Thanks to volunteer Phil for his report and photos - recent sightings Friday 10 December – anything but a lesser spotted woodpecker

In the afternoon of Friday 3 December I overheard a radio conversation about a lesser spotted woodpecker seen clearly at the Pipe Pond. Now in 35 years of birding the lesser spotted woodpecker feels like a mythical creature for me. I have looked for them on several occasions without success. So my interest was immediately piqued and on a day with very few visitors to talk to I immediately packed up in Nettley's Hide and headed back up towards Pipe Pond. On the way I met volunteer Stephen, the source of the radio report, who described more precisely where he’d seen the woodpecker, and I continued down Green Lane with high hopes.

Of course I should have known after all these years that whenever I go looking for unusual birds I never see them and that all such sightings happen for me purely accidentally. The unexpected crane which was the subject of my last blog post was a very good illustration of this syndrome. 

However on Friday 10, with almost daily sightings of the lesser spotted woodpecker reported during the intervening week, I returned with high hopes. Again, I should have known better. During the course of the day four separate visits to Fattengates courtyard – the centre of the area where most sightings have been – did produce a woodpecker but this was a great spotted one at the top of a nearby tree.

I have concluded that my best strategy is to completely forget about the lesser spotted woodpecker and then just maybe I will stumble across it when I’m not looking. Forgetting might be quite difficult, but there are so many other things to enjoy anyway...

In my first foray into Fattengates the place seemed overrun with blue tits interspersed with occasional great tits and a coal tit. Interestingly one of the blue tits was ringed and I wondered who might be studying and ringing such a common species.  

A nuthatch kept appearing but would not stay still enough for a photo, A female bullfinch put in a brief appearance and several entertaining squirrels were in attendance. A rather demure looking female chaffinch joined the throng.

This year Fattengates has become a great place to see bank voles playing around the decaying logs and on this day 2 could be seen. This photo was taken in October.

Moving up Green Lane heading for Hanger View a robin perched prominently on a fencepost. There was no snow for the classic Christmas photo, but why was the post adorned with a long chain? Has it always been there, and I only noticed because of the robin?

After a rather dry spell in the latter part of October and through November I had noticed that black tailed godwit numbers had been staying low. My highest total had been something like 40 but on this occasion after rain earlier in the week and more extensive floodwater, numbers had gone up and I estimated that up to 200 may have been present. They were all resting peacefully in their favourite spot behind the bar that runs between the 2 main flood pools on the North Brooks.

From the Hanger I had noticed a resting peregrine on the ground, but intelligence from some of our visitors suggested that this was not the cause of the disturbance to the godwits that started after I reached Jupp's View. But why worry about raptors when you can see such a wonderful aerial display? Black tailed godwits have a very streamlined shape, ideal for fast flying and their underwings flash a brilliant white in direct sun. The display was, as usual, augmented by a large flock of lapwings taking to the air at the same time.

From Jupp's View I couldn’t help noticing a large number of pintails, probably over 100, and this reminded me of the previous Friday when I’d seen a group of 4 males at West Mead practising the sport of synchronised up-ending.

After lunch a further fruitless visit to Fattengates was followed by a spell in West Mead Hide where there were excellent view of nearby lapwings. This one is a juvenile from this year’s brood as can be seen by the pale edges to the wing feathers. 

But I will never be sure whether it was one of our local Pulborough juveniles or one of the many hundreds of lapwings now visiting from Europe for the winter. I’d like to think maybe one of the former as West Mead is the prime breeding ground for our local lapwings.

Towards the far side of the pool an unidentifiable duck was providing some entertainment having a good splash – presumably the duck equivalent of having a bath.

Returning up the path towards Pipe Pond the low sun was wonderfully illuminating the bark of an old oak tree and its easy to see why so many small creatures live there.

This might be ideal foraging ground for a lesser spotted woodpecker, but nothing was moving.

A final foray into Fattengates drew a woodpecker blank but did reveal a beautifully coloured jay illuminated by the low sun which, very unusually for such a wary bird, allowed me to approach remarkably close.

Finally, when nearly back at the Visitor Centre, a male kestrel could be seen just a few yards away on a prominent post by the pond.

There is of course a moral to this story and that is simply not to get too hung up by seeking rare birds and spend more time just enjoying the common ones we can see all the time.