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Nature Notes - May 2016

Nature Notes

As I am writing this, currently from Aquitaine in France, some of the observations may seem slightly exotic, as there seem to be so many more plant and animal species here than in Sussex.  I am about 700 miles south of Sussex.  The climate reflects this, as when the sun comes out it soon gets quite warm, even in April.  The lizards soon appear and start to sun themselves.  Orange tip and brimstone butterflies appear to visit the pink and mauve ladies smock flowers growing in and around damp ditches.  The early purple orchids are well in bloom on the sunny banks among the rapidly growing grass and other herbs.  Birdsong is everywhere as the male birds sing to defend their territories and attract mates.  I have seen and heard black redstarts, swallows, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, blackbirds, mistle thrushes, woodpeckers both green and black, and the latter never seen in the British Isles as far as I know. 

Black woodpeckers are even larger than their green cousins, and similarly have a red crown. This bird is as big as a large crow, and has a rich repertoire of loud calls, some of which resemble those of the green woodpecker.  Like other woodpeckers it often communicates by drumming on wood, and its drumming has been likened to a machine gun, but is louder from males than females.  Its extensive natural range extends from the northern mountainous Mediterranean regions up through west and northern Europe through Scandinavia to Siberia.  However, it seems that it has never made its way to offshore islands such as the British Isles, or those of the Mediterranean such as Corsica and Sardinia.  Its wing span is about half a metre.  However, its flight is rather clumsy, and it does not like flying very far, hence its confinement to the continent. It seems to prefer mixed woodlands with a high proportion of conifers such as pine, or even pure conifer stands.  If this bird ever came to Britain and bred, I feel sure that it would soon colonise the entire country where appropriate habitat occurred.

Meanwhile, listen for woodpeckers native to Britain such as the rasping calls of green woodpeckers, which only rarely drum and then rather softly but is quite common.  Then there are great-spotted woodpeckers, much smaller than the green, but also rather loud in both its calls and regular drumming.  Finally there is the very rare (in Britain) and tiny lesser spotted woodpecker, about the size of a house sparrow.

Dr. Martyn Stenning