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Posts Tagged ‘Picoides pubescens’

I have always admired Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens), the smallest woodpeckers in our area, because they are so energetic, hard-working, and focused. They are fun to watch as they move all around in a tree, poking and probing as they search for a tasty treat. I spotted this Downy Woodpecker, which looks to be a female because it does not have a patch of red on the back of its head, last week as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Getting an unobstructed shot of small birds is frequently impossible, so I often have to twist, turn, and bend in order to get a clear shot of at least the bird’s head. That certainly was the case with this focused male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

If you look closely at the web of branches that surround and frame this woodpecker, you may notice that they are at varying degrees of sharpness, with some of them closer to the bird and some closer to me. My task was to find a visual tunnel through the branches that would somehow make them as undistracting as possible, even when they run right across the body of the main subject. Of course, the challenge is even greater with a subject like a Down Woodpecker that is hyperactive and in almost constant motion.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When it comes to woodpeckers, I often hear them before I see them. Sometimes it is a gentle tapping sound, but at other times it sounds as loud as a jackhammer.

I spotted this little Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on Wednesday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He was slowly making his way up the tree in a spiral pattern, stopping periodically to probe for insects. I tried to track him as he moved in and out of view and was happy to capture a few relatively unobstructed shots.

Normally, it is best to capture a subject when its eyes are looking more or less in your direction. I, however, are more attracted to the first photo below in which the little woodpecker is looking away and slightly up. Perhaps he had seen or heard something that caught his attention, but I like to think that he was taking a break in order to daydream. Perhaps he too was longing for Paris.

Woodpeckers are industrious by nature, though, so after his short pause, he was back to work, slamming his head against the unforgiving wood. It is what woodpeckers do—hopefully that does not sound like your job.

Downy woodpecker

downy woodpecker

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) are the smallest woodpeckers in North America.  They more than make up for their lack of size, however, with their inexhaustible energy. Their constant motion makes them fun to watch, but a challenge to photograph.

I spotted this male Downy Woodpecker earlier this week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. How do I know that it is a male? The males of this species have a little patch of red on the back of their heads and in each of these photos you get a small peek at the red on the head.

 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems like we are at a time in the year when the number of birds has increased. I can hear them everywhere when I walk along the wooded trails of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The problem, though, is that most the leaves are still on the trees, so I am having huge problems spotting the birds and if I can’t see them, I can’t photograph them.

Earlier this week, I heard the familiar knocking sound of a woodpecker at work. I could see some movement in a tree amidst the foliage. I tracked the movement until suddenly the woodpecker popped into the open for a brief moment as it reached the top of the dead tree. I was able to capture this one shot of what appears to be a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)—only males have the red patch of feathers on the back of their heads. (The Hairy Woodpecker is similar in appearance to the Downy Woodpecker, but is larger and has a longer bill—the angle of this shot makes it tough for me to be absolutely certain of my identification.)

Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in Northern America, but what they lack in size, they seem to make up in energy. They always seem to be super energetic and industrious and are one of the birds that I am able to spot throughout most the entire year.

downy woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am always struck by the amazing energy and tenacity of Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens), like this male that I spotted on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as he pecked away at a seed pod. I was worried that his weight would pull down the seed pod, but I guess that he is pretty light and the pod seemed to be firmly attached to the tree,

Downy Woodpecker

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I have always admired the fierce determination and intense focus of little Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) as they hammer away at the trees in search of something to eat, like this beauty that I spotted this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Downy Woodpecker

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It is hard to believe that there could possibly be any insects or other nourishment in the dried-up reeds and cattails, but this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was feverishly pecking away this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. He was extremely focused and persistent—I hope that his efforts were eventually rewarded.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When the lighting was as dim as it was Saturday morning at Huntley Meadows Park, it felt like I was shooting in black and white. Fortunately there was a bit of color in the head and eyes of the little male Downy Woodpecker that I spotted high in the trees, framed wonderfully by the surrounding branches.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I hope that things are looking up for you as you begin 2017. I photographed this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) in the morning of the last day of 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

I’ve always admired the intense focus of these little woodpeckers. Perhaps I can look to them for inspiration as I consider my goals for this new year.

downy woodpecker

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This energetic little Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) seemed to be defying gravity on Monday as it leaned over backwards and pecked away at a small tree growing out of the water at Huntley Meadows Park.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I were a woodpecker, I think that I would want to be a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). These energetic little birds will sometimes peck away at the relatively soft stalks of reeds and cattails, rather than at the harder tree trunks of full-sized trees.

