Did I excite the wrong kind of people with that title? Ah, well, too bad. Courtesy yet again of Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True comes this live hummingbird webcam, and she has zeh babbies right now! That makes a nice subject for me to kick off National Wildlife Week.
You can get more of the details at the host website right here, including clips and stills, and details about the birds, which are Allen’s hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin).
Last summer I did a lot of photography of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) locally, both at my own basic feeder and at the nearby botanical garden, which produced the photo at right, probably the best shot all year, because it’s perfectly natural (I really don’t like feeder shots; they have less marketability.) If you’re going to tell me you can’t get shots like this, guess again. This one was taken with the camera handheld, a Canon Digital Rebel (300D) with a Canon 75-300 f4.5-5.6 Image-Stabilized lens, at a distance of about 5-6 meters. I had been seeing the hummers visiting in the past few trips, and waited until the day was right for light angle and brightness, to allow the fastest shutter speeds. The camera was set for TV mode (shutter priority, Canon still uses the outmoded abbreviations, but with your camera it may simply be “S” mode) and I chose 1/800 second shutter speed – in this mode, the camera then sets the appropriate aperture. I also selected ISO 400 to achieve a decent balance between light sensitivity and detail. Any higher and the image quality would have dropped too far for a decent enlargement. The lens was manually focused, believe it or not – hummers move too fast to trust the autofocus staying locked, and it doesn’t take but a fraction of a second to get the hummer away from the focus-sensitive area in the viewfinder and cause the lens to start racking back and forth along its full travel, making it impossible to find the bird again (because, of course, it’s moved on while this was happening.) This image is a tighter crop on the original, and I produced lots of images where focus wasn’t bang on, so this is where digital helps a lot – I can throw out dozens of images without grumbling about wasted slide film.
Naturally, I got much closer shots at the feeder, too. Hummingbirds get used to human presence very quickly, and you can usually take a seat quite close to the feeder and just be patient – they’ll get used to you. It helps to keep the camera raised close to your face, which may get tiring, but means you have only minimal movement to get the shot, which spooks them less. This particular frame was one of the few where my friend stayed put. I had many opportunities where the bird was perched on the feeder, but took off at the sound of the camera, and it’s truly astonishing just how fast they can move. When you trip the shutter on an SLR camera, a couple of things happen first. The reflex mirror, which lets you see the image in the viewfinder, flips out of the way (that’s why the viewfinder goes black) and the aperture closes down from maximum – these produce the first aspect of that double-click. Then the shutter opens, but in that fraction of a second, the birds were alerted by the noise and had almost always lifted off the perch, giving me a pose I hadn’t expected. This is potentially why they get used to people so fast: we’re far too slow and clumsy for them to care.
So get out there and at the very least, spot some wildlife behavior, observe something new that you never have before, and even get a few pics. I’ll keep posting some tips and observations as we go along.
Yes, okay, even though none of my readers ever clue me in to good subjects to feature, I’ll still let you have a closer look at my patient model. I’m that kind of guy…