Sunday, 26 March 2017

The annual pilgrimage to dip the lesser pecker

The Safari left Base Camp without a winter jacket for the first time this year yesterday. We were on our way to meet up with our long-time birding buddies from the South-side for our annual rendezvous at the usual Lesser Spotted Woodpecker site.
After a slight frost at dawn the day quickly warmed up and with sunshine and little in the way of wind forecast the decision was easily made to ditch the winter coat - a decision well made as it happened as we would have cooked had we worn it - the day was a scorcher for early spring.
We arrived on site first and had a few minutes with another birder in the first hide which overlooks a large pool/small lake. A Great Spotted Woodpecker (118) drummed in the trees to our right. We're certain we've heard this already this year but neglected to add it to our year list. Numerous Chiffchaffs chiff-chaffed, Wrens and Robins sang loudly, greenery sprouted here there and everywhere; the place was alive!
On the water there was little at first glance but looking further we found Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, a Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneyes and a Cormorant sat in the trees on the small island. Star of the show were four Little Grebes wickering away and dashing at each other in a territorial dispute in the reeds to our right.
Little Grebe
From the woods another woodpecker called, a different species, but not the hoped for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a Green Woodpecker (119). Would we see one today we often hear them here on our annual visits but only rarely get to see them.
The rest of the gang arrived as other groups of birders came back to the car park from the woods - it wasn't good news, no-one had a sniff of the Lesser Peckers all morning. It might have been negative news but we put a positive spin on it by twlling ourselves it was our turn to strike lucky so off we went being regaled and entertained by tales of cetaceans and birds from the south west coast of South America by the recently returned AB (You can read trip reports here). What was perhaps more weird than some of the names of the birds he saw was that one of the passengers on the cruise knew the Safari! It really is a small world and we can't go far in it without being recognised - fame at last....if only!!!
Yes there were birders out today who recognised us too! We followed in their footsteps down to the woods and waited, not too long, Apparently there had been sightings earlier in the week but the woods were quite so we soon moved to the feeding station after a very brief scan of 'the' Tawny Owl tree. No sign of it today. On the way to the feeders we passed a male Goldcrest giving a very serious display to a female, his crest raised as far as it could go to show his glorious blaze of fiery orange to best advantage. She was having none of it, ate a tiny spider and shuffled off to find another totally spurning his amorous advances. A privilege for us to be able to watch the drama play out though.
The feeders were busy with the usual garden birds. A Robin provided a brief photo-opportunity on the stump just across the fence.
A Jay (120) flew through the trees at the back but didn't circle round to visit the feeders. Reed Buntings came and went and a Nuthatch fought off all-comers to defend his table full of seeds. It wasn't long before we were able to Great Spotted Woodpecker (YBC #102) to our Year Bird Challenge photos. Unfortunately the light under the trees at the feeding station isn't too good and like the Robin it wouldn't sit where there was a bit of sunlight coming through the canopy, or at least sit facing the sun.
After a good feed it left but fortunately returned for a much better pic a few minutes later.
Oh that it was the smaller species, not sure if anyone has seen that on the feeders here, certainly never heard of it but we suppose it could happen as they do find feeders attractive elsewhere as IH told us of his Lakeland Lesser Pecker experiences during the winter. If we had no luck at this site maybe we'll all have to decamp to that place next time!
Anyway it was time for another look at the favoured woodland and so we stood and stood and not much happened. The woods were quiet, by now it was mid-morning and even the freshly arrived Chiffchaffs had just about stopped singing. While we were stood at a previous nest site a small broad blunt winged pointy billed bird flew over us from the trees in the distance. It landed somewhere behind us but didn't call and couldn't be relocated - a near miss or wishful thinking???
With time passing we moved further down the track passing the first Primroses we always photograph each year. We'd didn't take a pic this time, we'd get them later on the way back - we didn't come back that way in the end so no Primroses for you.
At the next hide which was supposed too overlook a large area of wet grassland for observing raptors and which now looks over a very speedily developing birch woodland we longed a sounder of Wild Boars to appear (not that are any round here) for either/or/and a Great Grey Shrike to pop up and impale some poor unfortunate prey item on a nearby thorn bush - of course neither happened. But IH and JG both simultaneously said did you hear that...they were referring to the call of a possible Lesser Spotted Woodpecker they;d both just heard. The rest of us listened hard but if it was one it didn't call again...near miss or wishful thinking again? More likely the former this time.
We moved onto higher ground overlooking the lake where the Gorse bushes were in full flower and the air hung heavy with the delicious scent of Coconuts from them. The first butterfly of the day was nectaring on them, a Large White which wouldn't stay still for its pic to be taken. The only Chiffchaff (YBC #103) we saw all morning singing in the open put on a bit of a show for us.
After a quick lunch break back at the car park we moved on the other end of the reserve passing beneath a couple of very high soaring Buzzards on the way.
A Brimstone flitted along the Gorse hedge too but didn't stop. We invariably see our first of the year here as they are very scarce around Base Camp although we are trying to change that by encouraging landscaping schemes from developers to include their foodplant Alder Buckthorn in their planting schedules.
It's a fair walk to the bottom end of the reserve passing through birch woodland at first where we spotted some huge specimens of Elf Cup Fungus over two inches (5cm) across and a couple of logs bedecked in smaller more normally sized specimens.
One of the fallen logs was covered in Honey Fungus too and where the bark had peeled off you could see the thick black root-like hyphae that give it its other name of Bootstrap Fungus.
At the far hide all was fairly quite except for a pair of Gadwall and yet another wickering Little Grebe when all of a sudden a brute of a female Sparrowhawk started soaring above us.
That was the bird of the day until this little chap appeared a couple of minutes later and started to put on a bit of a show.
He was always a bit distant but dived several times each time successfully catching a small fish.
At last he came a little nearer.
And from this perch gave us a fantastic display of hovering, no photo - we were too busy just watching as his wings were whirring and his head absolutely motionless. A little bright blue jewel suspended in the brilliant sunshine. It was one of those 'you never know when it's going to happen best wildlife experiences of your life' moments. From there he came back to his perch, Kingfisher (YBC #104)
but he didn't stay there long - he is a he as his bill is all black, the female has an orangy red lower mandible) - his mate arrived and went to sit in the reeds where he had been earlier. He promptly caught a fish and took it to her and fed her as part of his courtship. With over 150 combined years of wildlife watching between our group none of us had ever seen that before! Behind them the strident song of a Cetti's Warbler boomed out.
Pity they weren't on the near perch but we mustn't be greedy!

A fabulous few minutes at that hide! With AB having just moved house he was under strict instructions to get back early to empty yet more boxes so our time was up. The walk back back to the car park was filled with chat about how amazing what we'd just witnessed was and plans for future wildlife adventures. We passed a flitting Small Tortoisehell butterfly on the way and then found this Peacock enjoying a good slurp of sweet Blackthorn nectar.
We might not have seen the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but you can't say the site didn't produce the goods - it did and then some, a brilliant place! 
Where to next? Not sure but it could be Patch 2 on Monday
In the meantime let us know who's not for giving themselves up in your outback.

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