normally, I think it’s far better to get outside than sit in front of a screen.

But, I am definitely able to appreciate the power of technology – radio tags for adders, slow-mo cameras for dragonflies, night-vision cameras for intrepid, obstacle course mice (all on Springwatch tonight) – to help people connect with nature and see new sides of it.

And even just twitter can open up conversations and help to share wildlife.

You can’t be outside 24-7, so sometimes technology has an important role to play.

And those who agree should follow a project of mine I’ll be writing more about soon – #rainforestlive on 19 June.

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Day Eight of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

Wild to work

In the Spring and Summer I forgo a 12 minute bike ride to where I get picked up for work and instead opt for the 40 minute saunter through the small millennium woodland and across the fields behind my cottage.

Whilst there isn’t anything spectacular I begin each day like I did today – hearing the songs and calls of stock doves, whitethroats, garden warblers and blackcaps, and smelling the elderflowers coming into bloom.

There’s nothing better than this to set me up for a day’s work trying to save nature.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s going wild for the 30 Days Wild Challenge is actually for the benefit of someone else. It was my landlord’s birthday last week, and I wanted to buy him something for the garden as he has been redoing it. Being a wildlife person, it just had to be a plant for pollinators. I had initially planned buddleia as butterflies absolutely love it, and it is pretty easy to care for, but the garden centre didn’t have it (question – what kind of garden centre doesn’t stock buddleia?). So I settled for lavender instead – after all, it will still be loved by insects and it smells lush! I hope he likes it!

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In Admiration of the Green (and Blue) Spaces of Weymouth and Portland

Rather than describing the wildlife I have seen over the last week, as I normally do, I want to shout out about the incredible area in which I am living. Just before then, I’ll direct your attention to a couple of things that I think will be of interest to you.

This week I have been appreciating the fact there are so many wonderful green spaces in Weymouth and Portland – I don’t think I even know of all the reserves here yet, but there are plenty I do know of and love:

  • Lorton Meadows
  • Two Mile Coppice
  • The Fleet
  • Lodmoor
  • Radipole Lake
  • Broadcroft Quarry
  • Tout Quarry
  • Kingbarrow Quarry

Each one is a fantastic spot to explore and to discover a wide range of species – be it wading birds, dragonflies, meadow wildflowers and more!

But let us not forget that non-reserve green spaces are also wonderful places – roadside verges for example. I love my commute to Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve as I can see countless Ox-Eye Daises (and other flowers) dancing in the breeze next to the road.

Hamm Beach, just across Portland Beach Road from Chesil Beach buzzes with bumblebees and butterflies, whilst skylarks trill overhead and turnstones forage along the shoreline.

In terms of gardens, I don’t usually peer into people’s gardens all that much – you tend to get very suspicious looks if you attempt to do so. However, I am sure there are some wildlife-friendly, beautiful gardens around. I bet that the majority are the back gardens now, as most front gardens are paved over!

What about the blue spaces? Portland Harbour is (I believe) the largest man-made harbour in the world and teeming with wildlife. Last year I went out to the Harbour breakwaters to ring Great Black-backed Gull chicks, and on the way back we saw a seal! I know divers who go in from Chesil Cove, and come back excitedly describing the underwater creatures they’ve seen – such as starfish and cuttlefish.

I wonder how many of the residents of Weymouth and Portland truly appreciate how marvellous their open spaces are? Or even know that they are there! Working the weekends at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve, I have met quite a few local residents who didn’t even know that this huge (73ha!) reserve was here. Or they knew it was, but had never visited!

As a Londoner in origin, I grew habituated to the sight of buildings with the odd park around. Moving down to Weymouth and Portland has been thrilling, as I discover what seems like endless places to have adventures and find wildlife in – both in the local area and slightly further afield (such as my recent trip up to Cerne Abbas).

For my Vision for Nature blog post, I wrote about what the Tory win could mean for nature and wildlife. However, my own personal Vision for Nature is for people to start connecting with nature more.

