Yellowstone Reports

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Life in the Aspen Grove

by Dan Hartman

July 4, 2014

     I took a break from my owl nests to spend time with other nesting birds.  It quickly became a woodpecker theme.
     As I sit now on a high mountain slope in the foothills of the Beartooths, hairy woodpedckers are feeding in front of me.  Down slope and to the west, a flicker entered a low cavity.  Farther west  a red-napped sapsucker fed chicks.  50 feet from them a mountain bluebird visited a hole in a dead aspen.  Just above me three towed woodpeckers and a downy woodpecker pair nested.  I also located chickadees, tree swallows and fly catchers.  Not to mention juncos and chipping sparrows.
     Since the hairys and red-naped were close to fledging, I worked these first.  There are different ways to approach photographing such nests.  One can place a wide lens a couple of feet away and fire with a remote, use a larger lens and set up some 30 feet away and use a remote or set up farther away and use an even bigger lens.  I chose the middle option, using my 300 and sitting some 25 yards away under a shade tree triggering my camera with a remote.  This allows the birds to come freely, especially after I set a branch against my camera for camouflage.
     I noticed at most nests, it was the male who entered the cavities to clean out the waste and debris.  However, the females appeared to make the most visits with food.
     Also, it was curious that a downy woodpecker would nest so close to his larger cousin, the hairy woodpecker.  I've only located one other downy nest in the Beartooths and once again a hairy nest was nearby.
     Another trend continued.  As my great gray nest was just over the hill, once again a three toed woodpecker occurred in his territory.  I find these woodpeckers and great grays seem to require the exact same habitat.
     Also notice the dark spot four inches below the cavity.  That indicated a nest is active even before you see the birds.  (It's dirt from the tail feathers.)
     There's other life about too.  Sand-hill cranes trumpet from the flats.  Red squirrels scurry by carrying bedding.  Bear scat is everywhere.  Blue grouse parade by with their tiny chicks.  Golden rod spiders cling to the abundant flowers.
     And now with the warmer temperatures, mosquitoes are swarming.

     There goes a female williamson sapsucker.  I'll have to go try to find that nest!


View slide show


Hairy Nest

Female Hairy


Male Removing Fecal Sac

Red-Naped Sapsucker

Male Removing Moth Wings

Three-toed Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker