I had just loaded my car and was about to depart for my journey to west Tennessee last Friday when I heard the call of a pileated woodpecker. It is certainly not the first time I've heard this call in the yard, but this one seemed close by.
The situation gave me pause. I had a five hour drive ahead of me but could I pass up this opportunity to at least see if I could find him? I put everything on hold, retrieved my camera from the car and began scanning the nearby hardwoods. And my efforts were rewarded.Aided by his calls and movement, I located him on a long horizontal limb, well out of range of my 300 mm lens, but not so far that I can't give you some soft images of this beautiful bird, the largest of our local woodpeckers, measuring 16-19 inches with a wingspan of 26-30 inches. There was enough detail in the images for me to make out the red in his black mustache stripe and you can see his red forehead, both of which distinguish him from the females who have a dark forehead and no red in their mustache.
I could see wood chips flying as I watched through the lens, but this was not so easy to capture. His movements were not the lingering, steady pounding of the sapsucker but rather quick jabs intermixed with scooting, so that my only chance of capturing him were his moments of pause. He moved around the limb with agility and hung beneath it working with the same ease as he hammered it from above. According to Cornell, the pileated woodpecker makes deep rectangular shaped excavations and often pries off slivers of wood to uncover ants.
As I stood photographing him, I heard an exchange of calls and when he took flight, another pileated woodpecker followed him. It was a treat to see his wing span, the white feathers beneath his wings and his long slender neck as he held his head upright in flight.
Whether this was our resident male and his mate, I can only speculate. Pileated woodpeckers maintain a strong pair bond and live on territory in TN year-round. But we also have many visitors that winter over or pass through and residents are said to tolerate the presence of a few visitors in their territory during wintering months.
For the Love of It...
...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.