My Vision for Nature, taken at the AFON conference (c) Beth Aucott

This doesn’t necessarily mean that people need to visit national parks or reserves, but rather looking at what is around them. Mind you, around here, it is incredibly easy to visit the nature reserves. Many people live or work right on the edge of them! Hopefully by connecting with nature, it can lead to starting to help their local wildlife. Perhaps (and ideally) going further and thinking about our natural environment both nationally and globally?

I would say I’m a pretty good example of that. Growing up, I can consider myself very fortunate to have had many opportunities to engage with nature – taking the dog to the local park (which usually included rolling down hills or wading through streams), hiking up Mount Snowdon with my dad when I was around 7-8years old, making and racing small bamboo rafts when I was with Guides. You will agree I’m sure, it was idyllic and not every child is so lucky.

However, I am not sure I appreciated nature then as I do now (or perhaps I just don’t remember doing so?). As my experiences in the natural world have grown, and I have become more aware of the problems it faces, I have begun to connect with nature more. It started locally – being easily distracted on walks as I peer in wonder at a spider’s web, the metallic sheen of a sawfly or the delicate drops of dew on a ladybird. I wonder why the council had planted a verge of just grass when it could be filled with wildflowers.

Now I believe I am engaging on a more national level and looking long-term – I take part in campaigns run by conservation NGOs, and work in environmental education hoping to inspire a next generation of naturalists who will care for the environment as they grow. I have co-ordinated the Vision for Nature blog series for A Focus On Nature, and written e-mails to MPs and both Red Magazine and the Radio Times. I have started to think globally, but I need to start acting in such a way. At the same time, I need to make sure I don’t disengage with my local wildlife and its issues.

This is one of the reasons I love the 30 Days Wild Campaign by the Wildlife Trusts, because we can all engage with our local wildlife. Nature really is all around us! We just need to remember it and appreciate it a bit more!

During the 30 Days Wild Campaign, I will be jointly blogging with Matt – even though we are in different parts of the UK (Cambridge/Dorset). Discover more about the campaign and two of us on this page of my blog.

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Wildlife amongst the April showers

What a beautiful week – warm sunshine, only a couple of showers and the occasional breeze, and plenty of wildlife to be seen. I even enjoyed watching the spiders on the bench, adventuring out from their hiding places.

Annoyingly, one does have to be inside sometimes. Even then, I may catch the glimpse of the wildlife outside. One time this week, I espied a butterfly land in the garden from my indoor location. Naturally I yelled out butterfly, grabbed my camera and rushed outside. Matt was evidently rather amused by this as I ended up being photographed by him!

A surprise awaited me back in north London, a rather shiny looking insect resting in the grass. Naturally I caught it up in one of my pots for a closer look, and found that it was still rather chilled out, so let it go again to take some photos. A friendly little insect as you can see. I later found out that it is a type of sawfly, though not sure yet as to the species. Sawflies are in the same group of insects as wasps, bees and ants – that is: hymenoptera. The third insect is a hoverfly, something I’m sure you’re familiar with. Much like moths, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes – I hope to get some photos this summer of their variety.

As ever, I wasn’t long back at home before I was volunteered to take the dog for a walk. And spring was shining in the local park too- blossoms a-blooming, butterflies a-fluttering and bees a-buzzing. The odd-looking photo of a pile of soil is actually more interesting than you might think. I do believe that it is an entrance to an insect nest – there were a few of them about, and at one point a bee (I think one of the solitary species) approached and almost went in (but the one it wanted to go into had gotten blocked!). Very intriguing!

This weekend was glorious again, Cambridgeshire is beautiful in the sunshine. A 45-minute walk around the local fields turned into a walk of around 4 1/2 hours as there were some wonderful wildlife about (as well as lambs to coo over, horses to stroke and dogs to greet). I even got my first photo of a bee-fly (Bombyliidae) – as the name suggests it is a fly that mimics a bee! Fun fact, the larvae of bee-flies are parastoids on other insects’ eggs and larvae. Isn’t nature charming?

