When we set off this morning, the weather was overcast, and rain threatened, but with Malcolm’s “it’ll be sunny by 11:30” ringing in our ears we decided on Blean Woods to start and then Reculver.
Our thoughts were that if we were likely to see a lesser spotted woodpecker this year then we needed to do it before the trees got their leaves and whilst the birds were setting up pairs and territory. Malcolm and Sally had heard several great spotted and green woodpeckers calling and drumming earlier in the week, so off we went.
On arrival, we realised that we could do with wellingtons or a canoe! There were some blue tit, great tit and woodpigeon around the car park. The trails leading from the car park were under water and trying to circumnavigate the lakes proved impossible. We decided to wander down the road to another path where we had seen several people walking as we drove in. A good call, as although we encountered mud and water it was nowhere near as treacherous as the first path we tried.
Entering the reserve we heard blackbird, jay and crow. Whilst Sally and Irene were watching one group of birds, Malcolm and I were trying to track another bird down – probably a treecreeper – Malcolm saw it fly and I heard what I think was treecreeper calling. We waited for the others to catch us up but didn’t see the bird again. We continued down the path which led us straight to the area where Sally had seen our smallest woodpecker a couple of years ago. Today, though the birds had other ideas. A distant green woodpecker called and we found another group of blue tit, but little else. After much patient waiting we also managed to discern jackdaw. As the wind started to dislodge rain off the trees we decided to try somewhere else and retraced our steps.
Sally and Irene stopped at the spot where they had seen the group of birds earlier, and in a stroke of pure genius Malcolm suggested that we get a little closer – blackbirds and more blue and great tits could mean other species. Cunning plan that Malcolm – I knew there was a reason why we take you out every week. Within minutes I had spotted a bird in the top of a nearby tree, as I got the binoculars to it I could barely believe it, a lesser spotted woodpecker feeding along the spindly branches. After a minute or so the bird flew across the path and into another tree nearby, as we watched Malcolm spotted a second bird, we then had a glorious few minutes watching as the two birds flew about, chasing and feeding in the tree top. I noticed a superb bright red crown, along with the distinctive white stripes across the back, but anything else was impossible as these small woodpeckers (similar to the size of a house sparrow) darted about high in the trees.
The species has an enigmatic quality to it, not only because of its diminutive size but also because of its scarcity. The BTO report as follows “Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have been disappearing for years. In the period of the BTO’s Common Birds Census we lost 60% between 1968 and 1999. More have been lost since but, sadly, the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey cannot give us a figure; the species is just too scarce now. Reports came in from only 33 of the 3239 squares surveyed by BBS volunteers in 2010.”
With a “red” status in Britain, they are more successful in Europe and the population is thankfully considered of “no concern” there or globally. There is no known reason for their decline in Britain, although research in Scandinavia has highlighted competition for food with great spotted woodpecker and grey squirrel, change in climate impacting on survival and reproduction rates and the loss of open woodland with mature and decaying trees which is their favoured habitat. [For more information on these great birds follow the link to the BTO website at http://blx1.bto.org/birdfacts/results/bob8870.htm]
Given all that, and although we know they are regularly seen in the Blean Wood complex it was a great experience to be able to watch these two birds and have such brilliant views. Not quite brilliant enough to get a photograph of though, so thanks to Ian for the lovely photograph which he took a couple of years ago, from our gallery. Whilst we waited to see if the woodpecker would return, we also spotted a pair of coal tit, once again these appeared to be pair bonding, flying together, feeding together and then moving to another tree, chasing through the branches.
Eventually we had to move on and decided on Reculver where we had our lunch. The wind was quite cool here and as there were few birds around we noted house sparrow, magpie, pied wagtail, herring gull and black-headed gull and then moved off to Swalecliffe.
With the light starting to fade we wandered along the seafront towards the rough area of ground where gulls and oystercatchers were feeding on the receding tideline. Dunnock called from the nearby scrub area and a large flock of woodpigeon and collard dove were perched in nearby trees. Magpies were also chasing about with around eight in one area. A pied wagtail flew along the beach, disturbed by dog walkers. In fact the dog walkers were both a help and a hindrance – a help to us as they disturbed the birds for us but a hindrance to the birds settling and feeding up on the newly uncovered sand. The “leads only” request was definitely not being adhered to here. Herring gull, black-headed gull and a couple of common gull were seen, along with greater black-backed gull and a couple of sanderling and many turnstone. Carrion crow were also mixed in with the gulls, picking up shells and dropping them to break then open as they fed. A highlight here was a group of around 85 golden plover which swirled around coming in close over our heads, teasing us by almost landing but then soaring away again.
Our final addition as the rain swept in and the clouds started to darken yet again was a song thrush calling.
Oh, and here is my one reasonable bird photograph of the day . . . . . .