2021—A Precious Jewel

Rufous Hummingbirds are intensely orange and their feathers, especially their gorget, reflect a brilliant
orange color, reminiscent of the rarest type of Topaz that is a reddish orange, also known as
Precious Topaz. These small hummingbirds are feisty and belligerent. They sought dominance at the feeders in Madera Canyon and the hum of their wings was as loud as the loudest hummers so their presence was always announced by the buzzing sound of their wings.

2021—A Moment of Calm

The feeding frenzy that surrounded us in Madera Canyon kept the birds in almost constant motion. Hummingbirds have such a high metabolism rate that they must feed almost constantly during the day. They visit feeders or flowers to gather nectar several times every hour. But in between, they take a few moments to rest and watch what’s going on around them. Their need to feed every ten to fifteen minutes makes them predictable and easy to find if you have feeders or favorite blossoms in your garden. Capturing them with your camera is not as easy as finding them, however. When they’re perched like this Broad-billed Hummingbird, they’re a little easier to photograph, at least until they leave to fly to the feeders.

2021—Siblings

Northern Pygmy Owl Sibling #1
Northern Pygmy Owl Sibling #2

Watching the Northen Pygmy Owls for hours one afternoon in Madera Canyon was a delightful way to pass the time. Northen Pygmy Owls are among the smallest owls in North America. The Elf Owl, the smallest owl, nests directly across from our cabins at Santa Rita Lodge and one evening, we did see one, peering out of its nest cavity in a telephone pole about twenty feet up but we didn’t photograph it because it was dark. On the other hand, the Northern Pygmy Owls spend lots of time outside in the daylight and we were fortunate to photograph two siblings. The top photograph is the first one we watched for several hours before it flew toward its nest mate in a far tree. The second photograph is the more newly fledged owlet. They both have taken on the appearance of the “wise old owl” already at their young age. Amazingly, these little guys are only about an inch bigger than the Rivoli’s Hummingbird

2021—Gorgeous Gorget

The Rivoli’s Hummingbird is such a spectacular hummingbird that every time I see one, especially the males like this one, I am awestruck. Their size, of course, seems so unusual because we always think of hummingbirds as tiny creatures and this one is as big as a House Finch. And the sound of his wings can be heard from quite some distance so you’re alerted to his presence. But, when the light is just right, the colors of his gorget and crown are startlingly gorgeous. When I took this shot on our last morning in Madera Canyon, the flash created a reflection of the brilliant emerald green color onto the top edge of his wings and onto the feathers on his sides. He paused ever so briefly and then he was gone.

2021—Dynamo

This year at Madera Canyon seemed to be the year of the Rufous Hummingbird. About a half dozen of these tiny dynamos of the hummingbird world visited the feeders. Their rufous coloring is such a contrast to the Broad-billed hummingbird which dominates the area by the numbers. But the tiny Rufous Hummingbirds were a commanding presence and they were energetic pistols as they defended their chosen space. The hum of their wings was as loud as the much larger Rivoli’s and we always knew when they were in the area.

2021—Which Camera?

Nikon D6 with 500mmPF

Nikon Z6II with 500mmPF and FTZ

This Broad-billed Hummingbird is another example of a flying jewel from Madera Canyon. Throughout the week, I alternated between using my Nikon D6 and my Nikon Z6II both with the Nikkor 500mmPF telephoto lens. Both cameras gave me spectacular results. I took the first shot using the Nikon D6 at full resolution, without high speed crop. I took the second shot using the Nikon Z6II also at full resolution. An extension tube mounted between the lens and the camera reduced the minimum focusing distance of the lens by almost two feet which made a big difference in image size because I was able to get closer to my subject. Two Nikon SB5000 speed lights, one on either side of the lens with mini soft boxes made this male Broad-bill’s feathers dazzle.

