Originally posted Aug 28, 2012
I love hummingbirds. A lot of that is probably due to memories of them when I used to visit Arapaho Ranch, in the Colorado Front Range, every August. It was really only at night that you could not listen and hear the distinctive sound of their flight. We’d always put up a feeder upon our arrival at the Ranch, and they would be visiting it within minutes. And if the nectar in it got a little low, they’d let you know that by buzzing you, if you happened to be sitting on the porch contemplating Middle Boulder Creek. Something that we did a lot of at Arapaho.
So when my kids got me into birding by giving me a Fathers Day gift of a seed feeder a few years ago, it was only a few weeks before I was reading up on hummingbirds in Nebraska. In all the time I have spent in the outdoors, I’ve only seen them here on three occasions. One was a bunch of years ago when I saw one fly through a friend’s backyard while sitting on the deck. The second was on September 1, 2011, when two of them spent a couple of hours feeding from the hummingbird feeder I had by then installed in my own backyard, and the third was yesterday.
While their presence here does not even begin to amount to what it is in the Rockies, hummingbirds do migrate through Nebraska, and some actually nest here. The peak times to find them attracted to backyard feeders – whether just passing through or hanging around for the summer – is the first half of May and the first half of September.
Armed with that information, I had for several Augusts and Septembers been hanging up a feeder in my backyard to absolutely no result. In time, I realized that the experts are right in advising that the nectar be changed and the feeder rinsed out once a week. I fully realized this three summers ago when I saw a hummingbird streak through my yard, stick its nose very briefly in the feeder and scurry away like it was on after-burner, obviously not caring for the fare being offered. (Come to think of it, that was a fourth siting over the years, but it hardly counts.) Adopting the practice of weekly washings, I finally scored the first hummingbird coming to my feeder last September, although it was just that one day.
I had my feeder out through this past May but failed to observe any hummingbirds in my yard or vicinity. When the birdseed store reported earlier this month that the rapid little creatures were visiting feeders in south Lincoln, I thought, “So what am I – chopped liver?” but vowed not to give up and to keep my feeder up and fresh through September if that’s what it took. I also added a second feeder, just in case there is some hidden bird flaw in the first one.
So imagine my delight when, returned from a bike ride late yesterday afternoon, I saw a hummingbird dipping its beak in my new feeder. I hustled my camera and oh-my-god telephoto lens upstairs and set up shop on the patio. After a few minutes, there were two of the little rockets, feeding and kind of hazing each other as well. Because the presence of other birds seemed to keep them away, I moved the seed feeders to another pole and hung both nectar feeders on their former pole. That worked, and I spent about ninety minutes watching hummingbirds come and go. And it was only August 27th! At this rate, they should be around for a while. At least that’s my hope.
On an equipment note – which I usually avoid – hummingbirds are kind of hard to photograph. They are wicked fast and dart around a lot. In case you are interested, for this shoot, I used a Nikon 600mm f.4 routed through a Nikon 1.4 teleconverter to a Nikon D3s firing at an ISO of 12,800. Arguably, the ISO could be cut in half or even further, but then you’d lose just about all depth of focus, something that’s pretty nice to have when shooting something that moves about as rapidly as a hummingbird. But that doesn’t mean that you have to have all that stuff to take a hummingbird photo you’ll like. Any DSLR camera, or one of the new mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras, fitted with a telephoto somewhere in excess of 200mm – the more the merrier in this regard – can take a photo of a hummingbird. It’s just if you plan to print it really big or publish it on the web that you need the pro-line stuff with its outrageous price tags. Otherwise, leave that bag to those of us who are truly possessed.
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