Monday, August 31, 2015

Where's Waldo?

I have noticed over the years that the smaller the bird, it seems the less afraid they are of humans. Because I am taking pictures of them pretty regularly right now, I am aware of how much honey is in the pot. In past years, though, I have had a hummingbird come right up in my face and hover. She was telling me the feeder was empty! I would have dismissed the idea, but she did it more than once.

Despite their bravery, at times they would prefer to hide from me on the backside of the feeder. You can see the little tail hanging below the bottom. She thinks she is hiding, but if you click back and forth on this picture and the last one, you will get a little "movie" that will make you laugh. Well, at least it made me laugh.

When they start using the back opening too often, I will set a little stone in it so that they have to use one of the visible openings. I have to try to stay one step ahead of these little critters.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hummingbird Oddities

I thought it would be interesting to point out a couple of odd things about a hummingbird's physical makeup that separate it from other birds. Unlike almost any other bird, when they are not in flight, their wings fold under the body below the tail, as in this photograph.

You may say it is because the bird was preening and lifted her tail to better attend to her feathers. But, if you look at this bird at rest, you can clearly see the wings are folded under the tail. It may have something to do with the length of it's wings. They are rather longer than other passerines.

I posted this image the other day, but I am using it again to show how a hummingbird scratches.

If you look carefully at the last photo and this one, you will see that it has brought it's leg up over the top of the wing to scratch instead of bringing it up underneath the wing. I have never seen any other bird do that.

Admittedly, not a good photo, but don't even get me started about their tongue...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Male Named Ruby

I see far fewer male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds than females. That is borne out by the number of photos of males that I have taken, which is less than 3%.

Males have different motives when they stake out their territory than females. They try to create a breeding territory that can allow them to encounter large numbers of females (they are not monogamous). Females, on the other hand, are more interested in quality nesting sites.

The iridescent neck plumage, called the gorget, immediately identifies the bird as a male. Here in the U. S., east of the Mississippi River, it is unusual to see any other hummingbird but a Ruby-throat.

The structure of the feathers themselves amplify certain wavelengths of light. They are also raised up in a 3-D shape so that the color flashes when the male faces forward. The color can change if the male is facing another direction and appears more golden in this image — although many times, the gorget simply looks black.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Five

I thought I would post a few recent images that I liked today. This is the female who lays claim to the feeder. She is displaying a lot of pin feathers on her forehead. Her wings aren't actually as stubby as they look here; it is just the position they were in when the shutter closed. She looks rather more like a bumble bee.

The light bouncing off the feeder is strong enough to illuminate the underbelly of the birds when the sun is full on it. Her left wing looks almost like a little hand in this image. It is funny how the pattern on her neck is not always visible. Females do have a small ruby dot on their necks, but it is very rarely ever visible.

Preening is such a large part of every birds life. It probably wouldn't take nearly so long if they didn't have to do most of it with the tiny point of their bill. Most photographers would not publish a picture of a hummingbird sitting, yet I think they are interesting shots for examining their interesting little bodies.

Believe it or not, this feeder is close to 25 years old. It was a gift from a friend. The base is made of wood and shows the wear of countless hummers doing the same thing this one is doing: gripping the edge with it's toes. Sometimes they land; sometimes they don't.

This may not have been the best photo depicting this posture I have, but it was the first one I came across. I like this type of positioning of the wings even though it shrouds much of the face. It is best when some or all of the eye is visible. The wing positioning reminds me of a skydiver.

The part of the bottle that meets the reservoir is interesting in that it acts like a lens. It doesn't show what is on the other side of the bottle but mirrors what is behind the camera — only upside down.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Be Our Guest

Over the years, we have had many different types of animals take up temporary residence in our bird house. One year, it was a rather long black snake who spent the entire summer. We even had a flying squirrel spend a couple of weeks sleeping there during the day. They are nocturnal. My wife took to feeding it every evening by putting peanut butter on the end of a stick with a walnut "glued" onto it. She would knock on the house and it would stick it's head out the hole and eat the nut. Until he came along, I didn't even know we had flying squirrels here. You may have them in your area too. You should google it.

