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on Apr 30, 2014 in Wildlife Photography

The Drilling Begins


Six days ago the drilling began. The Hairy Woodpeckers set up their home again in the machine riddled street pole the I swore would come down this past winter. Well, the 5×5 pole survived and has a little solid wood left for the Hairys to drill out. Woodpeckers have to drill out new holes each spring for the cavity nest. The process takes normally two weeks. Most of the Hairy and White-headed Woodpeckers are showing up to the suet right now with a red stain to their breast. They are drilling in the Red Fir causing the stain. We know when this pair of Hairys come to the suet because their whites are still pretty white. This isn’t the first time I’ve worked this nest so I have the drill down. Get it, drill, woodpeckers … ha!


The rig is real simple, D4s / 80-400VR3 / Pocket Wizard is all that’s needed. Why is this what I think is the needed gear? Since I’m shooting remotely, I can’t see exactly when “the” moment is so blasting away is one way to capture the moment. The D4s with that Lexar card is one giant space you can fill with a single squeeze of the trigger! The moment in this case is when the woodpecker brings their head out of the hole and spits out the wood shavings. I caught the moment, but the size of the wood bits is too small to see. The 80-400VR3 is the killer nesting bird lens because of its focal length range and MFD. And the Pocket Wizard for a remote because of its range. I was 60+ yards away firing off the camera.


The set up is pretty simple. Since the nest is in a street pole, I wanted “urban” in the background. There’s a little fir tree I can kinda hide the rig from the public so that determines the physical distance from the pole. I was shooting at around 260mm @f/11. When it comes to focusing, this is key. You don’t focus on the hole, focus on the nearest edge of the hole. Woodpeckers the way they perch and the size of their bodies, the closest edge of the hole is the basic plane of focus for their eye. Once the focus is set, the AF is turned off. When that is done, the eyepiece shutter is closed so sunlight doesn’t enter the prism to change the exposure (I was using Face-detection Matrix). With that, I sip my coffee, watch the hole and fire when the action is happening. The rig is in place for no more than 30min as there’s not a whole lot of variety in the shots. Hopefully this inspires you to find a cavity nester and start your own spring shooting.