The photographic hunt for New York's woodpecker: Matt's Memo

Pileated woodpecker at Green Lakes State Park.

I squatted lower and tilted the camera to a vertical position as I captured a static, yet classic autumn scene. Two tall maples with burning orange leaves towering over a park bench centered between them. They sat at the top of the hill overlooking the 9th green at Green Lakes State Park golf course. In the near background a forest of trees with the full palette of fall. Deeper in the distance a classic October sky and a hint of Oneida Lake. The image was lovely, but suddenly interupted by a heavy pecking sound on a nearby tree.

I recognized the sound of the Pileated Woodpecker searching for food. Quickly I pivoted from photographing an average image to seeking a more dramatic and unique picture within this familiar park. The sound led me to the female bird. Her crimson red crest on her head confirmed my suspicion of the species. I had been using a wide angle 40 mm fast lens for the scenic landscaped. I made the quick switch to 300 mm telephoto lens in hopes of getting in tight on the bird perched some 40 feet up the decaying tree.

I quietly inched closer while beginning to shoot on an automatic focus, exposure setting. The woodpecker initially continued to go about her business. The click of the DSLR shutter could not be concealed. Soon the woodpecker sounded its own alarm, spreading its significant wings to move deeper into the woods.

Once I realized the woodpecker was more intent on feeding on whatever bugs and creatures it could find beneath the bark I started to change camera settings. I tried to find the best balance of shutter speed, ISO and aperture to grab crisp, colorful images. A smartphone camera would be no match for this opportunity. Adrenalin pumped as I thought through the process.

After a half hour of walking deeper into the woods and capturing the bird from many different views she finally flew out of sight. What an unexpected experience. The random nature of nature proved once again it is always good to have the camera nearby.

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