Monday, September 17, 2012

Graveyard Greens

Green Woodpeckers are a difficult species to photograph for a number of reasons. They are a bird, even as juveniles, that are very wary of people and will fly off long before you have got remotely close to them either on foot or in a car. Often you may see one perched on the side of a tree but as you get closer they disappear around the back of the trunk out of view. Photographing Green Woodpeckers can be a frustrating pastime and is made all the more difficult by the fact that they are fairly uncommon in my local area. The main site I know they visit regularly is an old graveyard and this is where I have managed to get the majority of my photographs.
Graveyards and cemeteries provide an oasis for wildlife in urban areas and therefore some opportunities for the photographer. The frequent visitors generally make the wildlife more easily approach as they become accustomed to people, except of course for Green Woodpeckers.

There are a few points to consider when taking photographs at these sites. You need to have a good deal of respect and sensitivity for the purpose of the place and why people are visiting. I always time my visits for the very beginning or end of the day, the 'graveyard shift' as I call it, which is better for photographic light quality and wildlife activity. Usually my visits are from first light and often I have finished my session as the first people are starting to arrive to pay their respects to the departed loved ones. Also where possible I tend to use areas that are where possible at distance from graves, particularly new ones, and never photograph around any people.
It is easy to see why Green Woodpeckers like these sites as the regularly cut grass and disturbed soils allow easy feeding on an abundance of their primary prey, ants. However, given their green colouration they are not always easy to spot as they spend most of the time on the ground and often I find them by homing in on their distinctive 'yaffling' calls.
This adult male bird was feeding on a line of ants running up a kerb. If you look carefully you can see there are a couple of ants on the birds beak and shoulder.

I decided that a possible time when photography success may be increased with this tricky species is when the adults were still feeding their recently fledged young in the mid-summer period. My thoughts being that the distraction of foraging for the young may allow an easier approach, this proved to be partly the case. The photographs in this post are the accumulation of several evening sessions of photography.

I only encountered the male and two juveniles during these sessions, with no sight of the female at all. The male birds are distinguished by the red through their 'moustach'. Of course photographing in a graveyard does produce some images with some less than conventional perches. The stones that mean so much to us, to the birds are just convenient places to sit.

Hopefully the absence of the female means that she did not expire from the rigours of breeding or has not fallen prey to the large female sparrowhawk that frequently hunts the graveyard. These few short sessions proved to be my most successful for this species to date and I learnt a great deal which will hopefully go someway to help in the future, but knowing the difficulties of Green Woodpeckers, I am just being optimistic. With the juveniles now dispersed the adult male appears to have reverted to his old ways of being nearly impossible to approach. There is no doubt though it was a real pleasure to watch them and put some in front of the camera for a change, particularly as they are such strikingly beautiful birds.

I will finish off this post with a couple of images, firstly of one of the speckled blue-eyed juveniles.
and lastly the juvenile expectantly waiting for its next ant meal from the adult.


Dina J said...

These are amazing! We get the ole boring red bellies and pileateds at our local cemetery. The green woodpecker has beautiful colors.

Nancy J said...

Your photos, and your sensitivity in the graveyard, both 100% and more. I wish others were so thoughtful.but a lovely place full of memories, sadness and joy in a life remebered.The photos as they perch on the stones are perfect, and I am so sure any family would be very proud to know that beautiful bird posed right there for a stunning photo. Greetings from Jean. p.s. how far away were you from the birds?

Barbara said...

Wonderful shots. His face doesn't change much - sort of startled poker face.

Phillip Standfield said...

Just found your website. Stunning pictures (if only mine were half as good)Makes me want to get out and improve my pictures. Great text along with the pictures it does really make the pictures better with a bit of info about them. Keep on posting

Phillip Standfield said...

I have just come across your blog. Stunning pictures althrough but perhaps Hungary just nicks it. The text makes the pictures better because of the info I will be coming back alot to see your updates. makes me want to get out and improve my pictures. Keep posting

Christian said...

I love these. The best for me is the juvenile with father.

joanca bs said...

amazing shots near a ''cementerio''
greetings from my blog

Laura Delegal - Leroy Photography said...

Such amazing shots. Our woodpeckers are very shy too, but they usually don't come close enough to us until mid-winter when they are looking for seeds or pecans at the feeder. Thanks for such great tips too. First thing on my list, a 500mm lens. :D

Jann said...

Wow, such stunning, beautiful photos of a bird that's totally new to me! I love it when I am introduced to a new species (new to me) by another birder through their Blog! These shots are esp. fabulous because, as you say, they're of a bird that isn't photographer-friendly. Ok, what bird truly is?! But some are notably more difficult than others!


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