Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

August 31, 2010

Hummingbirds without Feeders

Filed under: backyard, Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, favorite places, technique — richditch @ 7:37 pm
Costa's Hummingbird at flowers

Costa's Hummingbird at flowers

Recently there was a discussion about photos of hummingbirds taken at feeders on a nature photography web site. The original question was why a posted image showing three hummingbirds at a feeder didn’t get much response from viewers. Responses pointed out that most people prefer seeing birds in natural settings that don’t show the “hand of man” by including the feeder.

But I was surprised that some of the people who commented took it for granted that feeders were used to attract the hummingbirds which were carefully photographed to not show the feeder:

“I think we all realize that to get hummingbirds you usually need a feeder to draw them in”

“it seems that most HB photos are taken with some sort of attraction to get the hummers in range”

It is probably true that most hummingbird photos are taken at feeders, and often at elaborate outdoor “studio” setups, but it is not true that feeders are a requirement. All these images were taken of hummingbirds in central Arizona away from feeders.

Lead image: Costa’s Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, 4/12/05, Nikon D70, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC14E (1.4x), ISO 200, 1/125th second @ f/11, fill flash with SB-800.

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Yes, we have two hummingbird feeders in our yard, and we have Costa’s around every day of the year. I just sit out on the patio and see if any will come sit within camera range.

Costa’s Hummingbird, backyard, Nikon D70, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), 7/30/05, ISO 500, 1/80th second @ f/8, fill flash from SB-800.

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

My wife’s agave plants are favorite perches, and I liked this small-in-the-frame composition that showed some color from the flowers in the garden. Taken about one month after getting my first digital SLR.

Costa’s Hummingbird, backyard, Nikon D70, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), 12/23/04, ISO 640, 1/60th second @ f/8.

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbird, backyard, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), 4/15/08, ISO 640, 1/30th second @ f/5.6.

Costa's Hummingbird

Immature Costa’s Hummingbird, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), 5/15/08, ISO 320, 1/30th second @ f/8, fill flash from SB-800.

Costa's Hummingbird with pollen

Costa’s Hummingbird, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Nikon D200, 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), 5/28/09, ISO 400, 1/800th second @ f/5.6.

I’ve stuck with a single species (like everyone east of the Mississippi has to do) and tried to show some variety in perches, location, and composition.


August 30, 2010

Cutworm, Horn Worm, Tomato Worm

Filed under: behavior, curiosities, Non Birds — richditch @ 3:36 pm
Cutworm, Horn Worm, Tomato Worm

Cutworm, Horn Worm, Tomato Worm

While driving home from a visit to the nearby Gila River tribal lands I realized that the greenish-yellow “stuff” I saw blowing across the highway was in fact a massive migration of fat caterpillars. Their yellow bodies caught the sunlight and winked at me each time they flexed their bodies, and I couldn’t resist stopping briefly for a couple of photos. Although most were very yellow, this one appeared more green and contrasted nicely with the painted roadside curb.

My first thoughts were these were tobacco or cotton horn worms – the sort that turn into large brown moths. Cotton is an important crop in the area. I found an illustration in an old Golden Guide that led me to believe they were Yellow-striped Army Worms. I posted a quick report to the AZ birding list serve – a great resource for anything nature-related in the desert southwest – and was directed to the Common Caterpillars of SE Arizona web site. Scrolling down to the fifth entry shows a good match: the White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata).

August 23, 2010

Greater Yellowlegs

Filed under: Birds, composition, light — richditch @ 6:12 pm
Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

In my previous post I mentioned my low viewing position but didn’t really say why I was so low, so here’s more information on it.

I was at a bankrupt housing subdivision – one of the few benefits of the George Bush economy. A few streets had been laid out, and a few deep retention ponds had been dug. At one of these deep pits a friend had discovered some Burrowing Owls that I posted here in June.

Since the owls didn’t cooperate as I’d hoped on this visit on August 21 I looked for any other subjects I could work. I decided this single Greater Yellowlegs in the trace of water at the bottom of the hole was my best option. So, I made my way down the steep bank and got the shot of my RAV4 from just below the rim.

