Portrait of a Hairy Woodpecker

February 16, 2019

     Anyone who is familiar with my wildlife photography from here in the Wind River Canyon, knows of my obsession with trying to get "bird portraits."  It's really about trying to make these magical creatures more accessible.  My hope is that young people will make a connection and, love and protect Mother Nature the way we all should.  Plus, I love a good challenge, and this one proved to be a real pain in my butt.

     To create a portrait of a wild bird presents many obstacles, the least of which is the technology used to make the image.  Every species of wild bird is a learning experience for me.  I have many reference books and I always use a famous online encyclopedia; as in all things, knowledge is the key to understanding.  But you must put that new information to good use, which in the case of the male Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), turned out to be much more difficult than I first thought it would be.

     Winters in Wyoming can be a very difficult place to photograph anything, especially a woodpecker that is well known for disliking humans.  The Downy Woodpecker looks amazingly like the Hairy Woodpecker, except for size they are very much look-a-likes, yet are not related; a process called convergent evolution.  The Hairy is much bigger in every way and when you've seen them both it becomes easy to differentiate the species; but the Hairy doesn't like people.

     I'd go out, I'd come in, I'd freeze my butt, I'd go out, again and again.  Observe, enjoy, freeze my pecans off.  At times it seemed like both male and female were playing some kind of hide-and-go-seek with rules I didn't understand; since last Fall!  Monday afternoon, the 11th of February, while playing this shy, hiding game with me, I finally got some sharp images I could really work with.  Now, the magic of 21st century computer post-production. Hairy Woodpecker male, WyomingPortrait of a Hairy WoodpeckerPortrait of a Hairy Woodpecker male imaged in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming.      Don't be afraid to edit out the extraneous parts of the image.  Keep it interesting and of course the "rule-of-thirds" should apply, or maybe not!  Break some rules if it moves you, which is what art is all about.  What does your picture say, what do you want it to say?  If you like it, that's what is most important.  It's easy to overdue things like saturation and sharpness, but again, it's yours.  Lecture over.......

     A few years ago, I was using one of my favorite "hides" in our cabin, when I spotted a mother Hairy Woodpecker feeding and teaching one of her sons.  It was unexpected and a real surprise; it was early morning in the Wind River Canyon.  A real beautiful moment that I was wildly lucky to witness and image. Hairy Woodpecker, Mother & Son in the Wind River Canyon,WyomingHairy Woodpecker, Mother & Son-Wind River Canyon,WyomingHairy Woodpeckers in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.      We still have a lot of snow here in the canyon and a lot of birds that rely on us here.  North and south of us the snow is practically non-existent.  I am still looking for a hint of springtime; the Goldfinches are beginning to turn their colors yellow.  Below is a photograph of the notoriously friendly Downy Woodpecker for your comparison. Downy Woodpecker_female, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.Downy Woodpecker_female, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.Downy Woodpecker photographed in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming.      Look a lot alike?  Everyone thinks so, too.  Notice the much smaller beak on the Downy.  The different beak sizes means they will not compete for the same food source.  Even males and females have different sized beaks, for the same reason.  Both the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are found most anywhere there are forests----where they are left, that is.  

     Thank you for your time and reading my true wildlife stories from the Wind River Canyon.  All content is protected by international copyright laws; hopefully.

Michael John Balog, Wind River Canyon Blog, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. 


"I want people to fall in love with Mother Nature, not wonder what happened to her."









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