Hummingbird Photos

Hummingbirds are familiar visitors to my gardens. I’ve written about them before and will again because I, like most gardeners, find them fascinating. And like so many, I’ve wanted to photograph the tiny creatures in flight to preserve the image that we find so appealing. That desire is a daunting task because of their fast profile and hesitancy to sit still for a portrait.

The key, not surprisingly, is patience. Often when I saw the birds cavorting near the feeder, I would run inside for the camera and return expecting a quick photograph. It isn’t surprising that the hummingbirds were off patrolling another part of their realm by that time. With no photo opportunity I would turn my attention to another section of my garden.

This past weekend I finally achieved my goal. I spotted a small female perched in the branches of the Ponderosa pine tree that holds our primary feeder. This time I quietly backpedaled to the house and softly approached after quickly retrieving the camera.

A hummingbird watching me

She was still in the tree, though staying on the opposite side from my position. I resolved to stay put, as frozen as possible, straining to blend in to the the landscape as though I was a permanent fixture. Tentatively, after a lengthy wait, she flew to closer branches, still wary of the new garden statue. It was about 15 minutes before she hovered in front of the feeder.

The crowning achievement

I snapped a picture. Then another and another. The statue was slowly moving its arms but she didn’t seem to mind as she slurped her tongue into the nectar. I lowered the camera to adjust the shutter speed hoping to freeze the wings in mid-flap when her more colorful mate appeared. His arrival sent her away and the flash of unexpected iridescence caused me to raise the camera a little too quickly. He was gone. I froze and waited another 10 minutes or so, but neither returned.

Anxious to see the results, I loaded the photos on my computer and was thrilled and amazed to find a few spectacular images. No longer reliant on National Geographic or Audubon magazines, there were hummingbirds from my garden now in my photo library.

Over the course of two days I was able to take a number of pictures of hummingbirds in the trees, at the feeder, and resting on the wire fence. I used a standard Canon digital camera with a zoom feature, nothing fancy. Any birds beyond about six or eight feet away tended to be out of focus or too fuzzy once I enlarged the image. And the images need to be enlarged to see the birds; they are pretty tiny after all.

A different bird on day two

The excitement of catching such a thrilling sight on film (or pixels as it is) is invigorating. With a telephoto lens, tripod, and lots of patience I could achieve magazine quality images, but for me, for now, these simple photos are a great achievement. By being a little patient I captured a unique moment in my garden. A moment that symbolizes much of how and why I garden.

Patience in gardening is something I’ve written about before. I plant grapes and asparagus knowing it will be three years before I can harvest anything. I plant bareroot fruit trees knowing that many more years will pass before they fill with fruit. I have plans for what I expect my garden to be in five years, and beyond. To me gardening is about the process and the journey.

Planting bird-friendly flowers and hanging seed and liquid feeders offer birds food opportunities, but it doesn’t guarantee their imminent arrival. With time they will come. We sit near the garden and enjoy their aerial dances and plumage displays. Each year we see one or two new species that we hadn’t seen before.

Now I’m ready to record their populations for posterity. If a hummingbird can be captured in a photo, so too can the finches, doves, jays, and the many others that give us enjoyment. I’ve snapped a few bird photos before but with little purpose. The possibility of success gives the effort new life. It’s not always easy, but great rewards seldom are.

Hummingbirds are a favorite part of my garden, now more so. We wake with their trilling and always look when we see the flash of their flight. The simple notion of them staying still long enough to catch with a camera has awakened other gardening and photographic desires. It’s amazing what a great feeling such a small creature can instill.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Nice !

    Reply

  2. I went backpacking in Paradise Park around Mount Hood in Oregon this weekend and saw dozens of hummingbirds. I wasn’t able to snap any photos, unfortunately.

    Reply

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