I decided to head over to RSPB Church Wood today hoping to catch up with another species that I had failed to see so far this year. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers aren't the easiest birds to see and having dipped on a number of occasions earlier in the year I decided to try again.
After parking the car I walked along the path to the reserve, it was rather chilly and I was certainly pleased I'd brought my hat and gloves and making my way to the bench next to the wardens hut I prepared myself for a long wait. I stood quietly listening for any bird calls and watched as a Robin came flying down to where I was standing, it was so tame I wondered if visitors to the reserve had been feeding it from their packed lunches, unfortunately it wasn't going to get anything off me as I didn't have anything to give it. It seemed quite content digging around under the leaves so I sat down and watched it, about 5 minutes passed and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera when a small flock of birds flew across the tree tops. They continued over the clearing and landed in the tops of some Alder trees not more than 20ft away which gave me a good chance of standing up without scaring them. When I managed to get the scope on them I could see that it was a flock of Lesser Redpoll, hanging upside down they busily stripped the seeds from branches and within a couple of minutes more birds arrived to join them. The wood was empty and I stood alone watching these Finches going about their business, their metallic contact calls could be heard clearly and brought the silence of the wood to life. My little Robin friend looked a bit peeved that the Redpolls were now attracting my gaze and he slowly hopped towards me tilting his head every so often to check the woodland floor for food, I didn't have the heart to tell him the ground was frozen and he could be waiting sometime!.
The Redpolls continued to feed in the trees above me and I managed to count 25+ before they took to the air, they circled the tree tops forming a tight group and disappeared from view further in to the wood. I was know feeling a bit cold and decided to have a walk around the areas that the Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers have been reported from, with the trees having shed their leaves it makes it slightly easier to find this tree canopy hugging Woodpecker so saying goodbye to the Robin I headed off down the path. At the bottom of the main track a small pond often draws birds in to drink and stopping to watch a Wren do exactly this I heard the Lesser Redpolls approaching again, over they went dropping back in to the trees by the wardens hut. I then spotted another small flock of birds flying in to the trees by the pond and was soon watching a flock of 15 or so Siskin feeding in the alders, I could hear more but just couldn't see them and waited to see if they would show themselves. I'd been in the wood for about 3 hours now and my feet were starting to get numb, I was just starting to dream of my car heater when all of a sudden I heard a faint rapid and feeble drumming sound coming from along the lower main path leading back to the entrance, I grabbed my scope and walked quickly along the path stopping at where I believed the sound to be coming from. I waited for about 10 minutes with not a bird in sight and was about to give up when I spotted a family walking through the woods with their dogs, they were obviously being quite loud as they walked through the wood and approaching the centre of the woodland they flushed a small bird from the trees, it called with a sharp and short "kick" alarm call and then proceeded to fly through the woods with a deep undulating flight, I managed to see this tiny bird immediately and spotted the red head and white horizontal barring across it's back and wings but it didn't stop and flew off in the direction of the wardens hut. It was a brief view of a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and sadly that was the best it was going to get as by now frostbite seemed to be setting in and I was just too cold to go and look for it. I retreated to the warmth of the my car and headed for home.
Back in August of 2005 I was extremely lucky to find a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker clinging to a dead tree branch on my local patch. I was attempting to digiscope Spotted Flycatchers at Aston near Hambleden Lock on the Berks/Bucks border when a passing dog walker allowed his dog to run straight in to the bushes flushing everything in sight, trying to resist the urge to throw both the dog and his owner in to the nearby backwater I glanced skywards and noticed a small bird clinging to the side of a dead tree trunk. With the blue sky behind this small bird it was difficult at first to see exactly what it was and it wasn't until I viewed it through my binoculars did I realise it was a male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. It remained motionless on the tree giving me time to grab my scope and camera and snap off a few shots. It must have stayed in view for at least 10 minutes and at one point was joined in the tree by a Chaffinch giving a good size comparison. Despite searching most evenings throughout the summer of 2005 I saw it only once again in late August and have had no luck on any of my return visits. Earlier in December 2008 I had returned to Hambleden Lock and Aston hoping that I might have a spot of luck and find it again but sadly was unsuccessful.
Added To My Year List.
227. Lesser-spotted Woodpecker