I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot of photos of Gila Woodpeckers on Saguaro Cacti from the Gilbert Water Ranch, but I’m not about to stop taking more photos of them there. These woodpeckers use the Saguaro as a place to nest, by creating cavities in the sides of the cactus that are used by a variety of birds, and as a favorite food source when the fruit at the top ripens.
There’s a nice stand of these Saguaros just off the main parking lot so I always get a chance to observe the activity here before I begin my 2-3 hour walkabout on the trails around the ponds. When the light is right it is hard to resist some shots.
There are a few challenges to deal with:
- the early morning light is soft and warm, but there’s not a lot of it for active subjects, and it doesn’t last for long in AZ
- most of the Saguaros are rather tall, and the fruit is on top, so the activity mostly occurs at a steep viewing angle
- it can be difficult to find a composition that works well, balancing the woodpecker and the wide top of the cactus
I’ve stayed back to reduce the upward tilt required. This also allows me to include most of the crown of the cactus. Another benefit of staying back and keeping the woodpecker smaller in the frame is my depth-of-field needs aren’t as demanding so I can trade off stoping down for a better shutter speed.
Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 200, 1/350th second at f/5.6, matrix metered, 91% of full frame, natural early morning light with no fill flash, 6/18/09.