|Gila Woodpecker, Melanerpes uropygialis: Gilbert Water Ranch; Gilbert, Arizona|
This Gila Woodpecker was nesting in a giant Saguaro cactus at the Gilbert Water Ranch in Arizona. The nest was only ten feet off the ground and provided a great opportunity for photography. I took photos of the male and female as they brought insects, grubs and Saguaro fruit to their young that were nestled inside the nest cavity.
After taking shots of the birds at the cavity I tried to get some shots as the woodpecker flew to the nest. I wanted a shot with wings out stretched, and feet reaching out toward the cactus; I wanted the bird in midair. After a few test shots I upped the ISO to 800 in order to obtain a 1/3200th of a second shutter speed. I could not believe how fast woodpeckers flew as they zipped toward their nest.
Standing in the hot sun I shot exposure after exposure trying to catch the wings in just the right position. No exposure looked right and I was constantly telling myself as the heat intensified, just one more shot to get the wings right. Again the bird flew to the nest cavity. I shot a burst of frames, looked at the images and would say to myself, just one more shot. Soon the woodpecker returned to the cavity and I would get another shot, look at the image and tell myself, just one more shot.
As the sun climbed, I became hotter and thirstier. I had finished my bottle of water earlier in the morning and I was so dry I felt like a cowboy from a 1950’s western crossing a desert, dying of thirst. Standing behind my camera the sun beat down on me with penetrating intensity. I began to squirm where I was standing, feeling a bit dazed, thinking about the cold bottle of water awaiting me in my van. But I wanted just one more chance to get the image of the Gila Woodpecker just right. I had come close in previous shots, but close was not what I wanted.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the male Gila fly to the staging perch it had been using all morning. After perching at the staging point for a few seconds it flew to the nest hole. I shot a burst of images as the bird took flight, hoping that I had captured the image I wanted so that I would get out of the heat. I took a quick look at the images and found the shot I sought. Zooming in on the frame, it looked sharp. What a relief, I picked-up my camera and tripod then headed to my van for that ice cold bottle of water.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/3,200 second @ f6.3, ISO 800