|Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Northants, 24/03/2018|
|Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Northants, 23/03/2019|
|Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Northants, 23/03/2019|
The Lesser Pecker battered that tree continuously for over 5 minutes while I rattled off shot after shot seemingly in time with the Peckers pecking! We had chosen a day with sunshine too so I was able to far surpass my efforts of last year. For people who know the location of this wood, the chosen branch is another favoured drumming spot for the bird since I've seen other photos taken of the bird perched on it.
The Lesser Spot surely must have given itself a headache (of course they don't owing to having spring loaded skulls and neck muscles) with all that hammering and gave up to do a little foraging. He briefly drummed on a more slender branch but now seemed more interested in finding some lunch and carefully pried into the nooks and crannies of the branch.
A few minutes later and he was gone back to the wood to the west but we'd been generously entertained and were happy to leave him alone for another year. All of our views and photos were taken from pathways through the woods which is heavily used by dog walkers and other folk and the site lies next to a major urban area with all of its associated noise so these birds have become totally tuned in with their environment. We'll return again next year when hopefully the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, our 160th bird for the year, will still be drumming away.
We drove north to spend the afternoon at Rutland Water where there were still some wintering birds present and there could also possibly be some recently arrived spring migrants too. A quick lunch was taken when we arrived at Manton, no sign of any Ospreys over the pub, before we checked into the Egleton birdwatching centre. The information board promised us Smew, Red-necked Grebe, Bufflehead (!) amongst others, although over the next few hours we didn't see any of those! Rutland Water offers superb birdwatching from its numerous hides around the reserve. I wondered why we don't visit more often but it's maybe because the birding is so hide orientated, I am not overly fond of hides unless they are singularly occupied by ourselves. However, at Rutland you just have to watch from them. From the hide closest to the visitor centre, "Mallard" I think its called but there are so many that I just can't recall all of their names, we watched Oystercatchers display and pipe away noisily and witnessed a pair of Great Crested Grebes mating, not for the faint hearted since the female is rather brutally dealt with.
I really wanted to see the Smew, a species of duck that will soon be returning north to breed, so proceeded to lagoon 4 where up to 10 had been seen over the winter. We did indeed have the hide to ourselves but despite much searching I couldn't locate any Smew at all. There were plenty of other ducks around, good numbers of Pintail for instance but none of the striking black & white sawbills. We watched a pair of Great Crested Grebes perform their synchronised "weed" dance which is not only always a delight to see but also a lot more charming than the sex part!
We moved on to the "Shoveler" hide, I remembered that one since we'd twitched a Long-billed Dowitcher there a few years ago, and again found it empty. Perhaps birding here isn't so bad after all. There was plenty of activity out on the water and we saw our first Sand Martins of the year. Those birds took the year list up to 161 but were the only new bird for the year seen that afternoon. Our attention was captured by a solitary Curlew that was feeding close by. Curlews are beautiful and understated large wading birds. They feed by probing that long curved bill into soft earth and mud and "feel" for worms and other subterranean dwelling invertebrates. This particular Curlew was very adept at finding food and we saw it secure many a morsel.
When full the Curlew needed to clean up and took a bath whereby it would use that long bill to get water into its feathers and straighten them out afterwards. Much stretching and preening would then take place but just a you thought that the bird must be clean enough it repeated the whole exercise again. It rather comically sat in the water for periods just gazing around as if to say to us "I'm having a bath, do you mind!"
We left the main reserve and drove to an area known as Burley Fishponds which leads into the South Arm of the main lake. This is the place where scarcer Grebes are usually encountered and I thought that the Smew may be there as well. They weren't but we did find 3 Slavonian grebes, one in full summer plumage, giving us a sign of things to come in Scotland in June. We couldn't find any Black-necked Grebes or the Red-necked Grebe though which would have been more welcome since the Slavs were already on our year list.
Despite not finding the Smew and other good stuff, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had made it a terrific day anyway!