Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

April 25, 2009

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, light, technique — richditch @ 2:49 pm
Broad-billed Hummingbird on nest

Broad-billed Hummingbird on nest

When we first came to Phoenix in 1994 we spent a lot of time chasing after birds around Arizona to add to our life lists and to build a respectable state list. At that time the closest reliable place to see Broad-billed Hummingbird was at Madera Canyon off I-19 south of Tucson. The range maps in field guides from the 80’s and 90’s show broad-billed limited to the extreme southeastern part of AZ.

Things have changed since 1994. About 5-6 yeas ago I started seeing occasional broad-bills at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ; quite a distance north of Madera Canyon. Then we found a nest. And now this is an expected species year round at Boyce, and the Arboretum now essentially marks the northern edge of their range.

I was alerted to this nest along the main trail by a staff member who provided precise directions on finding and seeing it with the hope I could get some photos. Although there was a fairly clear sight line to the nest, as I feared the lighting conditions was miserable for photography. This nest is buried in the shrubbery, with light coming from behind as viewed from the only place it can be seen from the trail.

After carefully positioning the tripod and camera I switched to manual focus as there was just too many twigs and branches and leaves to rely on auto focus. I tried a few shots using just the natural light, but the shutter speed was very low, the light was splotchy, and the overall color had a strong yellow cast from the leaves.

That left flash as my only solution. I detest flash: both for the unnatural look it often creates, and for the mechanics of using it in the field with a big lens. Since the camera was locked down on the tripod and the hummingbird was snug on the nest I was able to get the flash a few feet away from the camera with a remote cord and hold it above and to the left to try for less unnatural shadows.

I’m not completely happy with these results, but its the best I could do on this particular nest location. I don’t care at all for the way the flash has “flattened” the hummingbird. Perhaps next year I’ll be able to work with a broad-bill in a more photo friendly location.


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