Actually, it was my wife who noticed this Gray Tree Frog staring at us as we walked out to the car a couple of days ago. The birdhouse is situated close to the driveway. It put me in mind of another photo of the same species I took a couple of year ago. It is among my favorites for his zen attitude and smiling face that seems to say, "Have a happy day."

In all the years the birdhouse had been there — I'm guessing something like twenty — Nuthatches used it once to raise a family.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Molt

It is that time of year when hummingbirds and other species are molting in anticipation of migration, a time when the condition of feathers is top priority. I see hummingbird feathers from time to time, sometimes floating on a zephyr like this one.

The molt is not the most photogenic time to be filming scruffy looking birds. A couple of old feathers are visible in this image looking like they will fall away soon.

This is actually the same female with many of her pin feathers now visible. Those little white tubes that look like feather shafts between her eyes and scattered over her forehead are the sheaths containing her new feathers. Eventually the feathers either emerge from the shaft on their own or the bird releases them through scratching or preening with her bill.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Surprise Visitor

An unexpected visitor landed on the Allamanda yesterday while I was waiting for a hummingbird to appear. I am not sure what attracted him (it is a male), perhaps the color of the blooms which pretty closely matches his color. The American Goldfinch is the only finch to go through an additional molt in spring into brighter yellow breeding colors. His late Fall molt is much more drab.

Goldfinches do not eat nectar, but he did stay longer than I thought he would. He was on the plant for close to a minute, so I was able to get a number of pictures. They are vegetarian and do not eat insects — at least not intentionally.

Since they are vegetarian, Cow Bird chicks that get snuck into their nests can't survive on an all-seed diet. We have a pair of Goldfinches that visit our feeder routinely which is a little surprising since their preferred habitat is fields, not woods. Now, if I could just entice a hummingbird to check out the blossoms...

Monday, August 24, 2015


The beautiful, tropical Allamanda is distributed from Mexico down through Argentina, so it is very likely the hummingbirds have seen this flower before.

It is a woody plant and the one I purchased had a spiky ball in the middle of it. It turns out this is a seed pod which will eventually dry out and split open and release several seeds.

I try to encourage the hummingbirds to come to the flower by setting the plant near the feeders. Maybe it is because they have seen it before and are familiar with it, but it took them some time before they even checked it out.

During the time I have spent at the Patuxent River and also the pond, I have seen hummingbirds working over the orange trumpet vines that are common near water. They have a similar tubular flower.

Even though they frequent our feeders, they still enjoy having something besides artificially sweetened water. I can't emphasize enough not too sweeten the mix too much. The ratio is four parts water to 1 part dissolved sugar. Two cups of water and a half cup sugar is usually enough to fill a common sized feeder. Too sweet a mix can actually kill them.

The Allamanda isn't in a hanging basket so I can't hang it near the feeder. I set it on a small step ladder so that it is at about eye level when I am sitting down. What? You didn't think I was going to stand there waiting, did you?

The trick is to align the plant with the background so it enhances the photo rather than detracting from it. The lovely bokeh (a Japanese word describing the out-of-focus pools of light) are actually leaves on trees at the far edge of the yard reflecting light.

I wish there was a sure fire way to encourage the hummingbirds to visit the Allamanda, but I can't think of any. I am fortunate if one comes in once a day. I keep the plant on the porch and only set it out there when I am sitting there. I would hate to glance out the window when I am not filming and see one working it over. That would not make my day!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Finding the Right Flower

Finding the right flower to enhance the photographs of hummingbirds has not been as easy as you might think. I wish I had this hanging basket of Wave Petunias back from last year or the year before. We purchased a couple of hanging baskets of these same flowers this spring, but they have been very disappointing. Each year, the blossoms have gotten smaller and smaller. I don't know if they are intentionally hybridizing them to produce smaller blossoms, but this year, they were about the size of buttons. I posted a couple of photos a few days ago showing the hummingbirds on these small, yellow flowers.

