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Lesser-spotted woodpecker

Lesser-spotted woodpeckers are not so much rare birds as difficult to see, spending their time high up in trees out of sight. I have only ever come across three nests, the first of which I photographed by putting a 20 foot alloy scaffolding tower up. It was a lot of work over several days and the only day I got to actually take pictures it rained incessantly. This in the days of Kodachrome 64 meant flash was the only option. Looking back it is amazing that I got any pictures at all, but they were actually quite good and I was pleased to do a species that many never do.

This year I got to photograph one in Bulgaria, courtesy of Spatia Wildlife, that was only 1.6 metres high in a fence post and completely out in the open. They are very tame birds usually and a hide was unnecessary. We were a group of 5 on the tour and could stand very close out in the open, without the birds being concerned. As they were still feeding small young both adults would go completely inside the nest, which meant when they emerged they always flew straight out and away. A great opportunity for flight shots. I tried two methods to try and get them sharp. First I manually focused just in front of the hole and guessed whether the bird would go right or left. They almost never went in a straight line. The success rate was low, but as the birds fed every 5 minutes or less I had plenty of chances. Then I changed to servo focus and kept the focus points on the tree using all the focus points or ring of fire, waiting for the bird to stick its head out of the hole. As it launched into flight I pressed the button at 10 frames per second and hoped. The success rate went up. Once again the EOS 1d Mk1v showed its fantastic ability to track a flying bird. The Mk3 bodies would never have managed this.


Male Lesser-spotted woodpecker in dull light which was better than strong sun. 800 iso. 1/200th at F6.3. Auto exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v



Male Lesser-spotted woodpecker. 800 iso. 1/2500th at f7.1. Manual exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v



Female Lesser-spotted woodpecker. 800 iso 1/3200th at f7.1. Manual exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v


I use 400 iso as my default setting and can see no improvement in noise levels by going any slower. The difference in noise between 400 and 800 iso is slight and I do not hesitate to use it. I switched off the ability to increment the iso settings in 1/3rds in the custom function settings. Why do I need 640 iso? I just go from 400 to 800 to 1600.  Shutter speeds of around 1/2500th catch most birds in flight and for that I needed strong sun in the early morning or evening. When the bird was just perched at the nest entrance however softer duller light was preferable.

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