I hadn’t even stepped into the woods when I heard the noise which literally stopped me in my tracks and made me grin broadly. The sharp rapping sound of the Great Spotted Woodpecker rang out – a warm, hollow drumming; I stepped forward and there was a distinctive bouncy flutter through the trees; then it came again, further away, the note a slightly higher pitch than before but unmistakeably the sound of a sturdy Scots pine resonating under the drilling of that large pointed beak.
The sound makes me grin like a loon every time I hear it, partly because I feel so lucky to walk just a short distance from my home and hear such a singular sound of nature, of a bird which is fairly common but not always easy to spot. But I was also grinning because the sound of a woodpecker drumming on a tree, like some teenage rocker practising licks and fills, means Spring is most definitely en route. The woodpecker is staking out its territory, and advertising its presence to potential mates, getting ready for the nesting and breeding season which is peeking its head around the corner.
Yes, the signs are all around now, though it’s so early in the season that you still have to go looking for them. The trees are still quite bare, of course, but the stark branches reveal evidence of last year’s nests, a reminder that the time is coming for the materials to reused and recycled for new homes, soon to be built when the leaves return to provide essential cover from predators and the elements. The leaf buds are small, but they’re there.
Near the ground, the snowdrops are now making themselves more obvious – popping up in clumps under trees and at the roadside; and the green shoots of the occasional daffodil are working their way out of the soil. These are the typical signs of spring – but now look up and notice what the birds are doing. Further into the woods some chaffinches are chasing each other so fast they’re almost blurry – seemingly taking advantage of a sunny, bright morning to indulge in a rather flirtatious game. I walk a bit further in search of one of my favourites – a jay, which is squawking crossly from the top of a nearby tree, but as usual he is one step ahead of me and off to take refuge near a hedge, giving me only the briefest flash of his distinctive white rump, which is enough to satisfy me for now. A pair of woodpigeons somewhere nearby are cooing contentedly and as I stand for a few minutes, watching three (or was it four?!) red squirrels scamper through the trees, there’s a Great Tit nearby loudly and persistently calling “teacher-teacher-teacher” as if to get the attention of some invisible educator in what was turning out to be a rather busy woodland classroom.