Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is a bird I have seen just twice before. So reports of a pair in recent days at Rickmansworth Aquadrome in Hertfordshire tempted me out for a 44 mile Sunday drive along the M40 and M25. On my arrival at 07:45 it was the kind of calm, sunny morning I understand to be best for sightings of this difficult to locate species. The directions on RBA were “at the sailing club end of the causeway”.
There are two LNRs on the former gravel workings here: the Aquadrome and neighbouring Stocker’s Lake. The former is more like a public park, the latter is wilder and the “causeway” runs between them. As I approached two birders were clearly on a LSW and one of them showed me the bird, a male in his scope. It was in a large Oak tree on an island in Stocker’s Lake but soon moved as they do. In trying to relocate it for myself I had a couple of glimpses as the LSW moved around but no more, and it drummed a number of times. Though I have heard this in the past I gained a better impression here of the sound being lighter and lasting longer than a Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of which was drumming nearby for comparison.
Six birders had now gathered. The Oak was also being favoured by a pair of Stock Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet came and went, and various small birds confused the issue. Irritating Canada Geese on the lake kept up a cacophony of honking and passers by asked the inevitable questions. The Lesser Peckers’ presence in the area seemed to be common knowledge amongst dog walkers though.
At 9am a bird returned to the Oak tree and began drumming again but I managed just another brief glimpse before the Great Spot saw it off. At least I now knew which “dead branch” was being referred to by those around me, since there were various of them to select from. I watched that place where the LSW came back to for the next hour, during which the other birders all drifted off and the forecast cloud set in, but without success.
The location for these Herts birds is by the “you are here” label at the bottom left of this site plan (above). I had gained a third Lesser Pecker sighting but not satisfying or self-found views. My previous experiences of this species at Church Wood, Bucks (Feb 2012) and Cothill, Oxon (Apr 2013) were much better. Hence I decided to come back here earlier on another calm, sunny morning if possible. On Monday I received a call from Oxonbirder Ewan Urquhart who was interested in seeing the LSW himself, and we revisited this Tuesday morning.
Within minutes of our arrival just before 7am, the sound of drumming commenced from a little further back than the Stocker’s Lake island, but we could not locate the bird at once. I trained my scope onto the same spot as Sunday, that was said to be the LSW’s favoured drumming post, and waited. Then at 07:20 the drumming was clearly coming from the large Oak tree, and there in my scope was the male bird. We watched for a few minutes as it drummed, then preened and eventually flew off to one side; and that was both a satisfying and self-found view. Mission accomplished. More birders (pictured below) came and went in the next three hours but the LSW was not seen by anyone again before Ewan (second from right) and I left at 10:30.