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.


Yesterday morning, this female Anna’s returned again and again to this small perch above the California Fuchsia. Her beak is covered with pollen from the fuchsias. She was not alone. Another female Anna’s, or perhaps a subadult, was nearby and they seemed to tolerate each other’s presence.

2021—The Best Laid PLans

Next week I am going to Madera Canyon in Arizona to photograph many more species of hummingbirds than I have here in Northern California. In preparation, I have set up my hummingbird rig that includes my Nikon D6, my Nikkor 500mmPF lens, and two Nikon SB5000 speed lights with soft boxes so that I can practice with the rig and work on my muscle memory so that I’ll be better prepared for the action in Arizona. My California Fuchsia is in glorious bloom and the hummers visit often and sample from every blossom. The early morning light has been perfect so the last several mornings I set up and focused on the fuchsia blossoms with the best background. Each time, a female Anna’s has buzzed in my face, showing her displeasure at my presence which seems to have disrupted her routine. Yesterday, when she finally began to sample nectar from the back of the fuchsia, obscured by leaves and blossoms, I was hopeful. When she landed on one of the perches I have placed nearby I took a shot to double check my settings. When the hummer returned a few minutes later and began to sip nectar from the Hummingbird Mint out of sight of my camera, I removed the camera and lens only from the tripod, walked across the patio and took several shots hand held while she fed unconcerned by my presence. The blossoms on the Hummingbird Mint were well past their prime and the background wasn’t as good as the background near the fuchsia. Sometimes, if I may paraphrase Robert Burns, the best laid plans can still go awry.

2021—Graphite Macro

For many years, I collected shells from the beaches around Port Aransas, Texas when I visited my friends Chris and Susan there for a couple of weeks each January. The shells have languished in boxes with no purpose. Acquiring my new Nikkor Z MC 105mm lens reintroduced me to that haphazard collection of sandy, broken shells. I remember one day when Chris dropped Susan and me off on an island to gather shells while he went off to fish. The island (I don’t recall its name) had so many shells that the sand was not visible and oddly, it looked like many of the shells had been there for quite a few years as they were bleached white from the Texas sun. This is a trio of shells collected that day, all bleached white. A color photograph didn’t seem that it would do these intricate shells justice so I set my Nikon Z6II to my favorite monochrome setting, Graphite (Picture Control No. 18). This setting brought out all of the intricate details of the shells even though there was no color in them. The two shells on the right are Lightning Whelks, the Texas state shell.

2021—What if?

My new Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 lens, a macro lens, has me venturing into new territory. Macro photography intrigues me. And this new lens has me thinking in “what ifs” especially after seeing what Nikon Ambassador Joey Terrill has done with the lens. Inspired to dig around into kitchen drawers for what might work, I found a package of reusable straws that I bought for some reason even though I rarely use a straw and don’t think I’m too keen on keeping a reusable one clean. But they’re colorful and I thought they would make a good abstract subject. First, I bundled them with a rubber band and shot them straight on. Not too interesting. Then, I thought, “what if use a flash?” I did lots of ‘what if” scenarios with flash including directly behind the straws, so the light came through them. They were all intriguing but not quite right. Then I thought, “what if I pull one of the straws out a little bit?” Bingo! That made all the difference, with and without flash. It’s not really obvious that these are straws which I think is good. I like the abstract nature of it. And, in the end, my favorite image used ambient light and no flash.

2021—Our National Emblem

Six years after declaring our independence from Great Britain, we chose the Bald Eagle as the emblem of the United States of America, because of its long life, great strength, majestic looks, and because it exists only on this continent. A magnificent emblem, indeed! Happy Birthday, USA.

2021—Deep Purple

My new Nikkor Z 105mm Micro lens arrived yesterday after languishing for severals days in a FedEx facility in Southern California. I have read so much about this fabulous new Nikkor lens, especially from Nikon Ambassador Joey Terrill whose macro photography has fascinated me for the past couple of years and I am excited to try lots of new techniques with this lens that are outside of my comfort zone. It offers so many unique possibilities and I look forward to venturing into new territory. I usually use my macro lens for flower photography but Joey Terrill has given me lots of ideas to try new and different things. This is my first subject for my new lens. It is a purple sea urchin shell. I have had this shell for many years but I am sorry to report that purple sea urchins have begun to devastate the once-lush kelp forests of seaweed that used to hug the California coastline. Shockingly, since 2014, 95 percent of the kelp has vanished across a large part of the Northern California coast. Despite this devastation, I decided to use this shell as my first macro subject for my new Nikkor 105mm Micro lens because of its color and because of the radiating pattern on the shell. I wanted as much as possible in focus so I took this shot at an aperture of f/40 and used Nikon’s vivid color space to emphasize the color of the shell.

2021—Looking into the Lens

It was late in the day, almost 7 PM when I took this photograph in Custer State Park in South Dakota earlier this month. The Bison is backlit but I really like the effect of the rim lighting from the setting sun on the Bison’s fur as well as the fact that she is looking into my lens. I always love that direct connection when the critter looks straight into the camera.

2021—What’s in a Name? Part 4

This is a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. Wait! Is it? It’s a ground squirrel all right but maybe it is a Mexican Ground Squirrel. When I took this photograph near the Rio Grande in South Texas in May, I thought it was a Thirteen-lined Squirrel, a type of ground squirrel I recognized from seeing it elsewhere, including in South Dakota. A couple of days later, someone pointed out that the area also has Mexican Ground Squirrels and they look almost identical to the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. I suppose there is a way to tell the difference but a quick look into their ranges shows that they overlap in Texas so short of an expert’s opinion, I’ll probably never know. I’m actually leaning toward Mexican Ground Squirrel because we were so close to Mexico and the location I shot this image was in the middle of that squirrel’s range. So, what’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what is the name, let alone why the name.