RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Woodpeckers have turned into lovebirds

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AT LAST she has a mate. She is a female great spotted woodpecker who lives around the garden.

She is as shy as an old-fashioned teenager and when we’re not looking, she will come down to the birdtable and tuck into the fat ball.

She has to build up her strength after all, for soon she will want to lay eggs.

But how will she find a mate, we have wondered. No sign of another in the woods. Then out of the sky dropped this male in my photograph.

It was just a fortnight before St Valentine’s Day. You can tell he is a male by his red crown. She has only the black bonnet like a nun. He was not at all shy.

Reaching for my tiny digital camera, I crept close to the kitchen window and holding my breath, zoomed in. I was ten feet away.

He was caught on the magic memory card. But will he catch that frightened female? She kept her distance.

I notice that all the hen pheasants which feed outside the window on scraps keep their distance from Charley, the old cock of the woods who has a uniform of burnished brass and copper, lapis lazuli and jet.

There is no women’s lib in the wilds, the pecking order will do.

For a fortnight the two woodpeckers kept their distance from one another.

Then on Valentine’s Day, as I was idly watching through the window the to-ing and fro-ing of blue tits and chaffinches, coal tits and nuthatches, and enjoying a mid-morning break with a coffee as they nibbled their peanuts, the female woodpecker flew down to join the male.

Where’s my camera? To my astonishment, he flew away. Shy boy after all: never had a date. She watched him scurry into the treetops.

Did I imagine it, or was that a look of astonishment on her face, too?

She just stared upwards for five seconds as the moment froze.

Then she gathered her red skirts and charged after him. He in his red trews fled for his life. There was a blank for a day.

There is an old country saying: if you can’t fight, wear a big hat. A red one will do for him.

He came back, a day later. Still no camera at the ready as they stood ten feet apart, just looking. What looks on their faces!

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca had nothing on these two. Somehow I just knew that he knew and she knew. A day passed.

I was out in the bright sunshine this morning with the snowdrops like the sky at night, the wild daffodils bursting and the primroses spreading their leaves.

Nothing can stop the spring coming in now, thought I. And so did he. He gave the first drum roll of the year, on a branch of the tree from which he had run for his life.

It was his signal to the world, but mainly to her, that he had got over his nerves and was here to stay.

We await their happy event.