I spent the afternoon up in the Sax-Zim Bog hoping to find some teams participating in our (‘our’ = Friends of Sax-Zim Bog organization) 2011 BRRRRDathon. While I did not find any teams, I did find two of my favorite North Woods birds—the Black-backed Woodpecker and the Northern Goshawk.

Normally, Goshawk sightings are a blur of grayish blue as they zip by, or over, or behind you and disappear into the woods. Shy and secretive, most encounters make you feel like you’ve terrified the poor bird. They flush as soon as you stop the car. It is because of this that I’ve never been able to photograph a Gos away from Hawk Ridge in migration…Until today. An immature bird was hanging out a farm that has ducks and probably chickens and certainly pigeons…all acceptable Gos food. He/she flushed several times but always perched again, sometimes surprisingly low to the ground. I only got a couple distant shots.
They make their living by ambushing Ruffed Grouse, Snowshoe Hares, Red Squirrels (and pigeons, chickens) in deciduous and mixed forests in the northern states.

Later I followed a foot trail to a logged area that has hosted both tridactyl woodpecker species—American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpecker. Both are extremely ‘tame’ birds…often allowing approach to within a dozen feet.
There were several Hairys but no Black-backeds. I did hear the sound of flaking bark a hundred yards further in, beyond where the packed foot trail ended. I’d forgotten my snowshoes but decided to forge on anyway…It turned into a heart-pumping slog through several hundred yards of knee to thigh-deep snow, tripod slung over my shoulder. But I was rewarded with a very close encounter of a male (yellow cap) Black-backed Woodpecker busily flaking bark from a dying Tamarack. He was trying to locate the larval grubs of Larch Beetles that have infected many Tamaracks (“larch”) in Minnesota.

I shot from 15 or 20 feet, filling the frame. He barely acknowledged this lumbering five-toed creature that was pointing a black thing at him. He looks pot-bellied but this is an illusion created by the fluffing of his feathers to keep his extremities warm. Note his three toes…Most woodpeckers have four toes, two pointing forward and two pointing back. I shot lots of video, some in slow-motion 60fps. This was the best still image.

Male Black-backed Woodpecker; Canon 7D w/Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, pop-up flash, tripod

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