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Have you spotted the Cale Park woodpecker? VIDEO

Wednesday 5 June 2019, 21:46
By Dave Smith

I was walking through Cale Park, back in mid-April, when I heard the curious sound of distant gunfire. Or some kind of automatic tool being used nearby. Thankfully, before my curiosity cost me the rest of the day, another walker supplied a helpful hint: “That must be the woodpecker.”

Knowing the source of the sound made it all the more intrguing. Such impressive clarity and volume! In partial disbelief I felt compelled to hunt the thing down and see it in action for myself. I've never knowingly seen a woodpecker of any kind before, and certainly not one in the act.

I'd have spent more time narrowing down its location that day, but a damaged left eardrum impairs my directional hearing and gave me the impression the bird was beyond the grounds of the park. I went home in the hope I'd get another opportunity.

A few days later I was walking through the park and heard the same sound again. The very same pitch and tone. By this time I'd heard mention that the woodpecker was hanging out in the big oak tree in the middle of the green, so I had somewhere to begin my search.

I crossed the green to stand at the foot of the tree, armed with optimism and a camera phone. Expecting to have to walk in circles for a long while and still fail to spot it, I was shocked to witness it drop into view almost immediately, into an exposed position on one of the lower branches. A perfect set-up for a first-time bird spotter.

The Cale Park lesser spotted woodpecker

I stood for a while, recording as much as I could before my arms fatigued, and then went home to check out the footage. In the first portion of video you can see the bird and it's pecking action, and the audio is remarkably clear, but it's a big tree so even though it was on a lower branch, it was both small and far away. I regretted not bring my real camera and zoom lens to bear, so planned to return for another attempt.

I missed the pecking for a few days, perhaps a week. Finally I heard it again; the same pitch and tone again, so ran for my proper camera (thankfully I live nearby). Incredibly, I found the bird pecking at exactly the same spot and was able to record the zoom footage for the video.

If the woodpecker was knocking on a different part of the tree, or a different tree altogether, I'd expect a very different sound. My experience suggests it has been pecking the very same spot over a period of at least two or three weeks. A branch that appears dead, dry, and likely somewhat hollow, perhaps giving rise to acoustic qualities that amplify the pecking sound. Perhaps the sound isn't uncommon, but I can't help wondering if this was a rare opportunity to hear it with such clarity.

A little research reveals this to be a lesser greater spotted woodpecker. Smaller in stature than the more common green and yellow European woodpeckers I see from time to time (more-so after my recent experience, of course), one could be forgiven for wondering if it has been named for its small size and distinctive spots, or for its less frequent sightings. I prefer the latter; it's funny because it's true, but probably incorrect.

[UPDATE 07-06-2019:] Thanks to Andy Smith (farmerandy3231 on Instagram) for the correction that this is in fact a greater spotted woodpecker, totally ruining the joke about the name, although the lesser spotted is still the more rare.


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