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Woodpeckers in my garden
By Lydia Harvey
25th September 2014
Ever since I was a child, walking on the common with my dad, I’ve spent a lot of my time staring up into the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive woodpecker as it makes its distinctive drumming sound high in the trees. On the odd occasion I’ve been lucky enough to see one as it flew from one tree to the next. My years of looking up finally paid off one day when I was walking the dog a couple of years ago, as I got to see a nest that had three very noisy woodpecker chicks peering out of it. I was delighted to have witnessed this and thought that would be my only amazing experience with woodpeckers.
Last year we moved from London to Dorset and as I stood in my new garden I couldn’t hear a single bird. I didn’t waste any time in trying to attract birdlife into the garden, so I bought some suet pellets, live mealworms and winter bird seed mix, cleaned and filled up the neglected bird feeder left by the previous owners and waited.
Slowly we started getting winged visitors to our garden, much to my delight these visitors included a nuthatch, chaffinches and long tailed tits, all of which I hadn’t seen for years. I couldn’t believe it when a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into view scattering the smaller birds in all directions. This elusive bird that I had spent so long trying to spot high in the tree canopy, resulting in a few trips over fallen branches and roots, was in my garden
Naturally as is usually the way, by the time I’d got the camera set up he’d flown off again. This game of hide and seek replayed itself for a few more days until I finally managed to get a photo through the window at the worst angle ever.
It just made me more determined to get a clear shot of this handsome bird. I set up a second feeder on the other side of the garden that still had plenty of protection nearby for the birds but also good angles and natural light for photographs. It took a while for the woodpecker to use the newly placed feeder, I’d see him fly into the willow tree and then fly back over the other side again. Then just as I was going out for the day I saw him on the feeder. I grabbed the camera and managed to get a few good shots through the window.
Over the next few days I finally managed to get some photos without a window between us. I realised that we actually had a pair of woodpeckers visiting the feeder, although never at the same time. In fact there was a ‘domestic’ on the fence one day when the female had come to feed and the male was still on the feeder. Why do you never have a camera ready when you need it!
Having the woodpeckers regularly visiting the feeders made it easier to recognise their calls and notice any change in behaviour. I was so excited when I noticed that the male was having his calls answered from the willow tree when I knew the female wasn’t around. Sure enough there was a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker hopping up one of the branches. He made sure to stay well hidden from predators and my camera, until one day he got brave enough to fly onto the roof of the woodstore. I was elated to finally get a photo of the female feeding the youngster.
Not to be outdone, a few weeks ago, a juvenile green woodpecker flew in for a visit, feeding on the ants and insects in the long grass and between the layers of the raised wooden beds. He obviously liked what he found as we now see him at least once a week or so too.
I can’t believe I’ve gone from craning my neck trying to spy a small bird in the trees, to having them regularly visit my garden and even start to pose for the camera.