Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Three

, 20 March 2020
Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Three
Great Spotted Woodepecker / Photo by Bob Eade

Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Three

As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden.  Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.


Day Three

The world is changing so rapidly every hour that the days all feel so long. I remember sitting at the desk in my office on Tuesday and planning some upcoming meetings. That feels like a lifetime ago.   

Woke up this morning at 05:30 and could hear the Song Thrush again. I’m determined to get a video for you (I’ve worked out how to operate my camera now) so I put my dressing gown on, grabbed the camera and snuck out in the half-light. But I banged into the wheelbarrow and scared the thrush off into the next door’s conifer.

Just as I was returning to the kitchen I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming loudly from way across the road on an oak tree in a neighbour’s garden. This drumming is a familiar sound throughout the spring, surely earning this striking black and white bird the reputation as one of Britain’s most famous drummers along with Ringo Starr and Phil Collins.

The bird’s drumming serves an important function because the Great Spotted Woodpecker realises it can’t sing and doesn’t attempt to. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Ringo Starr and Phil Collins. Instead its drumroll is a percussive proclamation that hammers home the message to other male woodpeckers to stay away from its territory in the treetops. It also serves to drum up support from female woodpeckers in the vicinity who may be looking for a pied partner.

I was determined to capture this drumming on my camera. Our neighbour is due home this morning from Kenya (via Dubai) and is going to be self-isolating for 14 days. A few neighbours have helped out and we’ve made him a ‘welcome home’ parcel of all the essentials (pasta, wine, toilet paper) and I left it on his doorstep last night. It’s still there this morning – which means he’s not back yet, so I’m going to sneak into his garden to film the woodpecker.

Despite standing on his back lawn and staring up at the tree I never saw the woodpecker but I could certainly hear it knocking up there. Wow - it was really loud.

GSW Tree

(I took that picture in the hope that I could spot the woodpecker later in a 'Where's Wally?' type way. I gave it 5 minutes but I can't see it).

I did see a Grey Squirrel up there though.

GSW Squirrel

I kept filming little clips in the hope I’d catch his drum solo. The problem was every time I stopped filming – he’d drum straight away. It was like he knew that I had pressed the stop button. So I pretended to look disinterested and I caught him out.   Right, so this isn’t the best bit of wildlife filming you’re going to see but it took me about 15 minutes to catch it drumming so you’d better watch it…

The woodpecker’s drumming ‘song’ may not be as sweet as the melodies sung by the Robin or Blackbird but it still gets its message across. Indeed, the drumming can carry the bird’s message across half a mile of countryside with a male broadcasting up to 600 drumrolls a day. Each drumroll consists of up to 10-16 beats typically crammed into a one second burst. 

I’ve only been stuck indoors for two days and I already feel like banging my head repeatedly against a tree. Hearing the woodpecker this morning has reassured me that I’m not alone. Of course, if I did attempt to take my frustrations out on a tree in a similar way I’d suffer some form of concussion but woodpeckers are specially designed to avoid this by having shock absorbent tissue between the base of their bill and strengthened skull to cushion the impact.

I hear a car pulling into the cul-de-sac and I panic that it may be my neighbour coming back from the airport.  After having a very frustrating (and virally risky) flight all the way from Africa the last thing he wants to see is me standing in his back garden. In my dressing gown and slippers. With no hair.  

I sneak round the side of the house and nip across the road and back home. I put the kettle on and look at the clock. It’s 05:56.

It’s going to be another long day.

Leave a comment



    Entertaining and educational.

    20 Mar 2020 17:23:00

  • Henrietta Brocklebank:

    Thank you Michael. I have a greater Spotted Woodpecker that comes to my feeder at about 7.45 each morning. I love watching how the other garden birds change their behaviour as soon as ‘woody’ turns up.

    20 Mar 2020 18:19:00

  • Kathy Jones:

    Thanks Michael for relaying your early morning adventure! If the article had a longer sound track I guess it would have finished with a drum roll too!

    20 Mar 2020 19:48:00

  • Jane B:

    Thank you. Keep them coming if you can!

    23 Mar 2020 19:15:00

  • Alex:

    What I want to know Michael is do you ever get dressed?
    Very entertaining each day makes me smile which we certainly all need

    25 Mar 2020 19:21:00

  • Mrs Patricia A Dunn:

    I too have a daily visit from a spotted woodpecker to the bird table. He loves the fat balls that I am currently putting out. I am assuming that the bird with the red head is the male and the bird without a red head is the female as “she” occasionally pays a visit too.
    My other daily visitor is a pheasant and his partner. We live near two pheasant shoots so we often have more than one visitor in the height of the season looking for safety and shelter!!
    Anyway keep up the great work. Thank you.

    01 Apr 2020 10:47:00

  • Ginny-Vic:

    I wish I could do drumming tricks like that! It would be useful for percussion playing! Looking back on this diary I have realised that most inspiration seems to happen in the middle of the night and nearly all of them involve a dressing gown! Ha ha!

    15 Jun 2020 22:00:00