Nuthatch Couple

A few days ago I spent a morning at the top of a 20 foot ladder photographing a brown-headed nuthatch couple building a nest. I made about 200 photographs trying to catch those moments that tell their story.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Pair

Brown-headed Nuthatch Series.

Clouds softened the early morning light for the first two images in the series above. I concentrated at first just on capturing a typical nuthatch pose next to the nest cavity. After a while the clouds parted and direct sunlight fell on the nest. The brighter light allowed me to use faster shutter speeds so I could capture some of the action. Instead of just dropping wood chips out of the hole, one of the birds would carefully perch at the opening and flip its head several times back and forth in a complete circle flinging the wood chips in every direction. It was very funny to watch but almost impossible to catch in a photo because it all happened so fast. At one point one of the birds took a break from excavating the cavity to just take in the morning, and perhaps to wonder what that human was doing on the ladder. This image made me laugh because the feathers on top of the birds head were all messed up from the work it had been doing down at the bottom of the cavity.

A little later some high thin clouds diffused the harsh sunlight and provided the perfect amount of contrast. It was bright enough to use the base ISO on my camera and still have enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur.

Brown-headed Nuthatch Pair

Brown-headed Nuthatch Pair

Finally, everything came together. While one of the birds was excavating the cavity, the other one was stuffing it with dried grass. It seemed to me that it would be better to wait until the excavation was finished before bringing in the grass but no relationship is without its challenges. Anyway, at one point the removal of wood chips and the bringing of dried grass coincided so that both birds were at the nest hole at the same time. At this moment the light was perfect, bright, diffuse, and warm, and I was ready.

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