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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

GS Woodpecker Families

At the beginning of April we started getting regular visits from a female Great Spotted Woodpecker that we were convinced, because of her unusual habits, was the female that we watched develop as a juvenile the previous year between July and September before she disappeared suddenly.

By the beginning of May she was being seen on a daily basis, several times a day, and it became apparent that something was going on, as she was departing with huge amounts of fat ball in her bill.

On 22nd May, a male GSW appeared in the garden - and behaved exactly as the female had. We came to the conclusion that this was her partner and she'd 'shown him the ropes'!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden on 22nd May
By the time we came back from holiday, on 1st June, we found that she'd pressed her male to assist with the food gathering and the activity had got even more frantic! Furthermore, the female bird, who previously had looked absolutely immaculate, was now looking exceedingly tatty and grubby!

We knew this could not go on for long and that the young woodpeckers must be fledging soon and, sure enough, an unaccompanied juvenile GSW appeared in the garden just after mid-day on 17th June.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 17th June
We were a little disappointed when, shortly after this juvenile arrived, the adult female appeared and sent it packing! We didn't know whether this was normal adult/juvenile behaviour or whether there was a problem.

This was our female, later that afternoon, looking a bit the worse for wear.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 17th June
The plot thickened, as they say, when that same day at tea time our female appeared and called out for a juvenile to join her. She then fed the juvenile which was on the birch pole next to the feeders.


Great Spotted Woodpecker (female + juvenile) - our garden on 17th June
If your looking at this post soon after it was posted, the header comes from another shot in this sequence. However, if you're not quick off the mark, it may have changed to something else!

It was at about this time that I started thinking that perhaps we had two adult females visiting us. It seemed our frequent visitor was looking rather scruffy, but we'd see a female less frequently in a more clean condition. This was confirmed a few days later when a very scruffy female departed and within a few seconds a clean female arrived. This probably explained the antagonism between juvenile and adult female on that first sighting - it wasn't her offspring!!

From then on it got quite confusing as the garden was barely ever without a GSW but, most of the time, one juvenile would hold off arriving until another had departed. We did have a time when two juveniles got into a a scrap, with them both ending up falling to the ground. 

Over the next couple of weeks it was difficult to drag myself away from the window, looking at the Woodpeckers. I kept meaning to set up my hide in the garden to get some better shots (these were all taken through double glazing), but it seemed to be forever windy, and my hide flaps about in the wind.

This next one is for Doug - who likes feet!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 18th June
Sorry if that same bit of birch appears in so many of these photos - that's their favourite stopping point. My wife laughed at me when I first brought home the snapped-off Silver Birch sapling that I'd found on one of my owling forays, and stuck it into the ground beside the feeder. "Nothing will ever settle on that" she said. I'm pleased to say that she was proven wrong within just a few minutes!

Here's our male (or is it just one of our males?) again.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden on 21st June
And here's a feeding session sequence from that same day.



Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile + female) - our garden on 21st June
......... and another feeding session from even later on the same day




Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile + female) - our garden on 21st June
Very soon the juveniles were totally independent and coming by themselves to feed. By now the juvenile Starlings were causing riots at the feeders, but the juvenile Woodpeckers took the lead from mum and soon saw them off. They also started being a little more adventurous in their explorations of our garden.





Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 23rd June

Meanwhile the adult female was still taking food off to young somewhere. This was one occasion when a Starling didn't get out of the way quick enough. A youngster, somewhere, was going to be fed a mixture of fat balls and feathers!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 24th June
This was a juvenile on that same day.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 24th June
It seemed that 'in no time flat' the juveniles had lost their pot-bellies and were looking very smart indeed, even if retaining their juvenile colouration.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 25th June
We've absolutely no idea how many juvenile Woodpeckers were visiting us. The only distinction between them that I was able to make was that one (or more) had a rather more all-embracing red cap than the others - nicknamed 'the judge' because my wife said it reminded her of a judge's wig!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile - 'the judge') - our garden on 27th June
Suddenly it seemed that it was all over! On Tuesday 2nd July one of the juveniles was attacked by a male Sparrowhawk - it got away! Friday 5th July was the last day I saw a Woodpecker (one juvenile and one female), although my wife saw two in the garden at once on Saturday evening when I was out owling.

This morning, at about 6 a.m., whilst lying in bed, I thought I heard a Woodpecker's alarm call and rushed to the window. A Sparrowhawk was sitting on top of the feeder, but it hadn't caught a Woodpecker!!

