Monday, July 25, 2011

Shooting from a "bird blind"

Female Anna's hummingbird
 I quickly discovered that hummingbirds visiting the flowers outside my east-facing kitchen window in the morning can see me two feet from them. And it is clearly freaking them out. I just get one in focus and she looks right at me, then drops from view to the blossoms below the window. In the evening, the sun isn't shining through the window and glinting off my scary lens. So I've had an easier time getting the shot. The down side is that the light is more muted, so it can be challenging to capture wings in motion.

Female rufous hummingbird
Shooting outside is not much better. I've spent the past four months mainly photographing the nesting eagles in my neighborhood. The hummers are not used to me being around. The Annas that winter in the front yard birdie spa are more comfortable with me being around them, although they hate my fill flash.

I remembered a nature photographer suggesting sitting in your car, which can fill-in as a mobile "bird blind." So I hopped into the passenger side of my car, rolled down the windows and waited for hummers to visit the tritoma (red hot poker).

I know my neighbors just figure I'm a tad eccentric. I'm often standing in the front yard at dusk or on the front porch on a ladder with my camera. Two new neighbors walked by me on the sidewalk. I laughed, pointed to my camera, and said "bird blind."

I'm sure I am now the neighbor they will clearly be avoiding. Maybe they thought I was doing some sort of surveillance, spying on an ex-husband.

More in my Hummer gallery. As always, let me know your favorites.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hanging with hummers

Female rufous hummingbird
The crocosmia and tritoma (red hot poker or torch lily) are at their peak, so I tried to catch hummer drama starting early this morning. Two female rufous regularly face off below the kitchen window. But not today. I actually drank coffee and sat next to the window with my camera ready for more than an hour. Later I figured out that the hummers could see me at the window, so they stayed with the lower flowers out of my view. There is about an hour in the morning, when the light is bright but the sun hasn't yet hit the window. Then the glare makes it really difficult to get much that is worthwhile.

Female Anna's hummingbird
This evening, though, an adult female Anna's hung out for a few minutes. She was quite a character, sitting on a branch and poking a flower, then looking for another that wouldn't be so much effort.

I saw a young female Anna's earlier but didn't have my camera (I really do other things in the kitchen besides photographing hummers!) ready. A young male Anna's, perhaps they were nest mates, landed opposite her and they both shared the flowers on the same branch.

More tomorrow! In the meantime, check out my growing Hummer gallery.

Friday, July 22, 2011


"How'd you get that shot?" That's a question I frequently hear. Certainly having a high-end camera that knocks off 4-8 frames per second in low light at close range makes a difference. But that's only part of it. It helps to know and understand your subject. I have been feeding and observing hummingbirds for several years. I know when I am more likely to see them (early morning and late evening year-round, more frequently during the day in spring and summer). I have a hummer-centric yard with a variety of flowers hummingbirds like.

We have two kinds of hummingbird in western Washington. Rufous - the photographs today are of a female rufous - arrive in mid-to-late March and head south in late September, sometimes early October. Anna's hummingbirds look a little like the ruby-throats in the eastern United States. We rarely have nighttime temperatures below freezing. When we do, I bring the feeders inside at night. The birds often greet me when I bring the feeders out. We have mild winters, subtropical plants that bloom in winter, and insects. People are surprised to learn that 75 percent of a hummingbird's diet is insects.

Hummingbirds are very territorial. I hang more than one feeder and hide one from the other with flower baskets.  And I keep feeders up year-round because Anna's hummingbirds don't migrate. Hummers don't need that packaged food with red food coloring. Feeders have enough red to attract them. I mix one cup white sugar (not honey!) with four cups of water. I bring it to a boil, then cool. I have enough for two batches for two feeders. I change food about once a week in winter and every 3-4 days in summer. It's important to keep the feeders clean because there are molds and diseases that grow in dirty feeders.

I have been photographing hummingbirds regularly for about four years. Sometimes I will shoot 10 images and half will be really good. Other times I will shoot 50 images and get three decent shots. You have to be patient. For the images here, I was less than three feet away inside my kitchen. I make sure the window is clean and I keep a dark-colored dish towel next to the sink to cover the faucet which causes a glare on the window. I keep the camera close by when I'm making something in the kitchen. And sometimes just watch out the window for 10-15 minutes.

Visit my Hummer gallery for favorites.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Humming about flowers

I managed to get the windows cleaned just in time for the annual crocosmia opening. I don't remember ever seeing crocosmia (sometimes called Lucifer's tongue) growing up on the East Coast. It's a relative of the iris, native to South Africa, and loves the Pacific Northwest. And the rufous and Anna's hummingbirds love crocosmia.

I started seeing this female rufous, who has clearly claimed ownership of the entire side of the house where most of the crocosmia bloom. I have also seen her at the flower baskets on the front porch, where she chases away another female rufous.

