Great Spotted Woodpeckers ready to fledge

For  nearly three, weeks we have been watching a great spotted wood pecker nest that is just a few metres off a main trail along which we walk the dog.  It’s not the best nest to photograph as it’s a good 8m high and not as isolated as I’d normally look for. Consequently, I’d more or less decided to cross it out photographically speaking. That was, in part, because there was a more interesting lower-level candidate elsewhere that I was keeping an eye on.  Unfortunately, that other nest seemed to have been abandoned a few days ago.  Not a squeak from the nest since and I can’t figure if they had fledged or had been predated; I didn’t think they were ready to fledge.  However, the trail nest was clearly still going strong and with the noise they were making, it had been noticed by quite a few folk walking the path.  This morning they were still going strong when we walked by at 7:30.  As I had a day off, I decided to go take a proper look and see if I could work out how to get a good photo.  

Well, that’s how I ended up spending about 3.5 hours watching the nest today and, yes, I ended up with a few good ‘uns while enjoying a relaxed time watching them.  I don’t think I’ve set up a camera to photograph a nest in such a public space before but the nest is situated in such a tricky spot that it near impregnable and I think the young are on the verge of fledging so they will certainly be gone in a few days.  On the plus side, the parents weren’t really bothered with passers by and it was interesting to chat to quite a number of walkers who were clearly aware of the nest and interested in their local wildlife.  Even better when they have kids as its great to see them appreciating nature.  It’s hardly surprising the woodpeckers were noticed by so many as GSWs are a noisy bunch once they are near grown and they set up a constant begging call that winds up and down depending on how close the parents are. It’s a real giveaway.  It was also fascinating seeing the parents forage in the nearby trees and it was surprisingly easy to hear them pecking at the bark and hear their claws scratch and grapple on the rough oak bark.  Every now and again they will disappear of for 20 or 30 minutes; they clearly they have a larger range.  So to a few pics.  I’m particularly happy with the youngster reaching for the food as I haven’t managed to do that before and that was the photo I was looking for today.  (These and a few other GSW’s can be seen in my gallery here.)

On the tech gear front this was a tough one.  I more or less had to throw everything at these little guys.  The GSW is about the size of a thrush and they were a comfortable 10m away and at 45 degrees angle above my head.  Not something mobile phones can get easily (yet) so I needed to use a 200-500mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. On the D500, with its cropped field of view, that’s equivalent to 1050mm.  I very rarely try to photograph with that length lens.  It’s, shall we say, ‘quite tricky’ and I can only use it successfully on a substantial tripod with a good head.  Added to which, the nest was located underneath an inclined main stem of the trunk.  With the clear skies we have has this spring, it was a brilliantly lit day but that spot in the woods is in deep shade all day.  As a result, I had to use a flashgun (so shutter has to be less that 1/250s to sync with the shutter) and the distance was such that I needed to use a ‘better beamer’ flash extender to get sufficient light on the subject.  Even with that extender, my powerful flash (Nikon SB800) still needed full power and I was using a relatively high ISO of 800.  So the stats for these photos are 1050mm equivalent lens, 1/250s shutter, ISO 800 and f/11 (for a little more depth of field and to squeeze better image quality with the tele-converter on the lens.  Phew.  (One of my wife’s friends stopped on her bike as she rode past.  “I saw that big long lens [from back down the track] and I wondered if it was you.”  Oops!)