Since I was in a pit I didn’t get direct sunlight on the subject; instead my light came mostly from the partially overcast open sky above. The light was soft, but also a bit dim so at ISO 400 I could only get a shutter speed of 1/60th second with the lens at f/8. But that was fast enough when the yellowlegs stopped moving for a second.

I’ve placed the bird in the bottom right quarter of the frame. That allowed me to limit the amount of bright blue reflected on the thin layer of water – I thought too much bright blue distracted from the overall “quiet” feel of the soft tans.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/60th second at f/8.

August 22, 2010

Tools we take for granted

Filed under: light, Non Birds — richditch @ 2:02 pm
2001 Toyota RAV4

2001 Toyota RAV4

First, my apologies for those expecting another bird photo, but subjects are still scarce for me around Phoenix at the moment. Its not for want of trying: I was up at 5:00 am on Saturday for an early morning visit to see what the possibilities were with the Burrowing Owls I photographed back in June. The owls were still there, and instead of the two I’d seen in June there were now four of them. But I never had a chance to photograph any of them on a good natural perch against a pleasing background the entire time I waited – just a bunch of boring shots of one owl on an ugly metal fence.

While waiting for an owl to move down to one of the rocks it had used on my previous visit I looked back to judge the light and decided to break out a shorter lens for a shot of my Toyota RAV4 since I don’t normally see it from such a low position.

That got me thinking about some of the tools we take for granted. Here in ¬†AZ you rely a lot on personal transportation, and because the environment is so harsh you want your vehicle to be very reliable. Otherwise you might get stranded a long way from help where you don’t want to run out of water. I bought my RAV4 in March of 2001, and it has been my daily transportation for 9.5 years. It will reach 150,000 miles in the next couple of weeks. I’d not give it a second thought to get in it right now and drive back to NJ or any place else. And with that thought I also realized I’m completely comfortable in it – the seats still feel fine; the controls are where they should be (unlike in my wife’s car); and it still meets my needs. When I bought my RAV I still had a job, my wife was healthy, I worked on a Bondi Blue iMac with a 4GB hard drive and 128KB of memory, I was just learning to scan my slides, and I made cassette tape compilations of music from CDs and vinyl LPs to play while I drove. A lot has changed in my life since then, but not my Toyota.

Nikon D70, 18-70 @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/320th second @ f/7.1

August 12, 2010

Morning Mallard

Filed under: Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, weather — richditch @ 7:56 pm


After my previous two posts (Black Phoebe and Pied-billed Grebe) I figured I might as well give equal time to the Mallard photographed the same day at the Gilbert Water Ranch.

After spending most of my time indoors to avoid the high summer temperatures I was happy to get out for a couple hours on a morning with rare stormy skies. I didn’t expect much and would have been happy just for the exercise and time outside. I ended up working only one of the ponds at the Water Ranch, spending my time as a friend in Utah wrote: “I can envision you at Gilbert, sitting on the point of your butt, knees up, tripod legs spread, getting this shot at this angle.” No doubt he’d thought of this photo of me taken by another Water Ranch visitor taken at the same pond.

I admit I don’t pay enough attention to ducks in the summer, so I can’t really say if this is a young bird or an adult in eclipse plumage. But I do think it shows some amount of genes of the Mexican race, at one time considered a separate species the “Mexican Duck.”

Compositionally this is a lot tighter than I normally frame my subject. I was already set up pond side watching the grebe when this Mallard decided to climb on this log and preen. I didn’t want to mess around swapping the 2x converter off my 300/2.8 lens for the 1.4x in a belt pouch as I was more interested in the smaller more distant grebe. The Mallard barely fit in the frame.

The other concern was the low light level. I love the soft light from overcast skies, but that can be a problem for active subjects and a long lens. I could have used more depth of field from a smaller aperture, but I also had to worry about my shutter speed as the duck fidgeted. I compromised on ISO 400, 1/160th second and f/8.

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