The male Broad-billed Hummingbirds in Madera Canyon dominated the feeders. They swarmed around much like the honeybees darting in and out and chasing away other hummers. This male perched briefly on a nearby twig, keeping his eye on the action the whole time he sat. It wasn’t long before he buzzed away to vie for position again. Getting more than one or two shots of a perched hummer was almost as challenging as photographing them in flight.
The female Broad-billed Hummingbirds are not as flashy or jewel-like as their male counterparts but they’re every bit as feisty. Their feathers are not as colorful but their backs and sides have a bronzy green sparkle and their partially orange bill adds a little more color. The females are more “lady-like” at the feeders often leaving to allow an aggressive male to sip nectar. But they held their own with the ever-present honey bees.
Northern Sea Otters of Kachemak Bay in Homer, AK spend most of their lives in the water. While they often are seen holding hands to prevent them from drifting away from the raft, this one is perfectly content to snooze and bask in the the morning sun without grasping another otter’s hands.
Sometimes the less aggressive hummingbirds sat out the frenzy surrounding the feeders in Madera Canyon. The larger hummers, like this Blue-throated Mountain Gem didn’t participate in the almost constant territorial dispute as the smaller birds, especially the Broad-billed Hummingbirds. They would occasionally take a break and survey the situation from a short distance away. When they visited the feeders, the frenzy had usually calmed a bit.
Hummingbirds are usually very small and and very fast. The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is an exception. Until last year, it was called the Blue-throated Hummingbird. It is the largest hummingbird in North America and it has noticeably slower wingbeats. Of course it can disappear in an instant as all hummers do but this beautiful bird seemed to hover and move more slowly than the smaller hummers in Madera Canyon and we had more time to focus on it than most of the other hummers there.
The first time I visited Madera Canyon several years ago, I saw my first Magnificent Hummingbird. He was stunningly gorgeous and more than twice the size of the other hummers. We started calling him Mr. Wonderful whenever he appeared at the feeders or was perched nearby. A few years ago, the Magnificent Hummingbird was renamed the Rivoli’s Hummingbird when it was determined there were really two species. The Rivoli’s lives from Nicaragua north to southern Arizona. In my mind, he’s still Mr. Wonderful.
The little Allen’s Hummingbird hovers in place, wings a blur.
The Broad-billed hummers were the most dominant species at the feeders in Madera Canyon.
The most common hummingbird in my backyard is the Anna’s Hummingbird and in Arizona, it was one of the most elusive. We even saw the magnificent Rivoli’s more often than we saw the little Anna’s.
The Allen’s Hummingbird is a new species for me. I think that others have seen the Allen’s on previous visits to Madera Canyon but I had not set eyes on one until the last day of our time there this year. And, for the first time, this little Allen’s kept returning to the feeders and that gave me an opportunity to photograph it. What a cutie and how different in color from all of the other hummingbirds I’ve photographed so far.
Broad-billed Hummingbirds were bullies at the feeders in Madera Canyon. They were the overwhelming majority at the feeders and they harassed and chased any other hummers feeding, Broad-billed as well as the other species there. But the Broad-billed Hummingbirds were no match for the honeybees. They were intimidated by the bees that swarmed on and around some of the feeders in great numbers, completely covering the feeding ports. It was not unusual to see a hummer suddenly back away from a feeder as one or more bees got too close.
We’ve seen eight species of hummingbirds in our short stay in Madera Canyon, AZ. One of the largest hummingbirds, the Blue-throated Hummingbird, AKA Blue-throated Mountain-gem according to Sibley Birds v.2, is one of the largest hummingbirds, more than four and a half inches in length. When this Mountain-gem arrived at the feeders its larger size made it instantly recognizable. Because it lacks the blue throat, this is a female or possibly a juvenile Blue-throated Mountain-gem. This gem made frequent visits to the feeders and would hover near them to give us time to photograph it. Then it would perch in the trees surrounding the area keeping an eye on the feeders while it waited to revisit them a few minutes later.
