Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is one of the hardest birds to see in the UK. This is because they are small, about the size of a Chaffinch, and so are much the smallest of our three woodpeckers. It is also very secretive. In recent years, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has also undergone a marked decline in the UK. Reasons for falling numbers include the effect of Dutch Elm disease, increased competition from the Great Spotted Woodpecker, a species that has increased greatly in numbers and also predation by Sparrowhawks. It is now a local rarity disappearing from many sites where it was once common.
Given their small size and elusive nature you hope that males will give away their position by drumming or singing and this is one of the main reasons for visiting in February to April when they are more active as you head into the breeding season. The other main reason for an early spring visit is that there are no leaves on the trees to obscure your view.
They like broad-leaved deciduous woodland with a high proportion of dead trees. Denny Wood seems to get its fair share of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker records and so I decided to head there. Tuesday morning was forecast to have light winds which certainly helps with trying to locate bird movement in the trees. Any singing or drumming is much more likely early in the morning and so I left the house at 6 am and arrived at the edge of Denny Wood at around 6:25 am. It had been very foggy on the journey but the warmth of the rising sun had lifted the fog slightly.
Initially I walked very slowly through the wood scanning very carefully in the tree tops listening for any tapping noises from feeding birds and also listening out for tit flocks with which Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers occasionally associate. I was also listening for any distant drumming or singing. I also concentrated my attention on outer branches rather than the main trunk. While carefully checking for any movement in this way I managed to find a pair of Firecrests, lots of Marsh Tits, Treecreepers, Coal Tits and Nuthatches but no Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.
The drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker is around ½ second long and the drumming of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is almost always twice as long, usually longer than 1 second. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker singing is very reminiscent of a Kestrel’s call and quite unlike the Nuthatches which were calling regularly.
After two hours or so I decided to walk around the wood more quickly so that I could cover a greater area while listening for drumming or singing. I heard a call which I believed to be a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and saw a ‘likely’ bird towards the top of an oak but it flew in the time I got my binoculars to my eyes and I didn’t see it again.
An hour later I was beginning to give up hope and I found myself in the same rough area and I heard the call again and this time felt sure it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, not the long Kestrel like piping song but 4 or 5 ‘kik’ call notes rather like a subdued Great Spotted Woodpecker. I could also hear tapping/feeding noises in the tree top but before I managed to find the bird it flew and it was obvious from its black and white barred wings and small size that it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!
I tracked its flight and re-located it in the next tree and then had very long uninterrupted binocular views and some mental fist pumping followed. The small size and barred back were diagnostic and the crown was black.
During my three hours in the wood I regularly heard Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming but I never once heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming or singing. This had made my job significantly harder but the elation greater when I finally succeeded!
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker takes me to 160 for the year.
Blashford Lakes, Hampshire – 27th March 2019
I had an early afternoon appointment in Alderholt with my framer to discuss a commission I have to provide framed images for a new restaurant near Durdle Door. Afterwards I visited the nearby Blashford Lakes in the hope of seeing the Ring-billed Gull which has been roosting on Ibsley Water.
Viewing conditions were very difficult as I was looking west into the setting sun and the heat haze made things even tougher. There were several gulls which looked promising but in the light conditions it was difficult to judge mantle colour and assess bill size and shape. It was also impossible to see whether the iris was pale. The prominent broad white tertial crescents, however, were visible and indicated that they were all Common Gulls.
I did find a Little Ringed Plover on the island opposite Goosander Hide and I saw a singing male Blackcap for the first time this year.
These two additions bring the year list up to 162.