Knocking on Wood: a Great Spotted Woodpecker (c. OOS)

That precious extra hour or so of winter ending daylight is really noticable now, especially when the weather is dry and bright. Though temperatures are currently comfortably into double figures by day, dawn is a more realistic (for February /March), 1 degree.

No excuse then but to get out on a few woodland walks, and if you go early in the day, social distancing shouldn’t be a problem. We are lucky enough to have the Avonmore River nearby, chiseling its way through a valley lined with majestic oaks, still a long way from bursting into leaf. An opportunity therefore for Hazel and Bilberry to burst forth, with catkins and fresh leaves respectively, an orderly succession in some of the finest forest in the country.

The birds are encouraged by the bright spring like conditions.. Dippers in song from trusted stone perches in the fast moving waters, happy to launch themselves into the cold water in search of insect prey, hiding under stone and gravel. Another, larger bird, the Goosander, which is a specialist to this environment, depends on trees (or nestboxes thereon) for nesting holes and is otherwise at home negotiating the strong currents with its big red feet and strong, short, fanned tail, propelling itself and its red headed mate upstream, below Rathdrum bridge. These birds are on the edge of their European range here in Ireland, being a species typical of the northern European forests and lakes.. The male has the most delicate blend of shades, that include bottle green, a salmon flush to contrasting white underparts, and wings, black and broadly patterned in white.With such interest in the water, one would nearly forget that the woodland, though relatively quiet, has signs of movement: a Red Squirrel is out for a spring snack, probably cached away safely, if it could only recall where. A short, sharp and urgent, ‘kick, kick’ note is the contact call of the Great Spotted Woodpecker. They can be extremely subtle when in the canopy and I rely on my ears when woodland ‘watching’. A hollow, resonating and far carrying ‘drumming’ will be heard in the coming days and weeks, as males mark out their breeding territories. This sound is for display purposes and is separate from the busy chiseling that this carpenter of the woods needs to undertake to excavate its nesting chamber. Busy times then in the woods, there’s no time to lose.

Avonmore River rushing south (c. OOS)

“Declan Murphy has produced a beautifully written account of his personal quest to understand the life, and follow the fortunes, of this magical species in Wicklow.” Review by John Quinn, Sunday Times. 

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