Tuesday
Jan272009

Peckers and Peanuts

Back in May, my neighbour Wendy told me she had a pair of greater spotted woodpeckers visiting the peanut feeder outside her kitchen window. It sounded a wonderful sight, and she invited me to bring my camera along. Unfortunately the weather was awful, and any dry days that came along I had to use to catch up with field surveys. Then, in June, Wendy said she was moving at the end of the month, so I'd have to get my skates on.

The first time I visited her, it was raining - yet again. There were the woodpeckers, just a few feet from the kitchen window. But the window wouldn't open more than a few inches so I couldn't take pictures from indoors, and I wasn't in any hurry to take the camera outside in the rain. Back home I ordered a new hide/blind - I had been promising myself to make one for years, but never found the time to actually do it.

The hide arrived a few days later, and I went back to Wendy's house. Wendy was excited at having seen a baby woodpecker being fed by its mother that morning. It wasn't raining, so I set up a camera and flash outside the kitchen window, put a remote control through to the inside, and waited for the woodpeckers to appear. I took a few pictures. The ‘peckers sometimes flew from the peanut feeder to an old rotting bird table - a rather more natural setting than a peanut feeder against a whitewashed wall. I asked Wendy if she minded me putting up a hide. Go ahead, she said, whatever you need to do.

I set the hide up overlooking the bird table, went back indoors, and within five minutes two woodpeckers (Mother and Junior) were sitting on top of it! The rain started again, and I went home.

Two days later I was back again, despite the rain, and sitting inside the hide. The woodpeckers obligingly used the peanut feeder, and occasionally flew to the bird table. Junior perched on the roof from time to time, and slowly slid down to the guttering - I don't know if it was deliberate, or if he just hadn't got the hang of clinging to the slates. I took a few pictures, not expecting any of them to be any good, considering the weather. A grey squirrel (a descendant of unwanted American immigrants from a century ago) also came to the bird table, and I took her picture too. By now it was getting dark (at 5pm the clouds were getting blacker) so I went home again.

Another two days and the weather was drier, the sky a bit brighter. I sat in the hide facing the old bird table, but all the action was happening at peanut feeder, with mum feeding junior while he sat on the guttering above, or explored the small cherry tree nearby. Another neighbour asked if he could use the hide when I wasn't there, I said yes, and moved it so he had a good view of the feeder. On my next visit, several days later, I left the hide where it was, only to find that now Mum was feeding Junior while he sat on the gate behind me!

By now, it was nearly the end of the month, and Wendy was ready to move out. This was my last chance to photograph the ‘peckers. I moved the peanut feeder so it was hanging from the old bird table, and moved the hide to the best position I could find. And sat and waited . . . and waited . . and waited. I even had a little bet with myself that it would be the female who found the feeder first. . . And waited.

Eventually Junior turned up, landed on the guttering, looked at where the peanut feeder usually was, flew to the trellis, looked again, back to the guttering, up onto the roof, the cherry tree, the guttering again and so on. He was totally at a loss. He flew off, but returned five minutes later and repeated the process. This time he flew to the ash tree behind the bird table, and I heard the following conversation:

"Dad, the peanuts have gone"

"Don't worry son, they'll be filled up again, just wait and see."

"No Dad, I mean they're really gone"

"Well son, I did warn you that all good things come to an end."

"But Dad, I'm hungry"

"Well son, go find your mother, she'll get you something to eat."

And so Junior flew off.

Five minutes later Mum stopped by. She landed on the guttering, looked at where the peanut feeder usually was, flew to the trellis, looked again, back to the guttering, up onto the roof, to the cherry tree - no, can't see much from there, try another branch, and another thinner one, til she was on such a small twig that she couldn't grip and found herself swinging upside-down in a most undignified manner. At no time did she look anywhere except where the feeder was supposed to be. Was I going to lose my bet?

She flew off, returning a few minutes later to check the situation again. Then she flew to the bird table, but went off in alarm as the gardener started up the riding lawn mower. The mower came between the hide and the bird table, but as soon as it was past, Mum and Junior were on the bird table, and then Mum was inspecting the feeder. The mower came round again, and the birds went away.

Junior returned a few more times, each time inspecting the place where the feeder used to be, and only occasionally coming to the bird table. I heard the adults in the ash tree, but neither seemed interested in food. I did manage to get a picture of Junior on the feeder - he had just got to the stage of being able to perch on vertical surfaces, but still didn't know how to get at the peanuts.  And by the time I left, he was just getting the hang of it.

By the way, the blue tits and great tits found the peanut feeder within five minutes, the sparrows were still looking after four hours!

I did get a few more pictures, before removing the hide and leaving the garden ready for the new owners.