Wildlife photographer Linda Cullivan of Scarborough was recently honored by the National Audubon when judges selected her photo of pileated woodpeckers — out of nearly 9,000 submissions — for the society’s top 100 photos list for 2015.
More than 2,300 photographers entered the contest. They hailed from all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia.
Linda Cullivan and her husband, Mike Cullivan, are both wildlife photographers and avid birders. At their home near the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, they get the opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife right outside their window. But they also travel in search for wildlife. In fact, Linda Cullivan’s pileated woodpecker photo was taken in northern Massachusetts, at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, last June. She visited the sanctuary after a fellow birder told her that a pair of pileated woodpeckers were raising three young at a location that could be photographed.
“It was a short hike down from the parking lot to the woodpeckers,” Linda Cullivan recalled. “The area had been roped off so people couldn’t get close. Of course, you don’t want to disturb the birds — or any wildlife.”
To capture crisp, detailed images of the woodpecker family, Cullivan used a 500mm lens with a 1.4x telephoto extender on her camera body, a Canon 5D Mark III. Of the many photos she took that day, she selected an image of the adult male pileated woodpecker returning to the nest. In the photo, two of the three young woodpeckers in the nest are clearly visible, their heads popping out of a hole in the tree and their beaks open, as if they are greeting their father (recognizable as male by the red stripe on his cheek).
“We were there for a couple of hours just watching and photographing,” said Cullivan, who shared the space with 5-10 other photographers during that time. “Both parents would take turns getting food. The’d fly off one at a time and come back with food for the chicks — little bugs and things like that.”
While the photo was taken in Massachusetts, pileated woodpeckers are also common in Maine. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes them as “one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent.”
Nearly the size of the crow, pileated woodpeckers are recognizable by their bright red crest, as well as their haunting high-pitched call, which can be heard at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, here.
“The chicks fledged the next day, so I was pretty lucky,” Linda Cullivan said.
Birds have always interested Linda Cullivan, but it wasn’t until seven or eight years ago that she started photographing them.
“It was kind of accidental,” she said. “My husband was taking pictures [before me]. One day, there was an indigo bunting in a tree by our house, and he was downstairs in the basement working, so I yelled to him to come up and take a picture. He said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m busy. Do it yourself.’ So I picked up the camera and took the picture, and it came out! I was quite pleased, and within a few months, I had my own camera.”
Now the retired couple go on photo outings together throughout Maine, and they plan bigger trips on a regular basis. They’ve traveled to the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec to photograph northern gannets; they recently returned from photographing more tropical wildlife in Florida; and in September, they plan to head to Alaska to photograph bears fishing for salmon.
“We’re trying to instill a love for wildlife, especially birds, in our grandchildren,” she said.
You can view and purchase their wildlife photos through their business, Spurwink River Photography, at www.spurwinkriverphoto.com.