Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bird Brains

Phoenix from ~8' away.
Phoenix remains skittish, though with the time I spend with him he is gradually learning to ignore the guy behind the camera and go about his business.  This evening he actually drank from the feeder less than 3 feet from a friend, me, my wife and our two dogs.  A surprise, but given that we were near his food source for a while maybe not so much; desperate times call for desperate measures and I'm sure he was getting thirsty.

While I can't say that he's a pleasure to work with (a la Green Light), he is proving to be reliable, patient, wonderfully curious and willing to push himself a little each day.  I guess, after re-reading my last sentence, I can say that he is a pleasure to work with.  But in a much different way than his predecessor.  Phoenix has pushed me in terms of my approach to him and hummingbirds in general.  No easy ride with him, but the pay off is that I'm learning.  Go figure.

Aftermath and Insight... (Feeder Warfare, pt II)

Phoenix at work.
The next morning I found that Green Light was gone.  I will miss him.  Green Light taught me that curiosity + courage = the ability to learn, or intelligence.  For that I am grateful.

There is a new bird in his territory.  This new hummingbird - I call him Phoenix - is less accustomed to my presence.  He bails at the slightest movement, though he started working flowers by the end of his second day.  I use my longest lens to afford him the most distance I can and work more slowly with him than his predecessor.  Still, he seems to be intelligent, if only he can overcome his fear.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Feeder Warfare, part I

A knock-down, drag-out fight between two juvenile males circa 2005.

Today I awoke to discover a fierce battle going on between what was apparently Green Light and at least two other hummingbirds.  I stepped into the fray with my camera, though getting shots of the frenzied action was nearly impossible.  No quarter was given as even I was used as a strategic perch by familiar and unfamiliar hummingbird alike.  Facing off in mid air, they dove at each other like flying, feathered, dagger tipped torpedoes.

As the day wore on and the fighting continued, my concerns for Green Light grew. He was getting beat up, though he seemed to be winning and was now only fighting one other bird.  I hated the thought of him possibly losing the fight, leaving his territory and leaving me to train a new hummingbird.  As the fighting drew down to a stalemate, hunger became an issue.  Neither bird would allow the other to take from the feeder.  

By around 6:30pm I thought of an experiment to hopefully break the deadlock.  Knowing that Green Light was trained to go to the flowers I presented him, I put a red tulip on the deck rail hoping he would come to it.  He did.  With the other hummingbird behind me and unable to see what was happening, I guided Green Light to the feeder 3 feet to my right and let him feed.  I won't soon forget his desperate attempts to get food from beneath the flower, being too afraid to "go over the top" lest he be dived upon by his rival.
Green Light when he first went to the flower.  He was quickly attacked by his foe.
As the sun set I left the flower on the rail for a time and Green Light managed to get over to it 2 or 3 times.  This allowed me to get some pics of him.  Later, when I was able to view them, they revealed that Green Light had indeed taken a beating, suffering some sort of damage to the right side of his face (though I have no idea how serious it was - see pic below).  When I left the two of them at around 7:20pm, they were still fighting and would continue until dark.

To be continued...
Green Light showing some damage to his face.

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A Green Light for the Spring

Green Light. That is the name I've given to the first (and hopefully only) resident male Ruby-throated Hummingbird on my property this season. I call him Green Light because he was ready to go the day he got here, showing no fear of me and doing the things I ask of him (which usually takes a few weeks to teach). I strongly suspect that he's done this before.

Of course I'm referring to the fact that I photograph hummingbirds every year here on the mountain. It's a privilege I cherish and a challenge I gladly accept. With Green Light, the greatest challenges are technical in nature - lighting, shutter speed, etc. - as he is a willing subject.

quick anecdote: Within the first hour of shooting Green Light, he decided to inspect me and my gear before going to the feeder. He first approached my right temple - I could feel the buffeting from his wings against my skin and hair - then went on to closely inspect my right ear, my left ear, and my left eye from only a couple of inches away. Not satisfied with me, he then flew the foot or so to the front of my lens and stared into the opening of the lens hood. Following that he inspected the heads of the flashes I was using - not just the flash, but the head itself. In those brief seconds I experienced an intelligence I had not seen in 7 years of spending "quality time" with these birds. I was and remain impressed with the level of curiosity and courage these birds possess.