I was never one to go out to hunker down in the brush an hour before dawn in the cold, waiting for a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker. My birdwatching habits started when my preschooler brought home a birdhouse he had built at the home improvement store with his dad, and we suction-cupped it to the kitchen window. He was disappointed that no birds came to roost, so we started putting out seed, first in homemade feeders, and then commercial feeders, as we started the inevitable battle with the squirrels. This year, we added four feeders to our deck, not including the birdseed ornaments strung from a wire.
I have become the ornithological equivalent of the crazy cat lady.
I have learned that it is far easier to have the birds come to me than to chase them down in the wild. I don’t have a large-aperture megazoom lens, the hand-eye coordination, and the biceps of steel necessary to train that thing on a bird in flight, track it with my autofocus point glued to its eye, and adjust my exposure as I fire off eight to ten frames per second. What I do have is a tripod, a wireless remote, and the willingness to transform my deck into an avian refueling center.
I have two feeders right against the window. You can’t really shoot the birds at the feeders there, because they are too close to the window. When the birds are in focus, the window is also, and you can see every smudge, no matter how much I clean it. Also, the glass just doesn’t have the optical clarity of a lens or even lens filter. However, the feeders do attract the birds close to the windows where I have my camera mounted, and I can shoot them as they wait for their turn at the feeder. We have a tree right off the edge of the deck, as well as bare branches stuck into flower pots to give the birds a natural looking place to perch as they stand in queue.
The lens needs to be as close to the window as possible, and I try to keep my lens hood on to minimize window reflections.
Then after talking to a friend who lives close to a nature center, I was suddenly convinced that I needed a suet feeder, because woodpeckers like them, and what is an avian feeding center without woodpeckers? I did some research on cage feeders with tail props, but what appealed to me most was the natural log feeders, because they were more photogenic. My sister graciously provided logs that she rescued from a yard waste pile on one of her walks. Then my husband drilled the holes and mounted a wire across our deck to hang it.
The chickadees were pretty quick to embrace the new feeder, as were the juncos. But no woodpeckers came at first.
Then we had regular visits from white-breasted nuthatches and titmice, but still no woodpeckers.
Finally, on Day 4, we caught a glimpse of a woodpecker. The woodpeckers have been regular fixtures ever since.
I know that the hairy woodpecker is larger, with a longer beak, but I still have trouble telling them from downy woodpeckers. Presumably woodpeckers have no trouble telling each other apart.
I like to keep my camera mounted on the tripod prefocused and framed around one of the holes. I adjust the exposure to the positive side, between 1.0 and 2.0 EV, because the feeder is often more shaded than the yard in the background. When a bird comes, I will fire the remote from my pocket if it is posing nicely. I can sometimes sneak up to the camera and make slight adjustments without scaring the birds, but not always. Our woodpeckers are pretty focused eaters, but the titmice are pretty skittish.
Overall, the log feeder seems to be quite the culinary attraction, and I’m going to have to make more suet.