Spring passionsAll the sound were redolent of partnerships
being formed and the promise of the new generations to come. Then, as I walked
down towards the Dovey Estuary, the din that was emanating from the fog was
astonishing. I like to think of myself as a broadminded sort of chap, but never
have I heard such vocal passions as was now coming from the lusty pairings of
Canada geese – occasional glimpses of the going on through drifting mist were
akin to a Newcastle nightclub on a Friday night.
To begin with the reserve had been, well,
reserved, but now things were clearly hotting up. As I looked around, it seemed
everything was in a lubricious frenzy – manic squirrels chasing each other in a
crazy courtship dance, tits, finches and siskins displaying energetically, even
toads locked in warty embrace. Luckily, with the arrival of RSPB volunteers
Jean and Ray Patmore at the reception building, I could break away from all
this passion and, at last, get on with my woodpecker mission. I was extremely
excited to see, on the board showing recent sightings, harrier, merlin and…
joy… lesser spotted woodpecker. “Oh, yes!”, said Ray, sounding like the
Churchill dog. “It was down by nest box number 39. Probably still there.” He
kindly showed me the way, demonstrating the difference in ‘drumming’ technique
of the great and lesser spotted woodpecker on a convenient post – “the lesser
just sort of fades away”.
Presently I was by box 39, peering into the
gloom, heart racing. Half an hour later, my heart had slowed somewhat, my ardor
dampened by the steady drizzle but spirits lifted as warden Russell Jones
squelched toward me and delivered both exciting news and crucial advice. “I was
listening to one just the other day,” he said. “They are very territorial just
now, listen out for the male’s call, it’s a bit like a kestrel alarm call, only
faster, ‘Ki ki ki ki!’ Just hear the call, look up and you’ll find it,” he
smiled. “Oh, and don’t forget, look at the tips of branches, not the trunks.
The lesser spotted woodpeckers occupy a different niche from the greats, who
spend more time on the trunks.”
I listened and I peered about me – and
then, all of a sudden, I felt an urgent need for vegetarian sausages, baked
beans and toast in the company of some good strong coffer, so it was back to
the B&B for breakfast. Then I would return.
The Springwatch ‘studio’
Fortified and back on the reserve, I went
down to the Springwatch studio, normally the scene of frantic activity but now
boarded up and silent. Fiona Evans and son Iolo, who live on the reserve, were
attending to the dung heap off to one side. “I think the head looks nice,” said
Fiona. “Sort of adds a bit of colour.” And sure enough, among the muddy
quagmire in front of the studio veranda, the dung heap was a striking splash of
yellow. Slipping through the door I was glad to see the ‘studio’ really is a
tractor shed when we are not there, with just a few clues scattered about as to
its ‘other’ use.
Trudging back along still misty paths, o’er
hung with gnarled oak, dodging lustful squirrels, battling blackbirds, courting
chaffinches – even a pair of horses eyeing each other up in a meaningful manner
– I met Russell again. “Any lick?” he smiled. “No,” I said a but thoughtfully.
“Really?” he sounded surprised, “No drumming? No calling?” “No,” I said
sounding even more like a mournful Eeyore. “Well,” he said, “do you know it’s a
shame you’re here on such a misty day because if it had been sunny, why, they
are absolutely everywhere.” “Really Russell?” I said suspiciously. “Oh yes,” he
said and I couldn’t help noticing he was grinning hugely as he turned away.
and back on the reserve, I went down to the Springwatch studio, normally the
scene of frantic activity but now boarded up and silent.