Monday, May 6, 2013


Hello everyone! I know it has been a VERY long time since my last blog.  As most of you know, we have spent the past 2 years building a house and relocating from the mid-west to the southwest.  The house build and subsequent relocation became my full time job and my photography skills were focused on documenting the building stages of our new home.  Now that we are settling in, I am back to finding time to what I love most: serious photography!
This morning I was out taking a walk and passed by an empty desert lot close to where I live.  On this lot is a tall saguaro cactus that had a ton of bird activity in and around it.
When I got home from my walk, I packed my canon 50D sporting my 100-400mm lens, and a pair of binoculars, got in the car and drove back to the lot to check it out.  At first, I just observed the activity around the cactus: European Starlings were darting in and out of multiple holes and a pair of Gila Woodpeckers obviously had a nest inside one of the openings.
I began to shoot images, with the goal of capturing birds in flight.  I find this to be such a challenge that I am willing to spend hours at a time achieving that one perfect shot. The early morning spring time bird activity I was witnessing was amazing! I observed the pair of woodpeckers taking turns exiting and entering one of the holes on the giant saguaro, so I focused my attention on that hole.
This pair of woodpeckers made their nest on the north side of the cactus, (smart, because it shades them from the hot desert sun) causing me to bump up my ISO to 1600.  This helped me achieve desired shutter speed and a greater aperture in order to capture them in flight when leaving their nest.  Unfortunately, images from the 50D are very noisy at ISOs greater then 400, but I was willing to make the trade off, hoping noise reduction software would help improve the resulting noise.
I was really getting into a groove but after about 40 minutes of shooting, I ran out of CF card! (see? I am very out of 'photography preparedness practice' after being a casual shooter for the past 2 years...)  so, I went back home, grabbed a larger CF card, an extra battery and my 1.4X teleconverter.  Now I was prepared.
I played with various compositions using the 100-400mm lens with the 1.4X converter, anticipating the exit of the birds from the nest.  I had the lens pre-focused on the nest hole and waited for the action.  Suddenly, there was a raucous of bird activity and a repetitive high pitched screeching sound!  The starlings were invading the woodpecker nest attacking the babies inside!  I will never forget the sound of that  helpless baby bird screeching for its life! The attack lasted only a few seconds and luckily, it was unsuccessful.
While my goal today was to photograph birds in flight, (and I am sure I got a few keepers in the 2 hours I spent there) it was the short 10 second burst of activity that made my morning!
Here is a photo of the saguaro cactus that is housing all the bird activity.  I took this image with my iPhone.  And below are some of the frames from the attack sequence. Clicking on each photo will enlarge it for better viewing. Until next time...


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