Thursday, February 25, 2010


This past Sunday I hiked up the ridge to try to locate the pair of Pileated Woodpeckers that I hear or see each day.  I also have been checking the forest deadfalls for traces of the Three-toed Woodpecker's work. 

The three toed woodpeckers are located in the northern sections of Minnesota.  They inhabit areas that include coniferous forests and birch trees.  I have seen them on both, but mainly the dead spruce deadfalls.  Both the American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Black-backed Woodpecker, lack the inner hind toe on their feet.  They enjoy the deadfalls, dying birch and spruce trees; foraging on the insects and spruce bark beetles in the autumn and winter.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker breeds from northern Alaska, Canada and the far reaches of America's northern border states.  Northeastern  Minnesota is one of the fortunate areas that this woodpecker calls home, as well as his cousin the Black-backed.

As I was walking along one of my trails in the Superior National Forest, I heard a different pecking rhythm and torque.  This may seem strange to some of you, but I have learned to discern the different pecking sounds of the woodpeckers.  It is difficult to explain, but it is one of those things you have to be there to understand.  

I backtracked to the deadfall where I heard the the sounds coming from.  Sure enough, buried in the entanglement of spruce boughs was a beautiful male Black-backed Woodpecker.  The yellow dollop atop his head, was glowing as bright as the morning star.  He was working the dead spruce and paid little attention to the intruder peering at him through the branches.  I call these medium sized woodpeckers the "blue collar woodpeckers", because of their unceasing focus on the job at hand.

I had my 400 lens attached and since you have to be farther than 11.5 feet to focus, I had to switch to my 70-200.  The little woodpecker never missed a beat while I snapped on the short lens.

The most difficult problem crawling through a deadfall, is not the entanglement of branches, but adequate light.   Most past experiences photographing the elusive three toed, is dealing with lousy light.  This afternoon and towards the end of February, the sun is at that magic angle.  Meaning, high enough to shine over my shoulder, directly on the "golden dollop."  It was a magnificent shoot, lying on branches snapping machine gun bursts of photos.  The little woodpecker put on a royal performance.

I stayed with him until he worked his way from the tip of the downed spruce to the tangled roots... he chirped his strange little call and flew into the sunset. 

"Even the lonely woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head."  Joe Marcucci