2021—Unexpected Treat

Sometimes an unexpected event can change your plans, at least for an afternoon. Last week in Madera Canyon, AZ that happened. I was reviewing images from that morning’s hummingbird shoot when Moose knocked and told me to get outside with my longest lens and a tripod. In a couple of minutes I was out the door, gear balanced on my shoulder following Moose up Madera Canyon Road into the forest. Earlier that afternoon, the Northern Pygmy Owlets from the nest we’d heard about had begun to fledge and Moose and Sharon saw one fly to another branch so Moose hurried back to get us.

Shortly after we arrived, the fledgling flew off its branch and became entangled in a rusty piece of wire fencing low to the ground. It dangled upside down for several minutes. We worried that it had injured a wing but we were relieved when it managed to disentangle itself and flew, without problems, to the ground near a tree trunk. I knelt on the trail to photograph the owl on the ground from a few feet away. In a short time, it flew up to a nearby branch. We watched it there for two and a half hours as it sat on the same branch. Time seemed to fly by as it swiveled its head 360° watching us, calling to and watching for its nest mate, and calling to its parents for food. When it flew to a nearby clearing, we discovered its nest mate. We moved again when the parents arrived as they managed to gather the family together in one tree. Papa had brought a large lizard and we watched as it fed first one owlet then moved to another branch to feed the second one. Finally, papa left the remains of the lizard with the two owlets and flew to a nearby juniper. What an incredible afternoon.

It was an unexpected treat to see first the newly fledged owlet, then its nest mate and finally both parents feeding the young owls. We watched the Northern Pygmy Owl family for more than four hours but it didn’t seem that long. The next day we learned that a third owlet had fledged. Yes, indeed, an unexpected treat. And, I didn’t miss the afternoon hummingbird shoot at all.

2021—A Gem in the Sky

They are tiny gems in the sky. Their iridescent coloring is startling and gorgeous. The Broad-billed Hummingbird is a Mexican Hummingbird but a few migrate north each summer to nest in southern Arizona including Madera Canyon. They consume twice their body weight in nectar daily and in Madera Canyon that means they visit the feeders that offer nourishment often. Despite their diminutive size, they are fearless, guarding their chosen feeders and chasing off others, including the Rivoli’s Hummingbird, a bird almost twice their size. We placed tiny feeders, barely an inch tall and slightly more than an inch in diameter on the hood of our long lenses and almost immediately, each feeder was claimed and guarded. They fed from them even though our heads, eyes pressed against the camera’s viewfinder, was just inches from them. Most amazing to me was that we could feel the breeze from their wingbeats on our faces as they hovered above us drinking the nectar. Occasionally a drop of nectar shaken off their beak would hit us. What an incredibly wonderful experience to have.

2021—¡Colibrí magnífico!

¡Colibrí magnífico! That’s Spanish for Rivoli’s Hummingbird which at one time was called the Magnificent Hummingbird in English. And, it is indeed a magnificent hummingbird. For the past five years, including this past week, I have had the opportunity to photograph several different species of migrating hummingbirds at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona which sits in the midst of Coronado National Forest, just north of the Mexican border. The hummingbird that quickly gets anyone’s attention there is the Rivoli’s Hummingbird. The reason? It is one of the largest hummingbirds in North American, and at more than five inches, it dwarfs all the other hummers in Madera Canyon except the Blue-throated Hummingbird. Identifying a male is easy by its purple crown and brilliant emerald gorget. The humming of its wingbeats sounds like a small motorboat and it resonates wherever this huge hummer is flying so it is obvious when he is nearby. Despite its size, it seems to be easily intimidated by the smaller hummers and when they’re being their feisty, belligerent selves, the big hummer flies off instead of skirmishing with its smaller counterparts. In past years we dubbed this hummer Mr. Wonderful because he was such a beautiful bird. This year, he occasionally cooperated so we were able to capture a few portraits of him on the wing.

2021—California Fuchsia

California Fuchsia is a native plant that hummingbirds love so I have three of them in large pots on my patio. My goal has been to capture a hummingbird sipping nectar from the perfect flower. This morning I came close. I would have kept working at it but the sun rose above the neighbor’s roof and even though it was only 7:40AM, I could feel the intensity of the morning sun heading for 108° today. I packed up my gear and went inside.