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WOODPECKERS and Camera Technology

Posted  - June 27, 2005

Pileated Woodpeckers
In early May of this year, Ottawa based nature  photographer Bhupendra Yadav, took me to the cavity nesting site of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers.

Two things made this nest location unique. The nest hole was low down, only about 14 feet up, and, secondly, it was in a city park with a heavily used walking path right below the nest tree.

From a photography standpoint, this was ideal. The path had a steady flow of walkers, joggers, and families with strollers so the birds were completely accustomed to people. The other five nests of this species I have seen were all remotely located and at 40 feet or higher. No need for photo towers here - it was a pleasure to photograph from the ground and visit with birders and non-birdwatchers alike, all getting close-up views of this magnificent and usually shy bird.

Both the male and female of this species work through the nesting cycle, sharing all duties including excavating the cavity, incubating the eggs and feeding of the young.

On the day I photographed there, the cycle was at the incubation stage and I soon noticed that the birds "changed off" with incubation duties once about every hour to an hour and a half.

By waiting for several hours and 4 or 5 nest exchanges by the pair, I was able to capture this image.

This is where camera technology comes in – the photograph here looks like a static moment but is actually the fourth frame of a burst of shots at 8 frames per second. In the first picture of the sequence, the male on the side of the tree has the back of his head to me, in the second he is turning to the right, in the third, a bit more and finally, the fourth shot is the one you see here. In the fifth photo, the female is jumping from the hole, is blurred and partly out of the frame. This means that at 8 frames per second the whole exchange took only 1/2 of a second!!

Thanks to autofocus and a digital camera that fires at this rapid-fire rate, a brief moment in time can be captured.

Canon EOS 1D Mark 11
500mm lens with 1.4 extender
F5.6 at 250 second
ISO 400

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