OVER a recent couple of days, I have been watching a great spotted woodpecker at a roost hole. These are striking looking birds, black and white, but with bright red under-tail and, for the males, a red patch on the nape (see photograph). However, it was its distinctive call that first attracted my attention. It was a sunny, crisp morning and, as is often the case, I was walking alongside the river with my camera. I could hear a persistent, somewhat plaintive, call. After a little while I managed to identify the source as a woodpecker moving high in the branches, partially masked by the remaining autumn leaves. I watched as it flew closer, settling briefly on a dead tree trunk before it moving back to adjacent canopy. The dead tree rose vertically, for some twenty-five feet, on the opposite side of the river and, on closer inspection, I could see a small, approximately woodpecker-sized hole in a smooth, bark-less, section towards the top. I wondered if my presence was disturbing the bird, so I moved further away. After a few minutes it returned, peered inside the hole a few times, but then left again for the branches of a neighbouring tree. I suppose it makes sense for an animal to exercise extreme caution at a resting place. It would be important not to alert potential predators to its whereabouts – and, in this instance particularly important not to get caught inside. However, it may also have been that the earlier calls, followed by the cautious examination of the hole was the bird checking whether there was an existing occupant. Apparently, a roost hole can be used by more than one bird over the course of a winter - although not at the same time. In case my presence was making the bird nervous I left.

The following day I quietly returned – and from a respectful distance could see that the woodpecker was inside the tree trunk. Its head appeared frequently at the entrance hole as it ‘spat’ out fragments of wood that had presumably been ‘drilled’ from the interior. The entrance hole was unchanged from the day before – just large enough to allow the bird to come and go. However, given the amount of activity, I can only guess at the Tardis-like proportions of the space that was being created inside the trunk. Again, I didn’t stay long – heading off along the river bank to look for dippers - and leaving the woodpecker to its excavations.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Adel Dam can be a very good place to see great spotted woodpeckers. They often come to the feeders at both of the hides.

Steve Westerman www.sjwphoto.zenfolio.com