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Woodland specialists

May 5, 2015

Author: James Meikle (Amateur photographer)

The Vyne is well-endowed with trees and there are specialist birds which exploit them for food, refuge and nesting sites.

Two woodpeckers are present in numbers – the Great Spotted and the Green. Despite its title, the former is only the size of a Blackbird and is named to distinguish it from the sparrow-sized Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is rarely encountered at The Vyne (or anywhere else for that matter) – hence no photo.

In early spring the Great Spotted Woodpecker proclaims its territory by ‘drumming’ – a second-long series of rapid taps on a resonant branch. When feeding in trees, it taps irregularily to dislodge grubs and insects. Its call is a loud ‘quik’, accelerating in frequency when alarmed. It drills nest holes in trees.

Its flight is characteristic – direct and undulating- its wings often closed.

Top left: Nuthatch, Top right: Treecreeper. Bottom left: Great spotted woodpecker, Green woodpecker.

Top left: Nuthatch, Top right: Treecreeper.
Bottom left: Great spotted woodpecker, Green woodpecker. Copyright: James Meikle.

The timid Green Woodpecker is more often heard than seen. Its call is like raucous laughter. Although it also nests in holes in trees it feeds mainly on the ground and has a predilection for ants. It drums more quietly that the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Its old country name was ‘Yaffle’ – the inspiration for the woodpecker which starred in ‘Bagpuss’.

Some birds travel large distances on migration or in search of food but Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers spend their entire lives within a few miles of their birthplace. They seem to be averse to crossing expanses of water.

Other woodland specialists are the Nuthatch (14cm long) and the Treecreeper (12.5cm). Despite their different plumages and habits, they are often confused by inexperienced birdwatchers. A dapper and dashing bird, the Nuthatch moves randomly through the branches when feeding. It also feeds on the ground. Its loud, ‘fluty’ call accelerates manically if alarmed. When nesting it will often adopt an existing nest-hole and if necessary, use mud to make the entrance smaller.

In contrast, the Treecreeper (12.5cm) is mouse-like and unobtrusive. When feeding, it starts at the base of a tree and spirals upwards, pressing its body to the trunk. After reaching the top it repeats the process on a nearby tree and unlike the Nuthatch, its movement is invariably upwards. Often oblivious to human presence, it relies on its streaked brown-grey back for camouflage. Its ‘tsee-tsee’ call is so high-pitched that it is beyond the hearing range of some people. It nests in holes or cracks in tree-trunks.

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