One more wakeup call way too early (quite often, when I should wake up early – I hardly sleep at all) and I am in a hurry to meet N. and S. at the very top of Mt. Avala, some 10 miles south of Belgrade, Serbia.

That is where I dipped the Alpine Accentor in December. That afternoon the rain stopped, but the mountain was enveloped in a thick fog, getting ever thicker as one went higher. And the AA resided at the very top. The three of us were waiting for about an hour at only 2°C, having Great, Eurasian Blue and Coal Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Blackbird, Goldcrest and Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Either we were too close for the bird’s comfort (although it was tolerating people closer in previous days) and the AA choose to use some alternative accommodation for the night, or some Eurasian Sparrowhawk made a meal out of it.

IMG_3351Avala is a low, gentle sloping, wooded mountain (oak, hornbeam and maple; beech at higher elevation), barely over 500 metres high, inhabited by six woodpecker species – Great, Middle and Little Spotted, Green, Gray-headed (rare) and Black (about two pairs). N. and S. have found the last one enlarging a nesting cavity and the Black is not just the largest of European woodpeckers – about the size of a crow, but also one of those I have never seen (my only records of this one were by ear).

The morning is cloudy and cold for this time of year, melting all the colours into brown-grays – the only green coming from ivy. And we wait. At the right spot. Nothing happens.

I try to provoke a reaction playing its drumming and screams from my phone, but there is no answer. These woodies have nerves of steel. Or are still asleep.

My binoculars glued to the cavity entrance, but nothing appears (later, I will realise I was staring at the wrong cavity). As I should get back to the city, I am beginning to accept the failure. I’ll see it some other day…

A movement! A large black, red-crowned and pale-billed bird flies between beech trees and lands on one of them, out of my sight. “There it is, on a tree,” says excited N. And we are standing in – the forest! Trees to the right of us, trees to the left of us, trees in front of us, only the Common Chaffinches are singing loudly… There it is – on a tree?!

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Fortunately, the bird takes a short flight to the next tree trunk, a few hops on it and off to the next, undisturbed by our presence. About half a metre long, this woodpecker redefines my views on the Old World woodies – so different from its cousins in every way, it even flies differently (others have undulating flight, while this one flies almost in a straight line). Showing well… then disappearing in the tree crowns… staying in my thoughts at the same time.

Photos (c) Nena & Slobodan Panjkovic

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Written by Dragan
Dragan Simic is obsessively passionate about two things – birding and travelling in search of birds, and that has taken him from his native Balkans to the far shores of Europe and the Mediterranean, southern Africa, India and Central America. His 10,000 Birds blog posts were Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. Birder by passion and environmental scientist by education, he is an ecotourism consultant, a field researcher and a bird blogger who always thinks that birding must be better behind that next bend in the road, and that the best bird ever is – the next lifer. He tweets as @albicilla66