I'm feeling rather sad now it seems that they have gone, but these last couple of months have been a real delight, and it's been a real privilege to be an observer. I wish them all the best for the future.

This was one of the last photos I took, and it's one of my favourites.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 2nd July
Thank you for stopping by. I suspect that you can now see why I found it hard to get up the enthusiasm for owling when there was excitement here in my own garden.

It's now back to the owls and I've already seen more owls this month than I did in the whole of June!

30 comments:

  1. Superb set Richard,well done on the development of this family,garden feeders really make the difference.
    All birds need help all year round.
    Brilliant.
    John.

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    1. Thank you John. I do feed all year round and, until this week, consumption has been as high as in the depths of winter. This is mainly due to numerous juveniles visiting us - but, suddenly, they've all gone! Consumption is now only half of what it was a week ago!

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  2. It's hard watching them leave after all the fun, work and drama they have around our properties. What a wonderful photo show. I wish them all well. What a wonderful treat to be able to observe these beautiful birds in action!

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    1. Thank you, Chris, for your very kind words.

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  3. What a brilliant report on your Woodies. Trying to work out the related birds is so hard, I had the same problem at my feeding station as well. I never managed to get pictures of the young being fed, so I have really, really enjoyed your post. From Findlay

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    1. Thank you, Findlay. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get photos of your juvenile Woodies being fed, after all the good work you've put into the project. I'm sure your turn will come sooner than mine did!

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    1. Thank you Carl. As experiences go, it doesn't quite match up to trekking through snow to get amazing shots of Snowy Owl in the Cairngorms!!

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  5. It would be understatement for me to say they're fantastic images Richard, so many feet to stare at :) I like the statue with Judge perched on it well smart. And for once I can't single out an image as a favourite I kept saying "wow" when I scrolled down the page,can't blame you for ignoring the owls, however I'm wondering from the image with all those feathers in birds bill you might have a second brood on it's way? Watch the sprawk me and Ben saw a sprawk snatch and predate an adult GSW from the feeders at Finsehade

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    1. Thank you Doug. As you know, I like feet too!

      Not much I can do about the Sprawk. I guess I'll just have to let nature take it's course and hope that, as usual, it is unsuccessful in my back yard!

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  6. I just had a ball looking at your great pics of a bird I love to watch in my garden!
    And I imagine your adrenaline watching the parents feed their young!
    A great sight indeed!
    I haven't had the time to raise the speed when I took the photos of the hawkmoth, I was shooting dragonflies quietly perched on flowers!! ;-)
    Enjoy your sunday, Richard!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Noushka. I'm missing them now that they've all been gone for over a week.

      My comment on the Hawkmoth photos was very tongue-in-cheek. Seeing as they have some of the fastest-moving wings on the planet, I'd have been amazed if you'd have frozen the wing movement!!!

      Have a great day!

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  7. I can see why you have been stuck in your garden Richard and who could blame you? Another super post with yet again stunning images, I particular like the ones where the peckers are on the fence.

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    1. Thank you Paul. I'm firmly back with the owls now - except I did get distacted by a trio of Red Kites at one of my sites yesterday!!

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  8. Stunning images depicting the lives of your Woodies. I'd also find it difficult to leave home if this species ever took up residence close by. Visits here by GSW's are only once a year, if we are lucky.

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    1. Thank you Frank. Have enjoyed reading your latest post on Cuckoos.

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  9. What a cool sight to see, great series! Love your woodie shots.

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  10. Great pictures and observations.
    Congratulations on the stick!
    Peter (Australia)

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    1. Thanks, Pete. You should see the new stick that I've got to surprise the wife with!

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  11. Thank you for posting and sharing these wonderful photos of the woodpeckers .

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    1. Thank you for your kind words - the pleasure is mine!

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  12. fantastic series of photographs; a spectacular bird

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  13. Flippin' 'eck. These pics of yours are better than birds in the hand - they don't wriggle! Brill

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    1. Thank you Errol! Not sure I'd want to handle a Woodpecker anyway. I reckon they'd give you a nasty peck!

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  14. Wonderful pictures - I miss these birds.

    Has the population of GSWs increased in recent years? People seem to post lots of pictures of them.

    Cheers

    Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart. I'm not aware of the GSW population increasing, or changing habits. However, they do make charismatic photography subjects.

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  15. What a great series!! I've been surveying breeding birds all year and it's been fascinating to observe the whole process. Superb photographs of the feeding of the young woodpeckers! Thank you so much for sharing your "garden laboratory"!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Wally. I've still not seen one again since they departed on 6th July - two weeks ago!

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