The Broad-billed Hummingbirds are the most prevalent species of hummingbird that we’ve photographed in Madera Canyon this year. This is a female Broad-billed Hummingbird. In our first two days here, we’ve seen eight species of hummingbird, including the Broad-billed Hummingbird, the Rufous Hummingbird, the Allen’s Hummingbird, the Black-chinned Hummingbird, the Anna’s Hummingbird, the Blue-throated Hummingbird, the tiny Costa’s Hummingbird, and the huge Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
Madera Canyon, AZ is home to many species of hummingbird including the jewel-like Broad-billed Hummingbird. Our first day was a shakedown day to refamiliarize ourselves with the special rigs we use to photograph hummingbirds, including two flashes, and two soft-boxes attached to the tripod and and controlled remotely by the camera. It takes lots of concentration and the need for a plan to ensure success. Despite the fact that I frequently photograph hummingbirds in my backyard, the experience here in Madera Canyon is quite different. First, there are seemingly countless hummingbirds that are constantly coming and going. Not only are we dealing with the fast moving hummingbirds but the light is constantly changing and that requires frequent tweaks of exposure and flash intensity and making sure the background doesn’t detract from the subject. And the rig is more complex than what I use at home. By the end of about 6 hours of shooting on our first day, I had taken just a few hundred photographs. What a contrast to other bird photography trips I’ve been on where I take several thousand of photographs a day. This week will be a good workout for the improved autofocus system in the new Nikon D6. By the end of about 6 hours of shooting on our first day, I had taken just a few hundred photographs. What a contrast to other bird photography trips I’ve been on where I take several thousand of photographs a day. This week will be a good test for the improved autofocus system in the new Nikon D6. Using the Nikkor 500mm PF lens, I’m the bare minimum focusing distance away from the feeders so I have to be careful that I maintain that minimum distance for sharp focus. This is quite a fun challenge to undertake.
The Captain announced that we were flying over the Grand Canyon and that the view out the right side of the plane was better than that out of the left side. I rarely have a window seat but with recent changes in air travel I ended up with a window seat on the left side of the plane. I couldn’t see much of the Grand Canyon but I thought the cloud formation hovering over it was quite spectacular. Now that I always have my Nikon Z50 with me, it was easy to pull out the camera with the Nikkor 16-50mm lens already attached and snap a few shots when the view out of my window was just right. I’m having fewer of those “gee I wish I had my camera” moments.
The tiny Bushtits are usually well hidden in the bushes and unless they’re splashing around in the fountain, the only evidence of their presence is leaves shaking in the bushes. It is rare to see one in my yard that isn’t completely obscured by the leaves. The Japanese Privet leaves are only about two inches long and the Bushtit, including tail, isn’t much longer. The Bushtits often feed on the tiny bugs on the privets and other trees and shrubs. The webs in this shrub must have caught the attention of this male Bushtit.
Black-legged Kittiwakes are abundant on Kachemak Bay. We saw them every day flying in great numbers around the cliffs protruding from the water. Although we were on Kachemak Bay to photograph Northern Sea Otters a month ago, we didn’t pass up the opportunity to photograph some of the birds in the area as they flew above and around our watercraft.
Hummingbirds have been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve been working hard to make my backyard more hummingbird friendly for the Anna’s and Black-chinned Hummingbirds that live here year round. Second, in a few days, I’m heading to Madera Canyon, AZ to photograph hummingbirds there for a week. The species of hummingbirds in southern Arizona are so different from the few species we have in Northern California. One of the most prevalent hummers that I’ve photographed in past years is the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Its gem-like teal and blue feathers in contrast with its orange bill make it a striking bird to see.
It always amazes me how a hummingbird can hover and keep its head completely still while the rest of its body is a blur. I took this shot at 1/40 second and only the eye, the top of its head, and part of its beak is in sharp focus. Taken with Nikon D6 and Nikkor 500mm PF lens.
The male Anna’s Hummingbird that dominates all six nectar feeders in my garden has now claimed one of my carefully positioned perches as his main guard post. Facing one way, he has a perfect view of four of the feeders. A quick glance over his wing gets the other two. In a second, he can reach each of the feeders to chase off any hummers he considers interlopers and, with few exceptions, they are all interlopers in his mind. During the heat of the day, this Anna’s prefers the shaded Photineas or Xylosma from which to oversee his domain but in the morning and late afternoon, when the sun does not directly strike the perch, he often sits in anticipation of his next sip of nectar or his next chase.