Frozen Hummingbirds

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

July 17, 2011

This is the time of year that Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) blooms. For those purists (like me) who prefer to photograph wild subjects in wild, or at least native, settings, fear not, the Trumpet Creeper is a native plant, albeit one often domesticated. But you don’t need to tell folks you took the shot in your backyard right downhill from the septic, now do you?

Beginning at the end of July, the bright orange trumpets always attract hummingbirds, particularly young’uns.

I grew up amazed by the first photographs that captured hummingbirds frozen in flight, and although such shots have become almost commonplace, I still wanted to give it  a try.

So I staked out my backyard creeper and waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Trumpet Creeper

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Trumpet Creeper

I spent a very pleasant couple of afternoons staking out this young hummer.

Now it is unnatural for us to see the feathers of a hummingbirds wing in flight, and I actually prefer a little blur.

But as anyone who knows photography and nature will see immediately, these photos use flash. I don’t, in general, like flash, but in certain cases, it is indispensable: freezing fast action, shooting in the dark, ensuring depth of field for illustration purposes, etc.

Now, we expect hummingbirds to hover for their food.

Hummingbird feeding at a hover

At a hover

However, the thing about freezing motion is that you get to see stuff that you wouldn’t normally notice.  For example, hummingbirds walk or cling or  dive whenever they have the chance. I suppose this saves energy, which has to be critical to such a metabolic blast furnace.

Immature Ruby-throated Hummingbird walking on Trumpet Creeper

Walking on the trumpets

Hummingbird feeding at a trumpet creeper


Hummingbird feeding in a trumpet creeper

Plunging for plunder

Flash renders saturated colors somewhat over  saturated, at least my to my taste. This is exacerbated with such rich colors as the orange of a trumpet creeper. It also tends to cause steel eye, the avian equivalent of that curse of baby photographers everywhere, red eye (you know, the shots that make the adorable two-year old look as if possessed by a major-league demon).

If I were to do this again, I would probably hike up the ISO as high as possible, shoot daylight, and accept the blur. If I felt I needed to freeze the action completely, I would put my flash off-camera and slave it either electronically or by a long flash cord. It doesn’t take a whole lot of distance away from the axis drawn from the subject through the lens to the sensor to avoid red or steely eye.

The thing about putting your flash off camera is, where do you put it?

I think I would cheat. Consider taking a eyedropper full of sugar water and filling up a trumpet or two. They will hold water.  I suspect that, once they found the amazing trumpet full o’ sweetness, your hummers would return time and time again.

Just a thought.

And one final thought. Julie Zickefoose, in a recent edition of the electronic BirdWatchers Digest, speculated that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds took a terrific hit from Hurricane Katrina, which struck just as the birds were stacked up along the Gulf Coast fattening up to fly south. So, if you have any time to feed your hummingbirds, please do so, and if you want to know how, just consult Zickefoose’s recent article, Nectar Concentrate.

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4 Responses

  1. Embrace the blur, Wheats. I love this post, and not just because you went all linky on me. Gonna share it, yeah.

  2. Mary said:

    Smiling at hummer plunging with butt high. Love this!

  3. I embrace the blur whenever I lose my reading glasses. Mary, usually an “up the pipes” shot of a bird is a toss. I love that shot. Pure, dumb luck.

  4. Peg said:

    How fun to see this young Hummer holding onto the petal of the Trumpet blossom and “going in” for the sweet stuff.
    Personally I see the saturation of color as a treat to the eye in this instance.
    Just recently the Trumpet vines in our area have really started bloom profusely. And they really catch a person’s eye when driving by them.

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