Friday, February 13, 2015

Post #9 - Photographing a friendly Yellow-bellied sapsucker

I will confess that birding and photography has been painfully slow recently. I guess it's understandable given the weather and the fact that Central Park is about the only place I go these days. Being in NYC without a car is really tough from a birding standpoint. I just can't get anywhere worth going right now. Pelham Bay and Jamaica Bay can be accessed by train, but they are both long train rides followed by long walks in what is seemingly always extreme cold. Its just not worth carrying all my stuff on public transportation for what would amount 1-2 hours each way. I would rather continue what has so far been an incredible productive few weeks of book writing. I may as well accomplish as much as I can on this front before the weather and the birding start to heat up again. I will be in Boston for 8 days at the end of the month, so, if the snow behaves, maybe I'll be able to make it out for a few days there (I'll have the car then).

Anyway, today I went for an afternoon walk in Central Park. Most of the activity right now is centered on the collection of feeders in the famed ramble. There are always tons of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, sparrows, and grackles at the feeders. There has been what we all assume is a single redpoll hanging around as well. Unfortunately, the way the feeders are arranged and hung makes them essentially useless for photography. I refuse to take pictures of birds on feeders. There are always a number of Fox sparrows hopping around, but they are always bait far off and often right on the seed on the ground. Seed spread on the ground is something else I work hard to keep out of my shots. Basically I am trying to avoid any signs of human interference (feeders, paved paths, cut logs, fences etc) in my photographs. This makes the shots look natural and really adds to the challenge of the process.

The star of today was unquestionably a cooperative Yellow-bellied sapsucker. I heard this bird calling from behind me, and I sauntered over to check it out despite the backtrack. After all, I had nowhere to be. For the next 1 hour 15 minutes I watched this guy as he repeatedly checked each and every sap-oozing hole he had drilled into the tree. He was very active, and at times he had to defend his food source from thieving chickadees and titmice. A particularly exciting moment was when a Red-tailed hawk actually made a pass at the sapsucker. The raptor flew right into the tree trunk with its talons fully extended. Luckily, the sapsucker managed to fly off just as the hawk's feet hit the tree. The hawk cleared out and the sapsucker returned for yet more foraging. By watching his movements for an extended period of time, I learned his patterns and was able to obtain a few nice shots of him. It was really nice to slow down and work with one cooperative bird for an extended period of time today. I had to use the teleconverter on the zoom lens, so I lost a bit of touch of feather sharpness compared to some of my other shots. I'm still very happy with the result though.

Maybe 8-9 years ago, there was a Scott's oriole that spent the winter in Union Square Park here in NYC. That bird survived by following a resident sapsucker around. All you had to do listen for the sapsucker and you'd find the oriole close behind!

The weather is going to be atrocious the next few days, but once it clears up early next week I'll probably go back to the sapsucker spot with the big rig. There's too much sap on that tree for him not to hang out there all the time! 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker - Sphyrapicus varius
Central Park, New York City
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 v1 + 1.4x Teleconverter III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/800 at f/8, ISO 1600, Manual mode

Yellow-bellied sapsucker - Sphyrapicus varius
Central Park, New York City
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 v1 + 1.4x Teleconverter III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/1000 at f/8, ISO 1600, Manual mode

1 comment: