Sunday, June 29, 2014

Black Woodpecker

Several times in my prior Hungary blog entries, I've mentioned Gerard Gorman's name as my field guide for the trip.  Gerard was excellent - no two ways about it, and if you're planning a birding trip to Hungary, he's your man - or should be at least.  But, there is also much more to say.  A lot of narrative follows, but I think it's worth reading. 

Because I signed up for my trip with the assistance of Yoav Chudnoff, Director of Friends of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (FoBSPB), Yoav sent me Gerard's book titled The Black Woodpecker: A monograph on Dryocopus martius, Lynx, 2011.  On my 2011 birding trip to Bulgaria, we did not see the black woodpecker, so I knew this Hungary trip was going to be my best chance to see this bird.

The next leg of our trip was the Bukk Hills, well northeast of Budapest, to the attractive little village of Noszvaj and to our stop for the next two nights, the Nomad Hotel, a charming hotel and campground known for its abundant and excellent food.  This is also the wine-making region of Hungary. More on this in a later blog entry.

Still about a half hour drive from Noszvaj, we arrived at a trendy, updated spa hotel that Gerard described as once having been a run down place with easily accessible grounds for good birding.  Now, post renovation, the grounds were not so easily accessed, but being a weekday it was not busy so we entered the grounds.  We parked at a muddy turn-in across the street and Gerard played the black woodpecker vocalization and drumming sounds.  

Immediately, we had a response.  One more play of the drumming and this juvenile black woodpecker flew across the road from the woods on the side where we had parked to the hotel grounds and perched against a tree.  There were two or three black woodpecker nesting cavities - oval shaped as are our pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) cavities - in other nearby trees.

Gerard thought that an adult bird might also be nearby but, the time of day being mid-afternoon, none appeared.  He pointed out that birds often take siestas in nest cavities, and on this hot, sunny day he suggested that this might be exactly what was happening.

I managed three poor quality photos and the juvenile flew off deeper into the woods behind the spa hotel.  Having counted the Eurasian curlew as #3, this was life bird #4 on this trip.

We lingered a bit longer hoping for another black woodpecker appearance and Gerard pointed out the large ant hill in the photo above.  In the top photo that's a Hungarian coin I placed on the hill to demonstrate its size.  As soon as I placed the coin, it was attacked by ants.    

In this second photo, you may be able to see the ants; small, red and numerous swarming all over the hill.  At the time, and other than pointing it out to me, Gerard said no more about the ant hill.

Later when reviewing Gerard's new book, Woodpeckers of the World: A Photographic Guide published by Lynx, 2011, on page 18 I found the photograph above, taken by Un-Hoi Jung, of an "anting" black woodpecker.

Secondary to the demands of work in the months leading up to my trip, I did not get to do much more than remove Gerard's book from the mailing envelope and flip through the pages.  I packed it to bring on the trip so that I could have Gerard sign it for me.  The novel that I had brought along for reading was out-of-sync on a birding trip in Hungary and did not hold my interest.  So I began reading The Black Woodpecker: A monograph ...  Well-written, excellent book!  As I read, it seemed that no topic related to this bird and its environment had been omitted.  It occurred to me that this book should be required reading for all foresters and the forestry and conservation organizations that employ them.  

In chapter eight titled Behaviour, on page 77, the practice of "anting" is described.  Many birds participate in anting, but specifically related to woodpeckers, Gerard writes, "Although seldom observed, anting is probably not an uncommon behavior in woodpeckers.  It is not entirely clear what purpose anting serves and no definitive explanation has ever been agreed upon.  The common view is that it is a form of comfort behavior whereby the formic acid and other liquids that ants eject when disturbed act as an insecticide or fungicide that help counter plumage parasites and generally aid feather care.  Certainly, after anting many birds immediately start to preen."  He goes on to write more about anting but for the purposes of this blog entry and my photos above, this is enough for now.

As we prepared to leave, I dared to ask Gerard if he thought it might be possible to see an adult black woodpecker.  He did and, true to form, on our last full day of birding we saw one flying across a large open field, its deep wing beats and strong, non-undulating flight style reminded me of our pileated woodpecker without the white wing patches. 

Later as we were about to call it a day, in the woods that bordered our hotel along the Tiszla river, we wondered in to try for one last black woodpecker sighting.  Gerard played the black woodpecker drumming and on cue an adult female bird flew in.  

Gerard, by now well-acquainted with my habitat of shooting before seeing, reminded me to look at the bird first.  I did and was glad to do so.  Then I got six horrible photos, of which these two are probably the best.

This bird stayed with us for perhaps ten minutes, flying between trees and perching to have a look around, usually on the side of the tree opposite us.  Then, as with the juvenile before, found nothing of interest and returned to the forest.

We headed back to the picnic tables outside of our hotel restaurant.  It had been a long day of great birding and Gerard deserved a tall, cold beer. 

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