The Acorn Woodpecker

Popular Acorn Woodpecker tree
Popular Acorn Woodpecker tree

On a recent trip back to California we went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center http://www.sacnaturecenter.net–home of the Acorn Woodpecker. It lies north of Sacramento along the American River. My wife and I were there last year and it was so wonderful we just had to return.

This year I was determined to get shots of these woodpeckers on the fly–no easy task since they are small and fly quickly. Another year’s worth of experience taught me that I should pick an “active” tree and set up my tripod at the best spot.  I used my Canon 100mm-400mm lens with Canon’s 1.4X III tele-converter, giving me a focal length of 560mm. Since there was bright sun I was able to use shutter speeds of 1/2000 +.

Off for an acorn
Off for an acorn

These birds gather acorns and stuff them into rows of holes that they drilled into trees. The acorns in the California Oaks are slender, compared with their round counterparts in the East. These birds fly among live and dead trees in relatively open areas, as shown in the first photograph.

Unlike other woodpeckers, these birds congregate in a bevy so there

Transporting the acorn
Transporting an acorn

is no shortage of individuals to photograph. As a result there is a constant flow of birds gathering acorns, inserting acorns, and resting. To photograph them the trick is to keep the lens on them during the insertion of the acorn and then shoot a burst when they prepare for flight. Trying to follow them with the camera as they fly is nearly impossible with a long

Inserting an acorn
Inserting an acorn

telephoto lens. If you would like to see larger images they can be found in my on-line gallery.

Do let me know if you have had any experience photographing these birds and how you might have captured them in flight.

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