Tuesday 20 December 2011

Quest for the Black Woodpecker

The day started early for me today. Maybe a bit too early actually. I arrived at my destination more then an hour before sunrise and I ended up standing around waiting for the sun while my toes got cold.
That doesn't happen often. Usually I'm racing to beat the sun!

When the sun finally rose (well it was cloudy so I'm not sure when exactly it occurred) and the day brightened up I looked over the water with a pessimistic view.
F*#k this, there's not going to be anything out there anyway. I was proved wrong. Within ten minutes I had several alcids pass by as well as a Red-throated Loon very close to me. After an hour or so the Alcid movement slowed down (after totaling over 100 individuals!) and the Gannets started to trickle in. I stopped counting after 11 Gannets and decided to start looking for some different birds.

My seawatch was from the grounds of the castle that is the setting for Shakespeare's Hamet:

Almost immediately after leaving the seawatch I heard an unusual trilling call and looked up to see my first Bohemian Waxwings for Europe!

The Waxwings didn't stay for long so I continued over to the harbour where I studied a confusing Herring Gull with yellow legs and an almost pure white head. It had me thinking Yellow-legged Gull but the other features weren't there so I moved on:

Not long after that I was looking at a lifer Rock Pipit!

The day was going well but I had another species on my mind.
Before coming to Denmark I expected Black Woodpeckers to be a relatively easy bird to find. In fact, after writing to some people and looking at old sightings it seemed that Black Woodpeckers were resident in the Deerpark (that park next to my house where the White-throated Dipper, Tawny Owl and Pygmy Owl are). So I felt that I was guaranteed to see them without much effort.
After three months of avidly birding my temporary patch I was beginning to get worried. Maybe I wouldn't see them after all? I voiced my worries to some local birders and learned that the local Goshawks had eaten the Black Woodpeckers!
So my hope that I'd see one in my patch withered away.

With my desperation I was ready to go anywhere in Denmark to search out a Black Woodpecker (BLWO). With less than 5 days to go I read through all the sightings in Denmark to see where and when BLWO had been seen. The most accessible spot was Teglstrup Hegn. I wooded area North of where I live and conveniently close to a decent seawatch spot (where the castle is).
The only problem was that the BLWO's hadn't been seen since November 13th. Considering that I had the two shortest days of the year to work with and a bird that hasn't been seen recently I was pessimistic about going to Teglstrup Hegn.

Nevertheless that's exactly where I found myself today after the seawatch.

My first impression was this:

WTF is this! Toilet paper and garbage bags...
F*#k this! No woodpeckers are going to live in this place.
Pessimism sets in... yet again.

For whatever reason, I have the opinion that elusive birds prefer pristine habitat and will not tolerate any sign of impurities.

I continued on and one of the first birds I saw was a Northern Goshawk. I immediately thought of the Goshawk that ate the BLWO's in the Deerpark... my hopes of seeing a BLWO pretty much shattered.

I decided to continue on anyway and was rewarded with a small flock of Bullfinches:

Only the second time I've seen them.

After wandering around I had found both Marsh Tits and Willow Tits - the first time I've seen them on the same day which is notable because I was never confident if I could really distinguish them.

The next highlight was this Northern Shrike:

But still no BLWO's. I was also looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker so I was keenly pursuing any woodpecker call that I heard. I must have heard at least 20 and they all ended up being Greater Spotted Woodpecker (GSWO):

After over two hours I decided to call it quits and head home. The only problem was that I was lost. I had made my own path through the forest on a few occasions and frequently changed my course so now I was hopelessly lost. My solution was to follow the sound of any woodpecker and hope that it guides me out. That method was abolished after a few more GSWO's.

And then I heard an unusual call. It sounded suspiciously similar to the BLWO call I have on my iPod. Thinking that the sound must have came from my pocket I turned off my iPod and continued on my way.

But the sound returned again and it was a little bit louder this time. That's when my meandering turned into sprinting. The call was getting closer and closer:


I never knew that I took such quick footsteps?

Anyway, I eventually located the sound to a tree and soon enough a large dark bird flew out of the tree flying in the other direction. It landed on a tall tree without any branches allowing me to get an identifiable view of the bird confirming it as a BLWO! But it was all to quick because the bird flew off calling repeatedly.
Oh well, at least I have the recording as bad as it may be!

Oddly enough the BLWO calling lead me to a path that I recognized and so I found my way back on to the trail.


With the success of the BLWO behind me I decided to head for home while I still knew where I was.
While walking past the spot where I first saw the Goshawk I wondered if I would be able to find it again. I noticed some movement in the forest and caught a glimpse of a dark bird with surprisingly big wings land on the wrong side of a tree. I couldn't think of anything that would be in a dense patch of forest and match that description.
Turns out there was another Black Woodpecker!
Amazing, and a great way to end the walk. Naturally I tried to get a photo of this bird but failed - apparently they're pretty wary.

While on the train home I decided to get off early so that I can check in on the White-throated Dippers and add it to my day list.

I ended the day with a respectable 50 species! Not bad considering the short day, late date and the latitude of Denmark.

That Black Woodpecker will likely be the last lifer in Europe! A great way to end it the trip :)

Only two more sleeps in Denmark - I'm going to miss this place