Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Looking for Lesser 'Peckers

Shall I try it?
What do you think? Does it suit me?

Blue Tit, Lower Roughdown, testing the local housing market

Hemel (BMT): My morning began with my neck craned, eyes heavenwards, ears pricked, searching the trees at Lower Roughdown for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. According to the BTO fact sheet, this precious species has undergone a decline of 73% over the last 25 years. I’m no expert but that’s definitely bad news. I was surprised to discover that it’s not even a Schedule 1 species, which means that there’s no law protecting the birds against disturbance at nest sites.

The first and last Lesser Spot I saw was a breeding pair in central Hertfordshire in 2012. Even then, I knew it was something special to be able to watch this House-Sparrow-szed (i.e. dinky with a capital D) Woodpecker excavate its nest hole; incubate the eggs, and then raise its young. Little creamy-topped nestlings popping heads out to be fed or being pushed back inside so that a parent could enter to collect the fecal sacks. I missed the pre-courtship drumming so that’s a sound I’ve yet to experience in real life, although I’ve listened to it online.

Sunshine and strong winds today meant that conditions were not ideal. However, during 75 minutes carefully listening, waiting and watching in the small woodland, I heard 2 short, loud bursts of drumming and found 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A pair, which had obviously already bonded and were feeding together, and a vocal female. She was calling frequently but she also took time to preen extensively whilst clinging to a vertical tree trunk - very impressive it was too. I didn’t have any luck finding a Lesser Spot but that doesn’t mean one isn’t there to be found...

A Chiffchaff sang every now and again, as if it hadn’t quite got into the swing of things. I heard Bullfinches and Treecreepers and the soft whistling of Redwings. Great Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens were loud and proud. The woodland had definitely edged into Spring.

Elsewhere, the smart, male Wheatear was still in the crop field, on the north side of Hemel. Although, I’d be watching him one minute and the next he’d be impossible to find. The area is extremely exposed and the bird was very unsettled, perhaps not enjoying being buffeted on all sides.

Back to the Drummers, and some sounds and notes for reference….and, crossing my fingers that I hear the latter in local woodland this Spring.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Drum-rolls normally delivered in under a second, comprises 8-12 beats and fades away at the end. Individual strikes very fast and difficult to separate.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Drums slower, weaker and longer-lasting affair than that of the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Drumming does not peter out at the end.

Great V Lesser

The difference in size of the two Woodpeckers is obvious 
(GSW can be almost twice the size of LSW [GSW L23-26 cm; LSW L14-16.5 cm])

A final word. Not wanting to underestimate the "common". A beautiful pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in Warwickshire, that I photographed just over a year ago. Startling red, black and white and I couldn't take my eyes off them...

A call from the Herts Bird Club to keep your eyes peeled for 'peckers. More data on the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is desperately needed in order to halt its decline. Please see THIS ARTICLE on the Herts Bird Club.


  1. Unlucky Lucy, still haven't been to lokk for the local one, but did pop over Stockers and failed on that one! ;0(
    Never an easy species to get!

    1. I know of a few people who have tried at Stocker's without luck. As you say, not an easy bird. Here's to better luck next week :o)