nature poetry and photography project: the Woodpecker. 2 woodpeckers on a tree. woodpecker in flight.
Image by Espen Helland

The Woodpecker

Stepping over roots and weaving through trees,

Of this ancient oakland, in a fresh spring breeze.

Bracken and fallen leaves crunch underfoot,

I pause, motionless, try to stay put.

Listening and watching, tune in to see

Nature in it’s glory and unconscious beauty.

The forest bursts with life all through the year,

But in spring time and autumn it notches up a gear.

Discover secret lives of the wildlife it holds,

A glimpse into nature, both young and age old.

Flashes of colour, a scarlet delight

Flitting between oaks in dappled sunlight.

A great spotted woodpecker, I catch just a peek,

As it calls from the air, a telltale sharp shriek.

Dipping and bobbing and bouncing in flight,

Jazzy red feathers stand out from black and white.

Dashing to and from a tiny nest hole,

To feed family and remain on patrol.

Drilling and pecking to claim territory,

The sounds of the woods can tell your story.

The Story of The Woodpecker – a nature poem and photography collaboration

The idea of a Wild Pioneers collaboration, a photographer and a writer working together, seems, in hindsight anyway, blindingly obvious. But it took us a long time to get here to where a nature poem and photography project just came together. 

The entire time that we’ve been in Ballater has effectively been in lockdown — the pandemic kind of forced our hand and interrupted our travel plans. We were fortunate to get locked down in the Cairngorms, in a sort of paradise. 2020 has been about trying to settle down, build a home, tend a garden, and carve out a life in a brand new place. We don’t know many people here, and the restrictions in place have made it hard to meet people. We are getting there though. 

When I finally took the plunge and went full time as a writer in 2020, I had no idea what lay ahead just around the corner. It changed everything, in some senses, and in others, our lives continued as normal. From posting memes about introverts taking over the planet and being masters of social distancing, to spending hours agonising whether or not going out into the wilderness for photography was legal or not. 

It’s felt like a dream, while for many it’s been a certified nightmare. But one thing this shared experience has taught us, is that when we work together, things work out for the best. 

And, of course, out of adversity comes opportunity. 

That’s what this collaboration is all about. For years I’ve watched from behind the lines as Espen built up his photography experience and grew it into a business. I’ve watched the growth of his YouTube channel from a mere zero followers, to over 10,000. I’ve watched a beautiful community come together. 

And I’ve written. I’ve written about the ups and downs of life, of how we arrived in Ballater to how to procure PPE in a global pandemic, and how to dress a dessert table. A writer’s life is never dull, so they say. 

But still the idea or the mechanisms by which to bring our writing and photography together have always been vague. A “one-day” kind of project. And then the day came.

Espen spent days, if not weeks, if not bloody months walking the woods in and around Ballater, waiting for wildlife. Watching the seasons change, seeking out the species as they arrived from migration. One species in particular caught his attention — the woodpecker. The (great) Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major. 

It’s a resident here in the UK, favouring woodlands like the spectacular oak woodlands we have here in the Cairngorms. It’s one of the two black and white woodpecker species of the British Isles — the other being the teeny tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker of course. 

There are thought to be 25,000–30,000 pairs in the UK, and there were a fair few to be found in our local Craigendarroch woods. Craigendarroch is actually Gaelic word for ‘hill of the oaks’ — from Craig, or creag meaning rock, and darroch from darach, meaning oak tree. For walks around Craigendarroch, you’ll find some of the routes detailed by Walk Highlands

When Espen identified a nest hole, he went back time and time again to watch and observe, ever patient. At the time, he had just upgraded his camera gear and he released a video on YouTube all about the geekery… Ahem, I mean pro capture settings. 

Meanwhile, in the depths of lockdown insomnia, I honed my love of poetry-writing. It was part coping mechanism, part creative outlay. 

And here are the results of all of that work and watching, and all of those hours of patient observations. A nature poem and photography project. A collaboration celebrating nature in all her glory, and hopefully articulating the benefits we get just by being in it, around it, and immersed in it. 

After all…. who doesn’t love a pecker? 😉 

Please enjoy responsibly.