Last year, I got a Mandevilla from a local nursery. I didn't purchase it until late in the season and was able to get what is normally a fairly expensive plant for half price. I thought maybe I could over winter it, but I was not able to give it the conditions it needed and it quickly died once I brought it inside for the winter.

The flowers were gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I thought they looked too Christmasy for filming a bird that isn't here in the winter. I decided I wouldn't use one this year, partly because there is no way for me to care for it over the winter.

Not being happy with the Petunias this year, I went looking for a flower that might be both attractive to the hummingbirds and attractive in photos. I settled on a flower called Torenia or more commonly known as the wishbone plant. If you look at the blossom in the center you will see why it is called that.

The Torenia wasn't as attractive to the hummingbirds as I had hoped. They have largely ignored it, but the few times they have been near it, I was not impressed with the look. Although I have been trying to find tubular flowers for the hummingbirds, truth be known they seem just as attracted to flowers in other shapes, including the small flowers that make up a bract of crepe myrtle blooms.

Earlier this past week, I went back to the nursery where I purchased the Mandevilla last year. I have had my eye all summer on a beautiful tropical flower called Allamanda. It is native to Brazil. I thought it's yellow tubular form would compliment the colors of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nicely.

I talked to the manager and asked if he would discount the flower since it is so late in the season. Without hesitating, he agreed to reduce the price 40%! So now I have this beautiful flower to use as a prop with the birds. If any reader lives near me and has a green house, let me know. The flower is yours at the end of the season.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bird on a Wire

I don't mind the Hummingbirds landing on the rope — although I would prefer they land on the branch I put out there for them. They do so much twitchy stuff when they land like this. They have weak feet and actually use their wings to launch themselves whereas other birds will spring into the air a bit before flying. For example, I saw one turn around and face the other direction the other day. To do that, it took off straight up like a helicopter, turned around very carefully in the air and settled back down. That is the outside spotlight in the background in case you are trying to figure what you are looking at.

I took this photograph at 1/320 second exposure which is fast enough for the bird on the rope which is hardly moving. That semi-circular streak just behind it, however, was another Hummingbird moving so fast that all I caught was a blur.

It is easy to catch them in very odd poses because they get so twitchy, as I said before. This one was just getting it's wing folded back in from a stretch. I tend to think of their bill as a tube, but as you will see in a moment it really isn't. They part it slightly and slide their long tongue out the end to sip nectar. That is it's tongue sticking out the end a bit.

Here, it looks like it is checking out the polish job on it's nails. In actuality, it was juking all around preening and scratching.

This is a good photograph for showing that it does have a regular, if somewhat long, bill. Cleaning feathers on it's tail is a piece of cake. Cleaning the ones on it's neck is another matter.

If you look closely, you will see that she has her bill wrapped around her little toe. Birds such as Great Blue Herons or the Mute Swan drive me crazy with their preening because they can spend hours doing nothing else. I don't mind Ruby-throated Hummingbirds preening because their lives are so sped up, they can concentrate it all down into a minute or two and they are just crazy to watch.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Hot Mess

Hummingbirds do some strange things. In fact, it can be just as entertaining to watch them perched and preening as it is to watch them juke around at a feeder.

There is nothing like a good stretch!

I use to have a friend that would stretch like this. It looked like it hurt, but he always seemed to get a lot out of it.

 I believe they are beginning to molt and that is why they look so scruffy. It makes sense since they would have a nice new coat for their migration, which is coming up pretty quickly.

They have such amazing control over even the smallest feathers.

She reminds me of Madge on the Palmolive commercial. (I think it was Palmolive.) Oops! Am I dating myself?...