On day five of our recent Montana camping trip we’d heard of a Ferruginous Hawk nest that might be photographed at eye level close to a road so I decided to drive the two hours required to make the attempt. On the way we investigated a favorite area from previous trips to see what might turn up.
We were parked along a heavily used dirt road in a National Forest on the edge of a steep bank below us as we photographed Pine Siskins and other songbirds and had noticed several holes of varying sizes in some half-dead Aspens rising out of the deep gully to our left but they seemed to be unoccupied so we mostly ignored them. But a while later I glanced down at one of the holes again and noticed that it seemed to have disappeared or changed shape and color. Closer inspection revealed the reason for the change – the hole was now filled by a gorgeous Northern Flicker looking back at us with one big eye.
1/200, f/10, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, natural light
I was very close. Too close, since I still had my teleconverter attached but of course I took the shot anyway. This male (red malar under eye) watched us from the hole for a few minutes and then flew off. We continued to photograph other birds in the general area as we moved up and down the road.
1/800, f/10, ISO 640, 500 f/4, natural light
A half hour later the flicker returned and watched us with interest for a few minutes before it…
1/640, f/6.3, ISO 640, 500 f/4, natural light
returned to the same hole as before.
Despite the regular traffic and flying dust along this road and the multiple holes in the Aspens in the area we began to wonder if this bird was actually nesting in this one so we moved on in case we might be making it nervous. Both sexes incubate but the male does so at night and the female by day so perhaps the female was in the nest and the male was checking up on her.
I was very happy to get these shots. Northern Flickers are common near my home but I find them to be uncooperative and mostly unapproachable and up to this point I had only a handful of images of the species that I liked and even those were in an urban setting. I much prefer a more natural setting like this.