I had cooked a curry feast – mutter paneer, faux chicken in coconut milk and chillies, dal and rice. Eddie, deeply attuned to the mood of Wild June, suggested that we ate with plates on knees, halfway down the garden. Good call.
Because our meal coincided with a fledge-out of great spotted woodpeckers. It was, I’m pretty sure, their first day as flying birds. They flew all round us, in their bouncing, uppy-downy way, calling loudly, romping and wildly over-excited. There seemed to be three of them, but it was hard to tell.
They had only the haziest idea of what woodpeckers are supposed to do. One perched on the ridge-tiles of the house, perhaps confusing woodpeckers with pigeons. Another perched on the washing-line. I wanted to explain to them how to perch on a vertical trunk in the approved woodpecker fashion, two toes pointing up and toe toes pointing down.
The meal was eaten and praised — I hadn’t made the mistake of being mean with the chillies — but we sat on to enjoy the cabaret.
The big oak is dying back at the crown, as well as here and there across its bulk. That gave great delight to the woodpeckers: they realised they could aim at the tree and pick out a clear and obvious perching point. So they did: again and again.
It was a party, a riotous children’s party of the jelly-on-the-ceiling kind. The birds were filled with the joy of the very late spring: calling and flying, flying and calling, flying like woodpeckers and beginning to acquire the much harder skill of landing like woodpeckers.
Slap. You slap yourself on the side of trunk, choosing a place where it looks impossible to land. Where it actually is impossible for most birds to land. But once a woodpecker has got the knack– you slow down into the approach, and then hit the trunk while flying upwards – he can stop dead at the trunk-face and take a hold with those zygodactyl feet. It was, I think you’ll agree, an evening not without spice.