100 Birds – #4

Every bird I meet has some quality that amazes me.  Large or small, birds are amazing creatures.  Even the common American robin or California gull can be amazing to watch or study  up close. Feathers are amazing structures in themselves. We’ve seen large birds like the Greater Adjutant stork in India (think 5 feet tall), Sandhill cranes, American bald eagle, Turkey vulture. All are majestic birds.  Someday we hope to see the California condor fly and add several other species of cranes to our list.  Someday.

But today’s post is about a small bird.  Hummingbirds seem to please everyone who sees one. There’s little question that their hovering behavior and brilliant colors draw people’s attention. One easily starts wondering how fast those wings go to hover like that.  How about the energy expense of such rapid wing strokes? What do they eat?  How big are their babies? Where do they nest and what does a nest look like. Where do those colors come from? How come the color changes as the bird moves. Was that really a tongue I saw as the bird retreated from a flower? How do they survive winter? Do they migrate and, if so, where do they go?  I could fill a page with such questions and I don’t intend to try to answer any of them for you.  Instead, I encourage you to go do some independent research. Read a book.  Search the internet.  Ask a friend. Any time you spend will be worthwhile to learn just a bit more about these amazing birds.

We spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica awhile ago and hummingbird photography was one of my primary goals. After consulting respected birders (Dave and Sally Hill, Gerry Ellis and Jenn Loren) I knew that I wanted to spend time at the Monteverde Cloud Forest to see the hummingbird deck and, hopefully, the Resplendent Quetzel deep in the forest. Check and check. My time on the hummingbird deck, an area outside a small restaurant near the reserve entry, was rich and rewarding.  Multiple feeders bring in multiple birds of many species.  Big and small.  Way too many photos to sort through and so much learned about the birds and what it takes to photograph them well. Some use natural light only and some use moderated flash to stop the wings and make the colors sing. Each school (flash-no flash) has its proponents.  My preference is to use natural light if I can but I’m not at all adverse to dialing a flash down to light a bird in dark surroundings or to attempt to show the colors and features more clearly. I found it interesting to watch local bird guides instruct their tours on how to take a hummingbird photo.  Some insisted that the tour members use their flash.  A minority of guides were in the “no flash” school for what appeared to be a variety of reasons. I pushed the camera’s ability to use existing light as much as I could but broke out the flash to cautiously light some birds in dark areas (of which there were many).  But the time on the deck was full of great moments.  My personal time with the birds or watching a young kid get to experience the thrill of a hummingbird landing on their hand or hovering directly in front of them.  Priceless experience for all.

We traveled a long way and invested in getting photos of hummingbirds that don’t occur in the United States.  It was worth every minute and nickel spent. Today’s photo, however, was taken just outside my back door.  As I said in the post for Bird #3, we were enjoying the evening and continuing to plan our plantings in the back yard.  Five years from now it should be a much more bird friendly place. We heard the bird before we saw it.  A hummingbird coming to our sole feeder near the patio. The sound was different from that of the most common hummingbird we’ve seen – the Anna’s hummingbird.  My initial reaction to this bird was that I would see another Anna’s.  But the sound was different as the bird hovered in front of the feeder and approached to feed. The bird was smaller with a clear white band below the throat. Dianne remarked about the red appearance.  We knew were looking at a new bird but there was still uncertainty. There have been sighting of Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds around here lately.  Maybe?  Either would be life birds for me/us.  As I reached for the camera the bird took off.  Drat.  All part of the game.  Be prepared to respond.  Sit and wait.  Enjoy the evening and hopefully the bird will return.  Such a life, eh?

The bird did return.  This shot of a Rufous hummingbird was made using existing (dim) natural light at a shutter speed of 1/500th second.  That explains the wing blur which I kind of like. The sound, the colors, the size, the beak… all things we registered as we watched and photographed.  And then it was gone.  It has been seen again since and I’ll hopefully get another chance to grab a few shots as we sit and enjoy our time in Wenatchee.

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