The rain arrived this afternoon, breaking one of the longest spells of continuous fine weather I can recall for many months. The butterflies and damselflies went immediately into hiding but the wild birds continued to form disorderly queues for the complimentary seeds and peanuts.
A regular visitor at the moment is a female Greater spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), who announces her arrival with a distinctive ‘kick kick’ call. She alights on a tree trunk, hops jerkily from left to right before flitting over to one of the many suet feeders that dangle from trellises, overhangs and almost every other fixed object in the garden.
She’s instantly recognisable by her large bill, striking black and white plumage and scarlet under-tail. The smaller birds tend to scatter in her wake but she’s easily spooked by humans – and who can blame her.
As a child growing up by the coast, in a part of town dominated by cliff ledges rather than trees, my experience of woodpeckers (spotted or otherwise) was fairly limited. Not until I did a brief stint as a voluntary warden at the wonderful RSPB reserve in Arne (Dorset) did I first see various members of the Picidae family up close.
For several bitterly cold weeks in the mid 1980s I was ensconced in a small log-cabin, deep within a vast oak wood. During my time there I carried out a variety of tasks, ranging from rhodie bashing to counting ducks, but none were quite so rewarding as filling up a wire bird feeder hanging outside my residence. For my trouble, I was amazed and delighted every morning by the sight of a Greater spotted woodpecker tucking into peanuts as it clung to the flimsy holder with its powerful feet.
Although I’ve become slightly blasé about seeing this remarkable bird feeding just a short distance from my kitchen window, I’m always filled with optimism when I hear its familiar drumming sound coming from the woods. Why? Well, quite simply because it’s a symbol of spring. And spring is indubitably my favourite time of year.