The most exciting sighting of this week came at the very end of this walk, casually strolling alongside a small stream in the sunshine whilst keeping my eye out for insects as usual. I saw a small ripple on the edge of the stream, and a stray thought was “hmm, ducklings?” followed by “maybe a bit too early for ducklings …” On noticing a bridge not too far ahead, we headed onto it and looked back along the water. We waited a little while, patience is a virtue after all and necessary when it comes to wildlife. A small brown nose appeared, then a head, a moment later a chocolate-brown mammalian body swum through the water. A Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)?! It’s identification was confirmed by Matt. What a joy! I hadn’t even thought to include seeing one on my wildlife resolutions of 2015, I thought they would be too shy to spot one.

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Springing back into action

Spring is well and truly underway – birds are nesting, butterflies are fluttering and flowers are blooming. However, before I get on to all that, I’m going to take this blog indoors as I recount a recent event I attended. You may remember that I went to the National Moth Recorders’ Meeting back at the end of January. Well, last weekend I attended a very similar event – the National Butterfly Recorders’ Meeting. There were quite similar talks to NMRM, but with a butterfly slant instead (obviously – it does what it says on the tin); an update on the recording schemes, what the data has been used for, some of the practical work being done to conserve species, and the like. All incredibly interesting, and it was lovely to catch up with various Butterfly Conservation staff and other people I’ve met round and about the place. Despite the achingly-early start (up at 5am, I still shudder thinking of it), I definitely don’t regret spending my birthday there!

As you can see in the last photo, I chose an epic t-shirt to wear for the day – it’s designed by Beth Aucott, and I requested purple because I dislike white clothing for the most part (I’m too pale to wear white). She does a variety of awesome designs, but naturally my choice had to be Lepidoptera!! PS – don’t you just love my earrings too? Thanks Ellen for agreeing with me when I deliberated about buying them!

On the way back through Birmingham New Street Station, I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo of the signs about the renovation works taking place. I had admired them previously, and they were perfectly matched to the theme of the day! Kudos to the designer for (a) making it nature themed and (b) the general awesomeness of them!

Back to my local park in north London – I had taken my camera along on a dog walk, hoping to snap a photo of the Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) that had been investigating a tree. However it seems they haven’t gone for nesting here just yet, no squawking green parrots about! I’ll check back of course, but for now, you can have a photo of the hole they had been in and out of previously. Whilst checking out the trees, I noticed some birds circling high up – Buzzards (Buteo buteo – which by the way, is an awesome scientific name and appeared recently on an episode of University Challenge)! Yes, relatively common birds I know, but I had not seen them from the park before so I was pleased (remember, I’m normally looking down for insects, not up for birds of prey!).

I found another fallen tree to dig into, much to the chagrin of its occupants. As before, my dog wasn’t too fussed by this pause – he loves having a wander round sniffing everything and chewing sticks. He was little annoyed when I made him stay still so I could take a photo of the micro-moth (possibly Diseriocrania subpurpurella) on his head!

A day trip to Dorset (yes you read that right, I was mad enough to drive to Dorset and back in a day) ensued later in the week, and whilst it wasn’t wildlife-focussed, I managed to squeeze in a quick walk at RSPB’s Radipole Lake where I ticked off a lifer! Very distant, but definitely a Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)! Nice one! And what a lovely looking bird!

As you may have noticed in recent posts, I’ve been visiting Cambridgeshire a bit, and this week was no exception. A gorgeous sunny Thursday afternoon resulted in Matt spotting a Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – a first of the year for both of us, though he is claiming the record. Fair enough since he spotted it first. As you can see from the photos, it was a very obliging individual allowing me to take a number of photos in a variety of positions. The last photo is particular useful – take a look at its legs. You’ll see that a pair at the front, resting on the wooden surface of the bench. I believe that those are actually its middle pair of legs. The family (Nymphalidae) that this species is in have smaller front legs (naturally there are a couple of exceptions, but not in the UK as far as I know), though I haven’t discovered why just yet. You can see those reduced pair pressed against the front of its body.