I recently captured some shots of a Downy Woodpecker in action. I was amazed that it was able to peck away at the stalk on which it was perched without losing its balance or knocking itself off of the perch. Of course, its vigorous movements made it a bit difficult to photograph, but I was persistent and managed to get some decent shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

peck3_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How focused are you as you begin 2016? This little male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) seemed to be totally focused as he foraged for food yesterday in the vegetation of Huntley Meadows Park.

As for me, I’m easing my way into the new year and have not yet thought seriously about goals and plans and certainly have not made (or broken) any resolutions.

downy woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Redheads tend to be stunning, rare, and elusive and the Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) at Huntley Meadows Park are no exception to that general rule. These relatively uncommon woodpeckers tend to spend their time high up in tall trees and it’s tough to even spot them. I was therefore thrilled on Monday when I caught a glimpse from a distance of this beautiful woodpecker and managed to capture a photo of it.

Red-headed Woodpecker

The photo shows the distinctive colors and pattern of the Red-headed Woodpecker pretty well. From a technical perspective, I’m happy that I was able to document the presence of this bird. From an artistic perspective, I’m a bit less satisfied with the shot. I hope that the Red-headed Woodpeckers hang around for the winter and that I can get some better shots.

The shots of the Red-headed Woodpecker were my final shots of the day. Interestingly enough, my first shots of the day were also of a woodpecker, a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), a common species in my area. The woods were dark and full of shadows, but the sunlight was falling on one tree, illuminating an energetic little Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

I was able to get a sharper shot of this woodpecker and to manage the background better, producing an image that I actually like more than my shot of the Red-headed Woodpecker. I love the way that the areas of darkness and light provide a kind of natural vignette that draws the viewers’ eyes to the subject.

I realize that it often is tough for me to evaluate my own photos objectively, in part because I have trouble separating the emotions of the experience of shooting from the actual images themselves. It is exciting to see new or uncommon species and to get any kind of shot that I can use to help share those emotions with others.

In most cases, I have to use words to explain why a particular shot is meaningful to me. As I move forward in photography, I’d like to be able to eventually produce images more often that stand on their own artistically and technically, without any need for explanations.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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After a gray, rainy day like today, I need a visual pick-me-up and energetic Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) never fail to raise my spirits. I spotted this little beauty at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend.

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was a little surprised to see this Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) down on the ground amid the sparrows, pecking away at the dried vegetation and the crazy thought came to mind that it might have been raised by those sparrows. I assumed that Downy Woodpeckers ate only insects, but learned on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website that “About a quarter of their diet consists of plant material, particularly berries, acorns, and grains.”

Eventually the woodpecker emerged from the undergrowth and climbed up a slender stalk, permitting me to get an unobstructed view of its beauty.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Down in the weeds

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I admire the boundless energy of Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens). This weekend I watched as this male Downy Woodpecker climbed higher and higher in a tree, pecking along the way, until he ran out of branches.

He turned his body and looked up at a nearby tree and paused, which gave me a chance to get this shot of his downy white abdomen. There is a kind of tension in his position that I really like, as he clutches the branch and focuses intently on his next destination.

Downy Woodpecker

This second shot, which was taken before the first one, shows the Downy Woodpecker in a more conventional pose. He was inching his way up to the end of the branch and I was wondering what he would do next.

One thing that learned from this mini-shoot is that it is tough to hold a lens this heavy overhead for an extended period of time. I haven’t weighed the camera/lens combination, but the lens alone weights 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg).

I may have to start lifting weights to build up my arm and shoulder muscles

Downy Woodpecker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I spotted a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on an exposed branch in a tree across a small field of cattails. In the past, I would not have even attempted to take a shot because of the distance, but I recently bought a Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens and suddenly this little bird was more or less within reach. This was my first day out with my new lens and it was fun testing out its capabilities (and I’ll do a few more postings showing what the lens was able to get in different situations).