The hummers visit flowers most frequently mid-morning to early afternoon. Then they hit the feeders to tank up at dusk which, right now, is about 9 p.m.

Visit my Hummer gallery for more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Eagle reconnaissance

Bald eagles have made a remarkable resurgence thanks to laws protecting them. Our symbol of the United States is now commonplace along rivers and coastlines. We even have nesting pairs of "urban eagles" which can be a little more challenging to live with than, say, goldfinches. For starters, they are raptors. Although they prefer fish and are often seen hunting above rivers and bays, they will also pick off a duck on the water if fishing isn't so great. Or well-fed chickens from backyard coops. They are opportunistic hunters, and will even steal prey from another eagle or raptor.

When I spotted a bald eagle flying low over a lavender farm I was visiting last week, I figured he or she was hunting or maybe just doing some reconnaissance for future hunting trips. Wikipedia defines reconnaissance as a mission to get information (about an enemy or, in this case, prey) by visual observation or other detection methods. 

About an hour later, two eagles landed in another tree very close to where arts and crafts vendors were located. I heard another visitor say something about the pair nesting in the tree. I didn't think so, especially since both eagles were male. I was too busy shooting to say anything though. 

The eagle pair alternated watching something on the ground, along with another male eagle in a tree about 100 feet away.

These eagles were clearly scoping out something. They would talk to each other and to the eagle in the other tree. Eagles have a call they use with other eagles that are part of their extended family. It's a very unique song that sounds more like a chirp than the screech we often associate with raptors.

They took off from the tree and landed several times.

After watching and photographing them for about a half hour, I walked around the grounds and found what caught their interest. One of the vendors has a mobile chicken coop surrounded on all sides and the top with wire. In addition to a variety of chickens, there is a peacock, peahen, and three new baby peafowl. The peacock was hiding behind one of the houses. He probably realized he was a big colorful target! I have photographs of the pea-couple from another trip and my growing Talons gallery on my website under Fauna.

The friend I was with grew up on a farm. Her parents are retired but continue to raise chickens. They have lost several to bald eagles. In the past couple of years, they have taken steps to protect their flock with wire above in addition to the 8-foot fence to keep raccoons and coyotes out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's the water

Tumwater Historical Park is a relaxing spot to have lunch on a sunny afternoon on the banks of the Deschutes River. The original Olympia Beer Brewhouse rests on the opposite bank. A promising sale to a local investor fell through when the buyer found out there are no sewer or water lines serving the property. The brewery was built in 1906, fell into disuse during the Prohibition, then started brewing again in a new and much larger brewery on the hill above the old brewhouse, which continued to be used for storage. The building is an icon in the area. Those of us who grew up with "Oly" will remember the slogan "it's the water." Glacier-fed rivers and spring-fed streams are everywhere here.

Visit my Tumwater Falls gallery for images from the falls park a short way upstream from the brewhouse.

Old Brewhouse in winter was featured in a juried show in Auburn, WA, last winter.

Floating the Deschutes - Kate Lynch

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eagle yoga and pouncing practice

Papa eagle practiced yoga in the next tree over from our favorite nest.

Mama eagle flew off for an evening salmon snack. Junior, who now takes up most of the nest, practiced pouncing on unsuspecting insects.

He or she appears to be the only fledgling and he's huge. I remember reading that Ma Nature gives young eagles "training wheels" to make it easier to learn to fly. Wing and tail feathers of fledglings are longer that their parents to help with the extra lift they need. About 40 percent of fledglings don't make it past their first flight. So "branching" or jumping from branch to branch in the nest is good practice. This aerie has lots of pouncing and branching spots.

They literally have the summer to learn the eagle ways. Then they are on their own. Visit my Talons Gallery for more images of eagles and other raptors.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seaside Bayside

The west side of the Olympics and North Bay at high tide
 Ocean Shores reminds me a lot of the Jersey Shore and Delaware's North Shore. The area is really a giant sandbar with Pacific Ocean on one side, Grays Harbor and North Bay on the bayside. North Bay is shallow and much of it a mud flat during low tide - a favorite of shorebirds, eagles, raccoons, and the occasional black bear. Favorite Sky & Water images are in my online gallery.

Roosevelt Beach and Copalis Rock

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wildlife at the beach

Great blue heron
Padme the wonderdog and I headed for the coast to escape the 48-plus hours of fireworks that make our town sound like a war zone. We visited our friend Pat in Ocean Shores, which also allows fireworks for three days but only on the ocean beaches. This is the first July 4th weekend that she actually slept (me too!).

The bay side of Ocean Shores is in the flyway of the Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge. We saw lots of birds...and lots of black-tailed deer. The deer here are even more tame than in DuPont. People who live in Ocean Shores like to feed them like folks in the San Juan Islands. Of course, that means everything they plant has to be encased in wire. I'll post more photos tomorrow. In the meantime, if you haven't visited my Water Wings gallery, I hope you'll take a peak.

Happy dog at the beach