Photographic Frustrations – Red-naped Sapsuckers in the Targhee National Forest

/, Clark County, Frustrations in bird photography, Idaho, Red-naped Sapsuckers, Targhee National Forest/Photographic Frustrations – Red-naped Sapsuckers in the Targhee National Forest

One year ago today I experienced one of the two most frustrating days in my entire time of being a bird photographer while photographing Red-naped Sapsuckers in the Targhee National Forest of Idaho. The lighting conditions were especially challenging for me, I’d never had to use -4.0 exposure compensation to stop the whites from blowing out or had to change my exposure compensation so rapidly because of the extremes in lighting conditions when a cloud would float by overhead and then back again when it moved away, that happened over and over again.

Red-naped Sapsucker chick begging for food, Targhee National Forest, Clark County, IdahoRed-naped Sapsucker chick begging for food – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/3200, ISO 800, -1.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The sun beat down on me and I felt dizzy at times because the air wasn’t moving and it was so hot that my phone that had been sitting in the bright sun next to me alerted me with a warning message that it was too hot and needed to be shut down and cooled off. I had to turn it off and put it in the shade for more than 20 minutes to cool it down before I could even turn it on again.

The action at the nesting cavity was hot and fast as the adults came in to feed the chick begging at the opening of the nest and most of the time I was struggling with exposure issues, feeling disoriented because I was too hot inside the vehicle due to the sun shining directly on me, sweating so much I had to keeping drying my hands on my jeans so my fingertips weren’t wet and slippery and still trying to keep an eye on the birds as they flew in. It was dreadful and I didn’t enjoy myself at all which is a huge part of why I love bird photography, for the peace & enjoyment I normally feel. Of the more than one thousand images I took I only kept fifteen and that was extremely disappointing.

The next day wasn’t as frustrating for me though and I did relax, enjoy myself and took some lovely photos of the Red-naped Sapsuckers at their nesting tree. I was excited to finally be able to photograph the chick begging for food from the male sapsucker, I’d been wanting photos like this since the first time I saw and photographed a Red-naped Sapsucker.

Adult male Red-naped Sapsucker in a defensive pose, Targhee National Forest, Clark County, IdahoAdult male Red-naped Sapsucker in a defensive pose – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/4000, ISO 800, -1.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Watching the behavior of the adult Red-naped Sapsuckers around the nesting cavity was fascinating to me and being able to photograph that behavior the next day when my frustration level had dropped was fulfilling. This male sapsucker was in a defensive pose because it had seen another male sapsucker in the tree above the nesting cavity.

I hope I never have another day photographing birds that was as frustrating as a year ago today was.

Life is good.



  1. Pepe Forte July 12, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Managing to get the right lighting under such difficult conditions was truly a test of wills between you and Mother Nature. But you prevailed. These are terrific pics. Thanks Mia.

  2. Ken Schneider July 12, 2018 at 3:50 am

    Very nice images, but I think you were risking dangerous heat exhaustion. During winter we get the Yellow-bellied species here in south Florida, but the majority are immature and females which do not show much red coloration.

  3. Elephants Child July 11, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Mad dogs, Englishmen and bird photograhers go out in the midday sun. And yes, I do know it was probably considerably earlier.
    Glad that you avoided (just) heat stroke. And had a better day to follow.

  4. Marty K July 11, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Great shots of a demanding chick and a patient parent. Thanks for braving the heat and the frustration.

  5. Patty Chadwick July 11, 2018 at 8:18 am

    You did it anyway!!!

  6. April Olson July 11, 2018 at 7:37 am

    I found photographing in Australia very hard. The canopy is very tall, the rain forests are very dark with very bright streaks of light. I had a hard time using my 100-400 telephoto because the aperture would not allow enough light in. My ISO was all the way to 1600, I had to always play with my EV settings to get a shot. I don’t know how nature photographers get such good shots in the jungles!

  7. Liz Cormack July 11, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Great photos despite the frustration.

  8. Laura July 11, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Beautiful photos!

  9. Patty July 11, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Life is good indeed. I hope you never have another day that frustrating! Great photos Mia!

  10. Bob mcpherson July 11, 2018 at 6:03 am

    Some days are just frustrating.. good photos tho.

  11. Kathy July 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

    Terrific photos! I love both of them…well done!

Comments are closed.