The garden being so lovely here, there are plenty of birds about. There were even four Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) at one point! This species has seen a dramatic reduction in numbers, recently due to a parasitic disease called trichomonosis that means the birds cannot feed properly. More information (thanks to the Wildlife Trust for Bedforshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire) at this link here.

NB – if you have bird feeders – make sure you clean them out so as to limit the spread of this disease.

Talking of dead birds (kind of), I had an incredibly romantic gift from Matt … a dead Great Tit (Parus major)! Most people would be repelled by such a gift I know, but dead creatures are very useful for learning more about anatomy and the like, and for education purposes. And naturally I wouldn’t kill a bird myself (btw, Matt didn’t kill it either, he found it dead nearby) – I make use of natural / accidental deaths.

Very excitingly, we did some gardening! Mainly sowing some wildflower seeds –  as neither had done much of this, it was a bit of guesswork, but I do believe we’ve done it right! And whilst the photo published is of Matt digging, I also contributed to the hard work. Mind you, in my typical fashion, I did keep getting distracted by what we were digging up – there were lots of little beasties in the soil! And yes, my trousers have crabs on them – they are awesome trousers and I love them.

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Catching Up pt 3

As this blog catches up with the present day, I can reveal even more exciting wildlife sightings. Over at my local park, I spotted my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months – whilst my dad recently saw a Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) there. Spring is started to appear, as buds begin to burst forth and the scent of blossom from unfurling flowers is carried on that still slightly chilly breeze.

I spotted my first non-bumblebee bee (as yet unidentified, I’m not much good [yet] if it isn’t a bumblebee!) of 2015 in the park, feeding on this yellow flower (as yet unidentified, it’s in the list of plants to ID) in the sunlight – wilfully ignoring both myself taking photos and a number of dogs running about and barking (a good game was going on at the time you see).

I have also checked back on the fungi that I saw growing previously – you can see how much it has dried out!

A quick trip down to Dorset saw me getting a number of new year ticks – Blackcap (see below), Brent Goose, Oystercatcher and more, as well as a few lifers!

A tip-off from Glen at the Portland Bird Observatory led to myself and Sean having a wander through the lovely Broadcroft Quarry (do you remember my fantastic visit last year?) in search of the Widow Iris aka the Snake’s Head Iris (Iris tuberosa). As well as being a lovely plant to look at, it was also rather fascinating to watch the bees as they landed on the flower and crawled deep into the funnel to feed. You can see in the second (slightly blurry) photo, that they get rather covered in pollen!

As mentioned, I saw my first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the year at Portland Bird Observatory. What a stunning bird it is! It’s a male – you can tell because his cap is black whereas the female’s cap is red-brown in colour.

A very exciting lifer for me was seeing a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) – again from the terrace at PBO! It was not long before I needed to head off when Glen pointed it out. And not just one, but two! Fantastic! I’d heard Firecrest before, and seen their close relative the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), but had never actually seen one so I was ecstatic!

On a short visit to Cambridgeshire, I kept an eye on the garden whilst baking (scones btw, they were delicious!). After having seen my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months only a few days previously, I was very pleasantly surprised to see another one so soon! More so because after a few attempts, I managed to get a decent photo of it despite (1) being at a distance, (2) taking the photo through a window, and (3) having obstacles in the way!

Not long after, I enjoyed viewing a female Blackbird (Turdus merula) atop the hedge. She was all fluffed up and evidently sunning herself – I don’t blame her! As the sun started to fade, there was an odd-looking bird in the garden. It was a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), but it seemed to have a deformity – a huge lump on the back of its neck – and possibly a bald head? It was hard to tell in the light, and the photo doesn’t help much. Has anyone else seen anything like this in Blue Tits? It didn’t seem to be too effected by its misfortune – it was feeding fine.