Whenever I hear the distinctive tapping of a pileated woodpecker during a run or hike I stop to look up. If I’m lucky while scanning the trees, I spot the swath of red cresting their heads as they drill for insects. Earlier this spring one flew directly across my path as I ran, disappearing low and silent into the woods.
The largest woodpeckers in North America, pileated woodpeckers are so iconic that Woody Woodpecker copied their look. While no longer rare, at the size of a crow they are impressive to observe. I’ve wanted to capture some shots of these big birds for ages, but most of my sightings are while running, without a camera.
Then, earlier this month, after another round of rain-snow, I headed out to amble around the backyard with my camera. There I found two pileated woodpeckers near the pine trees at the back corner. Not long after, several downy woodpeckers appeared nearby, not to mention the ubiquitous black-capped chickadees and American robins who had come out to eat after the rain. One would think I’d be pleased.
And I was. With camera in hand, here was my chance.
But, the pileated woodpeckers kept disappearing into distant shadows, and when a downy woodpecker landed on the tree next to me there were too many branches between us, and the light was weird whenever I looked up, and as soon as I found a bird in my viewfinder and focused it would fly to yet another spot with more branches of obstruction…and ahhhhhh! I was getting increasingly frustrated and impatient with myself, with the trees (so many branches), with these flighty birds who wouldn’t sit still for just a moment, please.
I knew I was being ridiculous. I felt ridiculous. I could appreciate the woodpeckers and the moment without taking a perfect picture, right? But these birds were right there, and I was missing my opportunity. Instead of observing the scene I was fortunate to be part of, I impatiently wanted the birds—so close!—to play their parts in the scene I imagined. C’mon, guys.
After meandering around, figuratively banging my own hard head against the trees, I took a breath and stopped. We’d had large numbers of robins visiting daily, so I decided to take a few practice shots of the cute one perched right above my head. To pause and hit reset.
With my woodpecker blinders on, this little robin had escaped my notice. But he was right there all along—steadfastly facing spring’s cold, wet, and wind after long travels. Probably wondering what was the deal with the crazy lady walking in circles and staring upwards.
I started to calm down, look around, and broaden my view. Two geese flew overhead. So much was happening, if I just paused to see it and be in this moment. I admired the Canadian pair in flight, part of a shared landscape, and then thought, geez, I didn’t even take a picture.
Patience. It’s still a work in progress.