A Nice Treat on Christmas Morning (Maramec Springs Park)

January 15, 2014

Christmas is almost three weeks in the rear-view mirror but I’m just getting around to sharing my Christmas morning adventure with all of you. As with most holiday mornings, I got up early and headed off in search of critters to photograph. My destination was Maramec Springs Park because it was bitterly cold, a sure sign the bald eagles around the park would be active. I arrived about thirty minutes before daylight and ran into my friend Ryan Westcott, a Missouri Department of Conservation employee, who was getting ready to conduct the daily chores of caring for hatchery trout. A trout hatchery is like a dairy farm; there is no option to just take off for a couple of days to get away. Somebody has to be there every morning to take care of the needy fish and Christmas morning is no exception. I wished Ryan a Merry Christmas, ribbed him a little for drawing the short straw, and began a long walk around the park.

It was too early for a shot but I could already see several eagles, both juvenile and adult, in the trees around the park. I didn’t try to approach them because I knew from past experience they would just fly away. I figured the best way to get a nice eagle image would be to ignore them and perhaps one would fly right by me at some point. As I walked the trail along the spring branch, I ran into a bunch of golden-crowned kinglets. I must have spent an hour trying to capture a nice image of one of the tiny, nervous birds but it was to no avail. I finally gave up and shifted my focus to kingfishers and redheaded woodpeckers—two park favorites.

I must have made two full loops around the park before I began to think, “Wow, I haven’t taken one photograph!” It was pushing 10:00 a.m. and Ryan stopped by on his Kubota to offer me a cup of coffee back at the office during his break at 10:30. The coffee sounded real nice but I must have lost track of time and never made it back to the office until after 11:00. By that time, Ryan was well back into his rounds.

As I loaded my gear into the Silverado, I wasn’t that dejected at my poor showing. It was Christmas morning after all and I was looking forward to some lunch and fireplace time with Joyce. I had already packed my camera and stripped my insulated coveralls off when I heard the familiar sound of a pileated woodpecker. I looked across the field and saw a male land in a tree about 100 meters away. Without hesitating, I pulled the tripod out of the truck, loaded the big lens, and twisted my Mark IV back in place. Before I started my approach across the field, I looked up at the sky and said, “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

Based on past experience, I knew my best approach to the pileated woodpecker would be as follows. I would watch him through my binoculars and the second he worked his way around to the back side of the tree, I would sprint toward his location as fast as possible, which is not very fast with an 18 pound rig on my shoulder. When the huge woodpecker finally disappeared behind the trunk, I covered 50 meters and stopped dead in the middle of the mowed field. A second later he appeared again and looked my way but didn’t seem to notice me. As he disappeared once again, I closed another 25 meters and dropped the tripod to the ground for a shot. I began clicking away when the big bird, Missouri’s largest woodpecker, showed his face again.

I only bothered the impressive bird for a minute or so and then headed back to the truck. As I walked away I heard a second pileated’s voice and turned to see a female in another tree. It felt good to be among Missouri critters on Christmas morning. It may have been just another morning to the woodpeckers and eagles, but it was a special morning to me.

Thanks for looking,

Danny Brown

Note:  Thanks, as always, to Mike Conaway, Park Manager at Maramec Springs, for helping in any way he can to make my photography visits to the park a success.

Email me at:  natureframes@rocketmail.com

8 comments on “A Nice Treat on Christmas Morning (Maramec Springs Park)”

  1. Beautiful – worth the Christmas morning effort.

  2. Nice present! I enjoyed your description of the stalk.

  3. Beautiful color on the pileated woodpeckers head. I also loved the story. Its so peaceful that time of the year, buy the stream. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Surprisingly dark image (or maybe that’s the way it shows up on my monitor?) Now I’m waiting for the 2014 Nature Frames 😀

    • Hey Deepa. Not sure why its dark. It looked okay on my work monitor today. I’ll ask around. I was at Forest Park today checking out the ducks. Thought of you, of course.


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