This American Avocets looks like Joe Cool as it struts down the beach at Bolivar Flats in Texas. Male and female Avocets look the same except that the beak of females has a more pronounced curve than the males. Although I spent hours over several days this past April photographing American Avocets, I am not certain I can tell the difference. I’m returning to Bolivar Flats again next spring. I’ll make sure I observe beaks so that I will be able to distinguish males from females. In this case, without other birds to compare the beak curvature to, I’m not going to venture a guess as to the gender of this bird.
A female Anna’s Hummingbird sips nectar from a purple salvia on my patio this past May. I was testing my new Nikon Z8 camera at the time. Here’s a little bit of Hummingbird trivia. The Anna’s Hummingbird was named by René Primevère Lesson, a French naturalist in the early 19th century to honor Anna d’Essling, wife of François Victor Masséna, Second Duke of Rivoli. The Rivoli’s Hummingbird, once called the Magnificent Hummingbird, a gorgeous bird that I’ve photographed in Madera Canyon, AZ, was named after the Duke who was an amateur ornithologist.
Yesterday morning, while I was sitting at my kitchen table looking out at my garden which has suffered from the far-too-many 100° plus days we’ve had off and on for weeks, I noticed that the California Fuchsia was blooming despite the weather. And yesterday, it was a delightfully cooler and overcast morning something very rare here this time of year. I began to feel nostalgic about the Hummingbirds and all the birds that I have enjoyed watching in my garden for more than 30 years and realized I haven’t taken any hummingbird photographs at home since I returned from Madera Canyon more than a month ago because of the heat. So I got my Nikon Z9 and 400mm lens and set them on the kitchen table to wait. I’ve planted flowers to attract hummingbirds and hung hummingbird feeders in my garden for all those 30 plus years. For the past 12 years, I’ve photographed those hummingbirds visiting the feeders and the flowers in my garden. They are mostly Anna’s Hummingbirds with an occasional Black-chinned, Allen’s, and Rufous making brief visits. Sure enough, an immature male Anna’s appeared and sampled every open flower flitting from the California Fuchsia to the Salvia to the Hummingbird Mint and back to the California Fuchsia. I captured a few frames (well, more than a few) before he disappeared into the safety of the Photinea. My nostalgia was brought on because I just bought a new house (with no stairs) and I’ll be moving, probably in mid October, and leaving all of the birds here behind. I’m looking forward to my new home and planting hummingbird friendly flowers and hanging feeders there, although the HOA limits bird feeders to two and only in the back yard. But I’ll miss the birds here. When I sell this house, I hope the new owners will want to keep the birds coming to this garden and provide nectar and keep the garden of flowers flourishing. In fact, I may have to add a contingency in the sales agreement that requires it.
This is another education bird from this past April’s visit to the Bird of Prey Health Group open house. A Western Screech Owl under the care of a local falconer stares intently at something of interest in the distance. Those huge eyes are pretty amazing.
The e-mail from the SacYolo Mosquito Control arrived yesterday afternoon. My and surrounding areas were to be sprayed starting at 8:00 PM last evening and ending at 6:00 AM in an effort to contain the invasive mosquito Aedes aegypti which has been detected here in past years and again this year. This mosquito carries West Nile virus which can have devastating effects on bird populations and to some extent humans. This is the second notification of spraying I have received this summer. Earlier this year I photographed a Golden Eagle who is known as Tesla because she survived electrocution many years ago. Unfortunately, her injuries prevent her ever returning to the wild. Tesla is now an education bird for the Bird of Prey Health Group, an organization I volunteer for. Tesla contracted West Nile virus a few years ago and recovered. However, the virus left its scars. Tesla is blind in one eye and the eye color in that eye changed after she had the virus. Looking at her straight on the color difference and the blind eye are quite apparent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the spraying will be effective.
At Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island in Texas this past April, the birds nesting there were in constant motion ferrying sticks to build and fortify nests. This Great Egret carried an especially ornate stick. Whether it was to add to a nest or impress his mate, it would certainly get her attention.
Cornell Labs calls them “creatures of the air.” Soaring aloft and floating on thermals, Swallow-tailed Kites spend most of their day in the air, rarely flapping their wings. We watched as this bird circled low over trees on the edge of Lake Kissimmee in Florida and snatched large wormy larva off leaves. Then it would continue flying, still not flapping its wings, and deftly consuming the larva before dipping low over the trees again for another bite.
A female Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage has a tug o’ war with some sort of wormy thing on Bolivar Flats in Texas this past April. She pulled it taut for a while. I held down the shutter release hoping to capture the moment when she won, knowing she would. She held on for quite some time and just as I thought, “how many images do I need of this?” and lifted my finger, the worm snapped and I missed the dance of the sproinging worm.