Downy Woodpeckers seem to have an amazing amount of energy and are in almost constant motion. As I watched, the little woodpecker pecked his way to the end of the branch and then stopped. He seemed to be confused and stared straight ahead at first,  Unsatisfied, he looked down and then up. Suddenly he lifted off almost straight up and I was fortunate to capture him with his wings extended.

Who knew that Downy Woodpeckers had such an impressive wingspan?

Downy Woodpecker

Liftoff

Downy Woodpecker

Looking ahead

Downy Woodpecker

Looking down

Downy Woodpecker

Looking up

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I don’t know where they have been hiding, but for several months this summer I hadn’t seen a single woodpecker at my local marsh. Consequently, I was really happy when I sighted this Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) right in front of me this past weekend. Downy Woodpeckers are small, but they make up for what they lack in size with an amazing amount of energy—they never seem to stand still.

downy_fall_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love to watch energetic little Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) at work, like this one that I observed last week in my own neighborhood.

Most of the time these little powerhouses are in constant motion or are obscured by branches, so it’s difficult to get a clear shot of them. This one, however, was in a location where I could get an unobstructed photograph and the woodpecker even cooperated by lifting its head for a moment (though it did appear to be a little irritated at the interruption).

As soon as I was done with the brief photo shoot, the woodpecker went back to work, pounding away at the wood in search of some tasty morsels of food.

downy_neighbor_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Like most Downy Woodpeckers, this little male woodpecker started spiraling his way up the tree as soon as he landed on it. Then to my surprise, he worked his way back down the tree and stopped at eye level, where he stayed long enough for me to take a number of shots and even make a few adjustments in between the shots.

I really like Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens). Their high energy and acrobatic activities are a constant source of interest for me as I watch them at work in the trees and in the cattails. I’ve usually had a tough time, though,  getting an uncluttered shot of a Downy Woodpecker.

I took this shot in an area where there were mostly young trees, which made it easier for me to isolate the woodpecker as he moved about and to slowly move closer and fill the frame with the little bird. The area was shaded, so I ended up using my pop-up flash to add a little fill light. I opened up the aperture as wide as I could, which had the effect of blurring out the background.

I ended up with a portrait-like shot of the Downy Woodpecker that I really like. Click on the image to see it in higher resolution.

downy_Jan1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last year it seemed like I saw Downy Woodpeckers everywhere, but this year I have sighted only a few of them. I took this shot of a female Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) in mid-October during a visit to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a nature preserve in the Potomac River opposite the District of Columbia.

woodpecker_downy_blog

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At the edge of a cattail patch, this male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was pecking away at the branches of a small tree, moving upward until he had reached the tip of the branch. For a short moment, he took a break from his work and turned his head to the side, which let me take a nice profile shot.

Perhaps he was searching for the next plant to peck, maybe the cattail in the distance.

downy1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Borrowing a longer telephoto lens earlier this week,  I was able to get some shots of the tiny birds that I often see, but rarely am able to photograph.

On Monday, my photography mentor, Cindy Dyer, lent me a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 80-400mm lens. It was a lot of fun to experiment with a much longer telephoto than I am accustomed to using. We spent only a limited time at a local nature center, so I did not have a chance to photograph anything too exotic, but I did get some shots of a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus),  and a Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor).

The background in the first image really grabbed my attention when I pulled up the image on the computer—the tree branches look an awful lot like a suspension bridge.

I included the blurry final image of the chickadee flying away just for fun. I get this kind of image on a regular basis, although usually the bird is out of the frame. The Nikon I was using has a much higher frame rate (up to 7 images a second) than my Canon (a more modest three frames a second), so the chickadee is still in the frame.

I am pretty sure that I will stick with Canon and not switch to Nikon, but, as fellow blogger Lyle Krahn predicted, I am starting to hear the siren call of a longer lens.

Downy Woodpecker lorez

Chickadee 2 lorezTuftedTitmouse lorez

feeder_blogBlurryBird lorez

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do your find yourself shooting the same subjects over and over, hoping that you will find the perfect combination of lighting, pose, and background? That is certainly the case for me when it comes to photographing birds. It is both frustrating and challenging to realize that the only variables over which I have any control are me and my trusty camera. I can try to creep closer to birds or adjust the exposure and composition, but luck and perseverance are the overwhelmingly dominant factors in achieving success, however you choose to definite it.

