I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of winter — not because I love dressing for freezing temperatures or days with fewer than 10 hours of sunlight but because I love the solitude, sights and sounds of cold winter hikes.
From the moment I step out of my car and onto the Lake Trail at Radnor Lake State Park near Nashville, every sensory receptor seems to be heightened as I’m trying to stay warm. With each step, I hear and feel the crunch of frozen leaves beneath my boots. With each breath, I feel the chill and lower humidity in the air.
The sounds of the woods seem crisp and clear, no longer muffled by the leaves that now lie silently on the ground. Oftentimes I hear the loud rat-a-tat sound of a pileated woodpecker drilling into a distant tree. On this trip, the distinct sound attracted my attention long before I spotted him at work. His red crest finally gave away his location as he was silhouetted by winter’s monotone palette.
His red mustache extending back from his beak indicates this is a male. The stripe is absent on females. These birds are monogamous, and both parents share the duties of raising their young. Their nesting activity will ramp up in the next few weeks as they search for hollows in trees that they can expand for nest sites.
I observed this particular bird for about 20 minutes as he banged away in search of insects and larvae. Generally, these woodpeckers are shy and will fly away as soon as they feel threatened or are startled. I kept my distance of about 50 feet and used a telephoto lens with a 2x converter to get a close shot without disturbing him.
Selecting a telephoto lens also helped blur the background, the shallow depth of field allowing the subject to stand out. The light was low that day, so I did choose a high ISO to allow for a shutter speed that was fast enough to stop the action. That setting also prevented a blurred image from any camera movement as I shot handheld and not on a tripod.
The woodpecker was about all I saw that day. I appreciated the time to myself in the woods and the time spent observing one of nature’s creatures. I also enjoyed a large hot chocolate on the way home as my own reward.