Sticking out like a sore thumb (that might be a bit of an exaggeration) an immature American Avocet stands among adult Avocets in breeding plumage, their head and neck feathers a deep rust, while the immature bird’s head and neck are a light gray. American Avocets forage for aquatic invertebrates in shallow water while wading or swimming. The immature bird pictured above seems undecided about its next move.
Houston Audubon’s Smith Oaks Rookery is a favorite roosting and nesting place of thousands of waterbirds. Herons, Egrets, Cormorants and Spoonbills build their nests and raise their chicks there. This Roseate Spoonbill ferries a large stick to its nest somewhere in the rookery. The trees surrounding Claybottom Pond reflect green in the ripples of the pond’s surface, creating an ethereal backdrop for the pink bird.
When I walked past the fading bouquet on my dining room table, left over from last week, I noticed that some more of the lily buds were opening. The morning light from the high transom window made the perfect, dramatic backlight for them.
I just can’t get enough of the hummers of Madera Canyon. I’m so thrilled that we’re going back again next year. This male Broad-billed Hummingbird has plenty of sparkle in the early morning sunlight on our last morning there this past July. The sun was bright early that morning and it lit up the the background which in this shot was the huge scar on a huge oak where a huge branch had broken off. He almost looks as if he knew we were leaving there shortly, looking into the lens.
It beckons. What makes sugar water, the human-offered replacement for nectar, so irresistible? Hummingbirds are drawn to feeders with sugar water. Honeybees, Wasps, and Bumblebees swarm to those same feeders. And, on our last morning in Madera Canyon, a lone Swallowtail Butterfly spent quite some time drinking with its long straw-like proboscis at one of the feeders. Most of the time I watched, its wings were closed and it was facing me so I couldn’t see the pattern of the wings. Finally, it fluttered to the next portal so I could see and appreciate the intricate, colorful, and delicate pattern of its wings. I have read that Butterflies find their nectar by its smell.
Sadie the Golden Retriever came to visit this weekend. She’s 9 months old, full of energy, and single-minded. Retrieving the ball was her primary interest (after harassing Bobo the parrot who stood her ground). With the patio door ajar and my brother, sister-in-law and me sitting around the table catching up, Sadie would drop the ball at the foot of whomever had last tossed it, then she would immediately take up her position on the other side of the pot of California Fuchsia, waiting expectantly for the ball to appear in the air above her. Sometimes she had an extended wait as we had lots of catching up to do. I was impressed with her patience, though. Sometimes instead of peering over the California Fuchsia, as in this shot, she laid down next to the pot staring intently at us through the open patio door.
I loved the posture in each of three consecutive images of a Broad-billed Hummingbird I took at Madera Canyon in July so I merged them into a single image.
The little male Black-chinned Hummingbird visited the feeders at Madera Canyon often but the feeders were usually dominated by the jewel-like Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Because we already had so many shots (but there’s always room for one more, right?!) of the Broad-bills, we were always on the lookout for the hummer species that came one at a time, not in a swarm like the Broad-bills. The first person to spot one of the more elusive hummers called out the species to alert everyone. When the Black-chinned arrived, it always seemed as if from my perspective, the little hummer was behind a feeder or too far away. One day he arrived and I had a clear view but he was a bit too far away so I switched on DX crop so he would be a bit larger in the frame. Suddenly he flew directly in front of me so he filled the frame and seemed almost too close. He didn’t turn enough to light up his purple gorget but there is a little touch of purple. This is my favorite Black-chinned Hummingbird shot from Madera Canyon this year.
This immature Rufous Hummingbird is working hard but doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. This is a GIF created from four consecutive images taken at 20 frames per second and slowed to .2 of a second. I had never created a GIF and now that I discovered it is so easy to do in Photoshop, you’ll probably be seeing more GIFs from me, especially because using the Nikon Z9, I can easily take lots of consecutive images in a fraction of a second. I was especially pleased with this series because the edge of the feeder was not a part of any of the images so what you see is what I took at Madera Canyon a few weeks ago.
A male Rufous Hummingbird waits his turn before flying up to the feeders. The backgrounds were constantly changing as the sun moved and clouds filled the sky. We also rotated our shooting positions twice a day so the backgrounds were different at each position. This year at Madera Canyon, the rains have eased the drought just a bit and the trees were much greener than during our last visit there a couple of years ago. But all was not green. There were large oak trees and their brown bark sometimes created dark backgrounds as seen on the right of this image. Where a huge branch had broken away from a tree, a large light patch reflected light and sometimes created distractions. I was lucky in this shot because the sun was behind a cloud so the reflection behind the hummer was not distractingly bright. There were times that I didn’t shoot in a particular direction because of the distracting highlights in the background.
It always delights me when I get a front view of a hummingbird instead of a side view. The feathers of this male Broad-billed Hummingbird show off their iridescence, their emerald and sapphire colors glistening like jewels.
A macro shot from this past April when the chives were in bloom.