Walking along a path at my local marshland park this past Friday, I heard the now-familiar tap-tap of a woodpecker. I looked up and saw a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) at work in the upper branches of a tree. Instantly I knew I had a chance for a pretty good shot, because the lighting was good, the view was uncluttered,  and the sky was blue in the background. The woodpecker was persistent as he moved along the branch and so was I, snapping away with my head bent back at an uncomfortable angle.

Downy Woodpecker portrait

How did I do? Well, you can judge for yourself, but I think that this is about as close to perfection as I can achieve with my current skills and equipment. The elements fell into place and I managed to take an image with which I am pretty happy, a nice portrait of a Downy Woodpecker.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens) are so small and light that they can perch almost anywhere. I was little surprised, however, when I looked down into the water of the marsh and saw a Downy Woodpecker on a very small piece of wood that was jutting out just a little above the surface of the water. I had never before seen a woodpecker that close to water level.

Downy Woodpecker just above the marsh water

The branch was small, just big enough for him to relax, but the woodpecker was not there to rest—he was there to work. There doesn’t seem like there is much room for him to maneuver, but somehow he got into position and was soon hammering away at that little piece of wood. I was concerned that the vibration might loosen the branch and cause him to tumble into the water, but that didn’t happen.

No piece of wood is too small

I guess that if you are a small woodpecker, almost any piece of wood is fair game—size does not matter.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds seem to enjoy relaxing and posing and showing off their beauty, embodying a carefree approach to life. Woodpeckers, on the other hand, seem to be serious and focused, with a look of sheer determination in their eyes. It’s the same look that I see in so many of the people here in the Washington D.C. area, so driven in their professional lives that they are in danger of losing their identities apart from work.

Today, I photographed this Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) as he was preparing himself for work. Look deeply into his eye and what to you see? (Click on the photo to see more details.) The dead tree seems huge in comparison to this tiny bird. Yet he seems determined, determined to beat his head repeatedly against that wood, determined to find the food that he hopes and believes may be hidden inside.

Determined Downy Woodpecker

 

Do you ever feel like this woodpecker?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If I were a woodpecker, I would want to be a male Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) and slam my head into something soft as a pillow—like this cattail—and not always into solid wood. Of course, you can end up with a mouthful of cattail fibers, and not just a tasty bug.

Downy woodpecker with mouthful of cattail

Downy woodpecker on cattail

More seriously, scientists are doing research to figure out why woodpeckers don’t end up with concussions, given that they can slam their heads into wood with the force of 1,000 times that of gravity, according to an article on livescience.com. By comparison, humans can survive a force of up to G’s, according to Air Force research, though there are reports of race car drivers surviving a force of over 100 G’s. According to the article, Chinese researchers are studying the microscopic structure of the bones surrounding the brain and also the beak to try to understand how the woodpecker’s brain is protected. If you are interested in the research, an article on a website called Inkfish explains in layman’s terms the research methodology and some of the preliminary conclusions.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This weekend I learned some new things about woodpeckers. I always thought that woodpeckers were found exclusively in the trees. Isn’t it logical that woodpeckers need wood to peck? (It reminds me of the response attributed to Willie Sutton on why he robbed banks—”Because that’s where the money is.”) Well, I saw a woodpecker pecking at the stalks of cattails and other similar vegetation that clearly were not made of solid wood.

Secondly I learned that the woodpecker that had a big red spot on the back of his head was not a Red-Headed Woodpecker. Fortunately, it was not too hard to determine that the little woodpecker that I saw and photographed was a male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). He was very active climbing up and down the stalks of a whole series of plants in the middle of a marsh and was a lot of fun to watch.

Here are a couple of photos of that beautiful bird. I am not sure that I did full justice to the blazing red color on his head that initially attracted my attention or to the wonderful black and white pattern of his feathers. I hope that I have another chance soon to see more woodpeckers and learn even more new things about them.

Male Downy Woodpecker in the field

Downy Woodpecker looks to the side

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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