Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in flight


Male Exits Nest

In late spring of 2023 I was fortunate to find a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest along a forest road that was close to the road and received good light for the first half of the day. And the line of flight to the nest hole was very close to perpendicular to the direct line of light. In other words, my shadow line pointed perpendicular to the line of flight, and the birds flying that line would stay within the plane of focus. So, I could try for flight images. At times direct sunlight or hazed sunlight could be used, as well as very bright cloudy conditions.

I set up my van on the opposite side of the road, just off the road, and that was the correct distance to use my 600mm lens. I set 2 legs of my tripod outside my open driver’s side window and 1 leg inside. I adjusted the position of my van as lighting angle changed. I did this while adults were away from the nest, working quickly.

Using a cable release, I was able to prefocus on the tree, and fire. As long as I stayed inside my van the adults paid no attention to me.

The adults flew in with all kinds of insects and sometimes a huckleberry. They came in often and sometimes entered the nest, then left with a fecal sack covered in wood chips. Sometimes an adult would feed the young by reaching its head into the hole, and then fly away. That flight away was very sudden and often missed.

Neither adult landed directly on the hole. They repeatedly landed below and to the back side of the hole, then climbed to the hole. If they flew in from either side of the road to my right, which allowed incoming flight images, I would change focus on the tree to find the focal plane of the changing flight line. With tripod head locked, I moved the focusing point with the “joystick”.

Finding the correct focal plane took some trial and error, but with many visits from the adults it was possible because they always landed in the same spot. They also tended to forage for food in one area for a while and make many visits. So, if that area was on one side of the road I would pre-focus for the appropriate flight line. It worked most of the time.

1 – male

2 – female

3 – male

4 – male

5 – female

6 – male with huckleberry

7 – male

8 – female

9 – male

10 – male

11 – female

12 – male