I stopped down at the lake briefly today, curious to see how the water level had changed following the hurricane (significantly, but not quite back to normal,) and see what might appear. Even since filming the young red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) leaving the nest, I’ve been on a quest for photos of any of the juveniles still inhabiting the area. I’ve heard them from time to time, but always a moderate distance away, too far for decent telephoto shots, and never heard or saw them come closer. This time was largely no different: I heard them, even caught a glimpse of two of them chasing one another I believe (too far for a positive ID,) but nothing close. Still, I waited in a likely clearing to see if they might come closer.

While I waited, I picked one distinct pine tree to lock focus upon so the camera would be within the right focus range and hopefully obtain a lock much faster if I did see one. Focusing on the trunk, I panned upwards just a hair and boom.

juvenile red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus perched on pine trunk
I can’t say whether it flew in right while I was focusing, or if it had been sitting there largely motionless and I simply missed it, but it was a pleasant surprise in the viewfinder, and never made a sound. I have had more than my share of luck with these guys this year, and even though this one was reluctant to enter the sun, it was clear that the red hood plumage of the adult wasn’t developed yet, making me 80% sure this was one of the ones photographed earlier in the nest, which sat not ten meters behind me. In fact, there were small details that I captured, not exactly clearly, but clear enough:

juvenile red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus showing first red feathers on head
If you look close, you can see two little red feathers on the head, the first indications of adult coloration. I don’t know when this actually develops, but I’d guess it comes in fully over winter for a nice display during the spring breeding season.

I sought out other subjects, but after a while some woodpecker calls drew me back into the clearing, and I watched one (probably the same one, but who can tell?) flitting back and forth between three trees.

juvenile red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus foraging in existing drill hole
This tree sat not five meters from the nest tree, but those holes were already there and probably had been for a while – still, I like the action pose and the barest faint red feather visible on the head.

Then came the mistake. In wandering around, I had seen the massive anthill and was avoiding it, mentally bookmarking its location, but then this guy started shifting back and forth, literally right over my head, and I shifted back and forth myself trying for the best angles. As I paused to fire off a few frames, I felt the all-too-familiar itching/burning sensation on my sandaled feet, and knew even before I looked down that I’d blundered into the anthill.

swarm of red imported fire ants Solenopsis invicta on disturbed anthill
This was taken after I’d scampered over to the lake edge, thankfully not far away, and thoroughly rinsed the little bastards off of my feet. From that color pattern, I’m pretty sure these are my old nemesis the red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta,) normally encountered a couple states further south at least. That they seem to be moving into the area is not at all a good sign, and that I was attacked by them is de rigueur – if they’re around, they will bite me.

Though in this case, I’m dead positive that I was manipulated into this by the woodpecker, who not only flew back and forth over me repeatedly to cause me to shift position like some silly marble game, but favored me with this look, only noticeable on close cropping of one of the frames:

juvenile red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus giving nice profile perched on trunk
Oh yeah, that’s a look that says, “I can walk this guy right into the ants, because nature photographers are tools.” And here I thought we had a nice rapport going…

[next] »