Bird Photography without Birds

Anything can happen in life, especially nothing.–Michel Houellebecq, Platform

Sapsucker holes, Stephen F. Austin State Park, Texas
Sapsucker Holes in Vine, Stephen F. Austin State Park (SFASP), Texas. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are common in the bottomland forests of SFASP. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Lately interesting bird sightings have been as rare as intelligent discourse during a presidential election or quality programing on network TV. The last few weeks of iffy weather and striking out on scouting expeditions to places we’ve never visited before (or perhaps only visited a time or two years ago) and seeing little in the way of birds got me thinking: Hey! I don’t need any birds to do bird photography! I can just take pictures of where birds have been! It also got me reminiscing about the all the other times out birding when we saw nothing!

Woodpecker ravaged tree, Minnesota
Hope you didn’t need this tree for anything: Woodpecker-ravaged conifer tree, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin. Theoretically eight species of woodpeckers inhabit this woods in summer, but we saw exactly zero. This woods seemed sparsely populated with birds in general. There were plenty of mosquitos, though! Canon EOS 7D/100mm f/2.8L Macro. High-speed synchronized fill-flash.
Acorn Woodpecker Larder, Portal, Arizona
Acorn Woodpecker Larder in Oak Tree, Portal, Arizona. Acorn Woodpeckers stash acorns in little niches that they chisel into oak trees. It’s all about planning for an uncertain future! It’s neat to watch Acorn Woodpeckers insert the acorn into its niche and hammer it into place. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Of course, other than abandoned nests and footprints in the mud (or droppings on a post), if you’re looking for signs of past avian activity you’re pretty much looking for woodpecker handiwork. Woodpeckers are among my all time favorite birds and have been chiseling holes in trees for at least the past 25 million years, since the late Oligocene Epoch. I used to think that petrified wood was a pretty mundane fossil until I started reading about ancient woodpecker holes—now I’ll be checking those hunks of fossil wood and hoping! Incidentally, there is lots of petrified wood around the Texas Gulf Coast, but being mostly Eocene (56-34 mya) it’s way too old for evidence of woodpecker activity, though. Pity.

Bark peeled by American Three-toed Woodpecker, Beaver Meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Conifer Bark Peeled by American Three-toed Woodpecker, Beaver Meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Seeing a Three-toed Woodpecker actually flaking off some bark would have made my day. These shy, rare birds are looking for bark beetle larvae. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Finally, while watching a Hairy Woodpecker chisel holes in the side of some guy’s house in Colorado last summer, I just had to admire the panache and devil-may-care attitude. Never mind that the hapless owner probably toiled thirty years to pay off the mortgage: let’s blast some holes! There may be tasty grubs inside those 2×4’s! Like City of Houston road crews, hammering away and leaving a lunar landscape behind, woodpeckers work their magic and are on their way!

Female Pileated Woodpecker, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
It’s Like They Just Don’t Care: Female Pileated Woodpecker, Olympic National Park, Washington. This bird showed little remorse for knocking gaping holes in a wooden retaining wall at Kalaloch Beach while looking for carpenter ants and beetle larvae. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

©2016 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.