Targhee National Forest Red-naped Sapsucker Feeding Young

/, Clark County, Idaho, Red-naped Sapsuckers, Targhee National Forest/Targhee National Forest Red-naped Sapsucker Feeding Young

Red-naped Sapsucker landing at the nesting cavity with preyRed-naped Sapsucker landing at the nesting cavity with prey  – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1000, ISO 500, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Jackpot and frustrations… I’ll explain the jackpot first and get to the frustrations later about the Targhee National Forest Red-naped Sapsucker feeding its young.  My regular viewers may remember that on a recent post about a Red-naped Sapsucker in the Uinta Mountains that I had hoped to see sapsucker chicks sticking their heads out of the nesting cavity but that didn’t happen and that the nest was in a bad location to photograph.

While I have been photographing up here in Idaho and southwestern Montana I also hoped to locate an active nesting cavity and wasn’t having much luck but after I remembered seeing the sapsuckers in a location in the Targhee National Forest we went there and hit the jackpot. Not only does the tree have a Red-naped Sapsucker nest it also has noisy, hungry chicks inside the cavity so I have been able to photograph the adults coming in to feed their young. An added bonus is a wren has a nesting cavity in the tree too.

These photos were taken two evenings ago. I was tickled to photograph the adult as it landed on the tree with a bill full of caterpillar type prey. This image is full frame and I in the interest of full disclosure I will say that there was a shadow I didn’t like on the trunk of the aspen that I didn’t like so I used a “healing tool” in Photoshop to get rid of it. I don’t normally like to do that much post processing but in this case I felt it was worth it. I didn’t have enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the wings but I found I liked the motion blur in this frame and the landing pose.

Red-naped Sapsucker with prey at its nesting cavityRed-naped Sapsucker with prey at its nesting cavity  – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1250, ISO 500, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The one “problem”, if you can call it that, is that there is a dead branch sticking out from the trunk of the aspen just behind the nesting cavity that some people might find distracting. Personally I don’t find it to be a problem, it is in the shadows plus it is far enough behind the sapsucker that I don’t feel it is distracting or that it takes anything away from the images I took. This is nature after all and not an elaborate set up shot that some photographers devote their time to creating but I don’t do set up shots. Do you all find that branch distracting?

Last evening we were parked at a slightly different angle in the vehicle in an attempt to hide the branch behind the aspen trunk and I have never, ever been so damned frustrated while photographing birds because of it. The only time photographing that even comes close to the level of frustration I felt last evening was years ago when my tripod head malfunctioned out in the wilderness and wouldn’t move the way it should have.

I should also mention that the light went from dull because of clouds to very bright because of the sun so I had to change my exposure quite often to have enough shutter speed to try to capture the adults flying in. When it was bright I had to have my exposure set to -4 so that the whites in the tree trunk and the sapsuckers plumage didn’t completely blow out. I didn’t have that much of a problem the first evening we photographed them. When the clouds hid the sun I had to quickly adjust the exposure or the birds would have been too dark.

I also had to keep changing my ISO to get enough shutter speed for movement of the birds at the nesting cavity.

The adults come in with food for the chicks irregularly so you can’t figure out the timing of when they will arrive. They don’t make noise when they are flying in like the Williamson’s Sapsuckers do either.

The frustrations I had last evening ruined the evening for me and the images I came away with were crappy and they will end up in my delete bin. If I go back this evening I may have to go rogue and get outside of the vehicle and use my tripod to get the angle I want of the cavity and to get the chicks head sticking out of it. I do not want a repeat of last evening because the frustrations took all of the joy I usually feel while photographing birds away. Last night didn’t work for me at all.

Red-naped Sapsucker nesting cavity treeRed-naped Sapsucker nesting cavity tree  – Nikon D810, f8, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 20mm, natural light

Bird photography isn’t easy, it takes patience, skills, knowledge of the subject and their behaviors. I love it.

Life is good.


  1. Pepe Forte July 15, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I agree…what branch? Great shots and narrative regardless of any distractions. Thanks Mia.

  2. Mia McPherson July 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you all for your comments, that branch doesn’t bother me.

    Bill, I use the D810 in DX mode with the 18-200mm attached then I don’t have a problem with vignetting. The photo above is straight from the RAW file, no cropping, just resized and sharpened for the web.

  3. Elephants Child July 12, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    I had to scroll back up to the image to even SEE the dead branch. Not distracting at all.
    And what a glorious image. And sight to see.

  4. Bill Lindner July 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I’ll second Liz’s comment.

    I noticed you used a DX 18-200 lens on your FF 810 body to take the picture of the nesting tree; how did you handle the vignetting?

    Enjoy Montana.

  5. Patty Chadwick July 12, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Very interesting lighting…glad you found another good nesting tree, although the one chopped down by some moron was a real winner….

  6. Laura Culley July 12, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Nope, don’t find that branch distracting at all. Life isn’t perfect–it’s often messy! That’s just the way it is. Yes, background matters, but the branch isn’t sticking out of the bird’s head or anything like that. To my eye, which is admittedly not that of a perfectionist photographer, the branch doesn’t matter in the least. My eye focuses completely on the bird and the action.

  7. Liz Cormack July 12, 2017 at 7:07 am

    What dead branch? Didn’t even notice. My eyes were glued to the gorgeous photo of the Red-naped Sapsucker.

  8. John Harrington July 12, 2017 at 6:07 am

    The branch in the top photo isn’t distracting because the wing flare covers much/most of the branch. In the middle photo I find the branch to be more confusing than distracting. Is it a branch, part of the bird’s far wing, etc?
    The shot of the nesting tree adds depth/context to the first two photos and makes me wonder how a collage of all three might look

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