January Hath Thirty-One Frames.
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We’re fortunate to have some Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds live on the Engleville Tick Ranch for the summer. Their arrival in spring is more subtle than that of the hundreds of American Robins roosting in the pine stand on their way north. Much more quiet than the Canada Geese honking their horns at each other. One morning in spring I’ll be sitting in the cabana drinking coffee when I hear the sound of the world’s largest wasp. Well, that’s what it sounds like. The first time you have a hummingbird buzz by you, you’re spinning around looking for the giant bee, ready to run. After that, the sound is immediately recognizable. There’s no other sound like it in my woods.
The photo above, dark and a bit unfocused, is one of the best images I captured. One of only two with the bird in flight. I was actually shooting the backlit Foxglove shown here, and while doing so, the giant bee flew in and started drinking from the flowers. I could barely move, just enough to swing the lens over and snap a frame. I didn’t dare to move my hands around trying to adjust the camera for better lighting. One of my rules is “Snap the picture first, then if you have time you can do all that other fancy photog stuff like get the light correct and get the subject in focus and compose the image and stuff.”
Yeah, it’s a long rule. Anyways, I snapped the above photo and the following one with the bird hovering a foot-and-a-half from my face.
I spent a number of mornings set up and perched at the cabana, waiting for the Hummingbird to come around to the Foxgloves, the Touch-Me-Nots and any red flower we had. They love red. They frequently get caught inside garages because the release handle on the door opener is red, and they fly in to check it out.
Hummingbirds have nested in the grapevines on the barn, or the corner of the barn with the grapevines. Maybe it’s the same nesting pair, as they go to the same place for the several years I’ve been watching. About thirty feet from that corner of the barn is a crabapple tree, and they like to stop there. It’s probably standard bird behavior; stopping to check for predators before going to the nest, to avoid advertising its location.
Most days I’d be sitting in the cabana for morning coffee, but a couple of times I set up between the barn and the crabapple tree. It wasn’t easy to choose a good place to set up. I wanted to be able to “reach” the corner of the barn and the crabapple with the 300mm lens, but didn’t want to be so far from the cabana that I’d miss a longer shot if the birds ventured there. Also, I wanted the sun to be behind me (or at least beside me) to avoid backlighting the subject. Lastly, I wanted the shot angle to avoid the domestic surroundings; my boat on the trailer, the Power Wagon parked on the lawn, the rusty chicken wire fence protecting the blueberry patch.
The cabana was hung with several flowering plants including two in red, and just around the corner was the foxglove and touch-me-nots the birds liked to visit regularly.
The day I put the most effort and time into this pursuit, I set up the camera on the tripod where I could shoot the barn and crabapple. I positioned myself beside the outhouse, so the camera and I would be shielded from direct sunlight. This is as much for lighting as it is for hiding. Hummingbirds are quite wary, and if they see you move they’ll take off like a jet.
From this position, I was able to get a few snapshots, although the bird was backlit when perched in the crabapple. They hung around the young sumac saplings, too, which were just a bit further away than the apple tree. A couple of shots are of the bird perched on a sumac. So there I am sitting, patiently waiting for the Hummingbird Holy Grail; that perfectly-lighted shot of the bird hovering with its beak in a beautiful flower. (Like the ones above, but lighted and focused!)
As I sit with my eye to the viewfinder, I hear this giant bee come flying in alongside me. The hummingbird came over to the touch-me-nots, about 12 inches from my face, and started feeding on them. Well, I couldn’t move at all, for fear of spooking the bird and driving them from my location. The hummingbird was so close I felt the breeze from its wings on my face as it flitted about. I could just see it out of the corner of my eye.
Ultimately I was able to get a silhouette of the bird perched in the apple.
I got around the other side of the apple for a close shot, but the bird was obscured by leaves. In the photo, you just see a splash of ruby red in the midst of green apple leaves. The female lighted elsewhere on the apple and noticed me. There was enough tree between the bird and I that it didn’t flee, but appeared to be trying to figure out what I was. Click any image to start a full-size slide carousel.
Finally, I did get a good shot of a well-lit hummingbird in flight. Unfortunately, it was a wind spinner.
Hummingbirds migrate south, usually in mid September. I wish them bon voyage on their trip. There’s always next year. Meanwhile, I think I’ll look for something bigger.
Take care, and keep in touch,
My gear: Nikon D3200 DSLR. Most shots with a Nikkor 55-300mm zoom lens with vibration reduction, some with Nikkor 55-200mm VR. Tripod by Vanguard, Alta PRO 264AT.