Winter and the early Spring months are traditionally the best times of the year to try and see Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers. This is almost the holy grail for birdwatchers. There are some birders who have been looking for birds all their life who have never seen a "Lesser Pecker" or a LSW, as it is known for short. They spend the vast majority of their time in the tree-tops, so once the leaves come out they become very difficult to see. Sightings are also made more difficult because this species has suffered drastic declines since 1970.
Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (c) 2015 David Aitken
If a non-expert informs you that they have seen a LSW, the first thing to do is ask them if it was the size of a Sparrow or a Chaffinch. If they say "no, it was the size of a thrush", then they have seen a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
It is seven years since I heard a loud Nuthatch-like call in an area of Silver Birches above a mountain biking area on Skipwith Common, but couldn't see the bird. A few minutes later a Friday afternoon participant said he could see a woodpecker in his bins, "but it's a very small woodpecker." Apparently, after this I became rather excited, as I'd never seen a LSW before. Ours was a male as the rather poor photographs I was able to take show. Rather amazingly only a few days later we encountered another one on a Wednesday morning. This one was heard calling again, but the views were rather poor, and not everyone had a very good view. The secret seems to be listen out for their Kestrel-like call in a Silver Birch woodland before the trees come into leaf.
2 Female Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (c) 2015 Mark Waller
Both birds are pied, largely appearing black and white, unless you manage to get a really close view of the male's head. The Great Spotted has 2 prominent large white shoulder patches, whilst the Lesser lacks these, but has a row of white horizontal line running like a ladder down its back. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers drum like the more familiar species, but their drumming is higher-pitched, lasts longer and doesn't fade away like the shorter drumming of the Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was the bogey-bird of one of the most expert birders on the classes. He has made many special trips over the years to catch up with the species at Wheldrake, Rufford, Clumber Park, Potteric Carr and Thorne Moors without any success. However, the other week at Tophill Low after a morning on the Wolds with Red Kites he walked up to North Marsh hide, and at last set his eyes on this bird. Unfortunately, the 3 others he was with didn't get on to it in time for them to see it too.
Male Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker
Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (c) 2008 Richard Hampshire
It would be great if some of the less experienced birders on the classes manage to see this little jewel in the New Year! I will certainly have my ears open for the opportunity.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Potteric Carr (c) 2010 Tony Robinson