Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Biddies

(With apologies to Charles Dickens.) I wish it was possible to show you how the hummingbirds interact with each other around the feeder, but there are simply too many technical and physical problems to overcome. If it is possible, it takes a much better photographer than I to capture it.

When you look through a telephoto lens, you are actually viewing a very small area. I could be watching a hummingbird such as this one and there could be a second one hovering above it just six inches away and I would not see it. In fact, that is exactly what is going on in this picture. I have learned to recognize the postures a hummingbird assumes when another bird is nearby. This is one of them.

Because hummingbirds move so fast, it is almost impossible to keep up with the action — at least for someone my age. And, no, I'm not going to tell you how old I am. So, I have tried to do the next best thing. When I recognize that there is a second bird around by the actions of the first bird, I will focus on the bird (since it is stationary), keep the camera steady, and back away from the viewfinder so I can see the scene before me with my own eyes. This allows me to trip the shutter when I think I can get two birds in the same frame.

Here is another posture that says there is a challenger to the honey pot close by. It is a pretty standard technique for different species of birds to try to make themselves look more imposing by spreading their wings out. We have a nuthatch that does it all the time when he comes to the bird feeder. He'll sit on the deck rail and rock side to side with his wings open. It doesn't work for him too well but it is pretty comical to watch. I saw a pileated woodpecker extend his wings like this one time to make a squirrel back off that was getting too close. So, it is pretty common for birds to do this.

Birds can also fluff out their feathers to increase their size and appear more imposing. I don't know that hummingbirds do this, however. Yes, this one is all puffed out, but I think she was preening just before this and may have been too distracted to let her feathers smooth back down. If I had kept my eye to the viewfinder, I would not have been able to react fast enough to get the second bird in the frame.

Not that these photos are any good anyway. You would never get enough light and speed and depth of field to have everything in this picture in focus. The best you can do is suggest what is going on with their behavior.

There isn't even enough depth of field (because of low light levels) to get both of these birds in focus despite the fact that they very close to the same distance from the camera. The rope isn't perpendicular to the camera; it is at a slight angle. So, the bird on the left is a little too close and the bird on the right is a little too far away. The rope in the very center is where I focused and that is the only thing in the picture that is in focus.

When you see how I can't even get these two birds in focus, you can begin to understand how challenging it can be to photograph their antics.

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