A Pair of ‘Peckers

One day last week we saw two species of woodpeckers in our oak tree, a coast live oak (quercus agrifolia). We seldom see woodpeckers, much less two different kinds on the same day.

My wife spotted a bird flitting through the oak tree. After consulting The Sibley Guide to Birds, we think it’s a female Nuttal’s woodpecker. We watched the woodpecker for a while, trying to get a good photo as it moved frequently from branch to branch, usually obscured by leaves. This woodpecker looks smaller than others we’ve seen.

Then a large bird appeared on our fence. We think it’s a female northern flicker. From Sibley, “flickers are large, distinctive woodpeckers often seen on the ground in open areas, eating ants. Their bright flight feathers and white rumps are instantly recognizable in flight.” See the “slightly downcurved tail”. Click on photos to see a larger image.

northern flicker
northern flicker

It flew up into the oak tree and sat on a high branch for a while. The next photo shows that the underside of the tail feathers are reddish, so this northern flicker is red-shafted, as you would expect for California. We’ve seen this bird during the past week or two; this was the first time our photos were clear enough to identify it.

northern flicker has reddish tail feathers
northern flicker has reddish tail feathers

This photo shows the underside of the Nuttal’s woodpecker. Its claws must be very sharp and strong to cling to a vertical surface and peck.

nuttal's woodpecker clings to branch as it pecks
Nuttal’s woodpecker clings to branch as it pecks

The coast live oak is a California native tree. It provides a wonderful habitat for wildlife, as well as a sheltering canopy for our yard and home.

I recently upgraded my long telephoto lens, replacing a Canon 100-400mm lens with the model II. The model II is great — fast autofocus and sharp images. I get more shots, my recent bird photos have a higher rate of keepers, and the images are usually sharp viewed at 1:1! The upgrade is very expensive, but it’s so much better that you wish you had done it sooner. I got a windfall check from my past employer, and it nearly paid for the lens upgrade. 🙂

While photographing bald eagles and bears at Brooks Falls last year, I chatted with a professional photographer who used the model II lens. We watched and pointed out photo opportunities for each other. One person can’t keep an eye on a bald eagle and all the bears at the same time. He really liked his lens and let me look through his camera — sharp images, even with a 1.4 tele-extender. We learn and improve through other people.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

4 thoughts on “A Pair of ‘Peckers”

  1. You seem to be doing just fine, however I will mention something that helps me at times. If you can just keep looking through your view finder and concentrating on taking the picture, then have a friend or colleague spot for you. They call out movements etc as well as watch your back it can really help. I know that I can often get sucked into a scene and miss out on other moments. You have to find the rite person who is act a help not just waffling in your ear. Just an idea. Wildlife is great though, the anticipation of getting that one unusual shot. I do enjoy it. Cool Pictures. Dan


    1. Thank you, Dan. You’re absolutely right about the benefits of a spotter who can look around and identify interesting subjects, whether these be birds, mammals, wildflowers, or architectural features. My wife does a great job of this. We learned the value of a spotter on safari, which you’re probably very familiar with, based on your rhino story.
      Photographing ephemeral subjects like wildlife or wildflowers is such an adventure. You don’t know what you’ll find, and there are techniques to improve your chances.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I could not agree with you more. I love the challenge of that one magical shot. With the Rino I was just happy to get something as ears were twitching when the shutter was running. I was just gob smacked by the moment. On land there is Bird language as well as tracking et. I am willing to take any advice you have to share. If I am taking pictures while diving, I try always take a spotter. I have had a few moments when I was lost in the lens not knowing what was swimming my way. But that’s half of it hey. Getting out there and enjoying every moment.
        Thank you for your comment, I look forward to your upcoming posts. Dan


  2. I’m with you on the goodness of capturing and expressing the behavior of an animal. Showing behavior so much more interesting than an image of the animal simply standing or sitting. If only we were there. Showing behavior and tracking animals probably depend on knowing your subject and its behaviors, and the learning takes so much time and experience. Sigh…
    One insight I can offer is that interesting birds visit suburban areas, and you can spot them if you look and listen for them. We only started looking for hawks when a neighbor asked about them. Since we became more aware, we discovered hawks, vultures, and woodpeckers at home here in Silicon Valley. An unexpected pleasure.


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