Written by Phil Brown, Badger Bushcraft Blog Wednesday, 22 June 2011 18:12
One of the birds that I encounter on the long and frequent walks and rambles in the area that surrounds our base in heart of the Kent countryside is the Yaffle - more commonly known as the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis). This year I have been fortunate to watch and photograph a brood being reared at our farm site in the village of Egerton which is between Ashford and Maidstone.
Walking the fields and woodlands of the Kentish landscape is always a pleasure and the encounters with the local wildlife that we are lucky enough to share this green and pleasant corner of Kent with only enhance this experience. More often than not when out on foot I see a least one, if not several, Yaffles which is a term I have used since childhood for the largest of our resident woodpeckers which is the Green Woodpecker. Normally I hear them before I see them making their “laughing” cry which is most distinctive and, to my mind, can not be confused with any other bird in the British Isles.
Generally I see Green Woodpeckers in the fields and woodland margins where they can be watched feeding on their favourite of foods which is the very humble yet exceptionally abundant ant. The Yaffles form of attack is to probe the ants nest with its exceptionally long and sticky tongue seeking both ants and larvae which it can consume in vast numbers.
During a recent team building course we ran earlier this month I was able to get a few moments break and took a walk along the tree line that shelters the sunken and long disused cart track that crosses the farmland that we use for some of our events including our Family Bushcraft Day Course. As I approached an exceptionally mature English oak that I often sit under I saw an adult Green Woodpecker fly off from a nearby ash tree that I knew to have several holes in the trunk. This piqued my curiosity and I investigated further.
As I approached the ash tree I was greeted by the appearance of two young Green Woodpeckers who popped their heads out of the hole and both angrily called to their parents demanding to be fed. On this occasion my camera was in the Land Rover Defender and hopeful of not missing a wonderful photographic opportunity I carefully and slowly backed off only to return some moments later armed with camera and telephoto lens. Sadly the juvenile woodpeckers would not oblige me by once more showing their heads and posing for their portraits and I had to return back to my duties and our clients.
Fortunately the following weekend I was able to return to this farm based site to setup and run a private family bushcraft course and I stood with camera in hand below the hole in the ash with camera ready. I was somewhat disappointed that the fledgling birds had obviously departed to start new adventures on the ground.
During the day Inca, my Labrador Retriever, came face to face with a fledgling that had flown the nest and had taken up residence by a stack of timber some 200m from the nest tree. Inca is of a gentle disposition and came to heel when quietly called, the young bird was under no threat and unharmed; other than being a little shocked.
Both Inca and I retreated to the Land Rover where I had my camera and I quickly returned to take several pictures from a distance of some 20 or so meters.
Having seen that the adolescent bird was content to stay in the area I decided that there might be the opportunity to return equipped with a telephoto lens and tripod which I was able to do at lunchtime. I am pleased to say that quite obligingly the young Yaffle sat and allowed me to take several pictures before retiring to the log stack.
The young Yaffle was also gracious enough to provide a brief floor show for all of my clients when we were on our Nature Walk section of the course and I hope that both the adults and the children will remember and talk about this precious experience for a very long time.
I never fail to marvel at the miracle of life and despite the amount of time I spend outdoors and immersed in The Nature close encounters with wildlife are, to my mind, a most wonderful privilege and a tremendously powerful way to reconnect to our natural heritage.