Seeing a Bearded Reedling for the first time

We’re on a mission to see a bird I’ve wanted to see since childhood, but never seen. The Puffin Whisperer wants to see a Bassetino and I want to see a Bearded Reedling. They’re the same thing. My understanding of their Italian name is that Bassetino means ‘mutton-chops’; that’s facial hair across the cheeks.

You can see why, when this is what they look like, according to John Gerrard Keulemans:

Bearded Reedling

And here’s what they looked like to me as a 12 year old, as I drew one from a book and fantasised about seeing one. I never did.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar

We drive to RSPB Radipole in Weymouth with our hopes high, and see one straight away, outrageously close in the reed-bed next to us.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

It’s a male, with the characteristic blue-grey head. Sadly, it’s also got feathers missing from its head and a significant bald patch. Hopefully, that’s temporary and it gets back to full health soon.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

It’s beautiful and a little bit scrappy.

Luckily we hear a distinctive call, like a ‘ping’ from the reeds and another male arrives.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Wow!

Then more arrive. There are a few comedy moments as they jump-climb the reeds and, as they approach the seed-head at the top, and we anticipate getting the perfect shot, the reeds bend and the birds disappear back deep into the reed-bed again.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Bearded Reedlings undergo the most incredible internal transition. In the summer they feed on reed aphids, including feeding their chicks on the insects, too. Insects are essential for proper brain growth of healthy chicks. In the winter they feed on reed seeds. The ability to process and digest such diametrically opposed foods is a spectacular transition. It must involve significant chemical and bacterial changes in gut function.

We get great views of a female, too:

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

What a fabulous experience.

Bearded Reedling - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

We’ve seen them, at last, mutton-chops and all.

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