This whole experience reminded me of a movie I saw last year called "The Big Year", which you can see the trailer here
The adventure began after my colleague Matt Erickson invited our family round to their house for lunch and he asked me to bring a camera to take a "few" photos of a hummingbird that was visiting their feeder on a regular basis.
On the day of the Thanksgiving meal, we had a wonderful traditional Turkey meal with a selection a delicious pies
Afterwards the children went off to play and we got down to business of photographing the aforementioned hummingbird. Fortunately we didn't have to wait long before the bird appeared which according to Matt was on a 20-30 minute feeding cycle (he was recording the times when the bird visited - apparently it's a birding thing!).
A had setup my Canon 1Dx with the EF 70-200mm F2.8 II on a tripod and was fortunate to capture a number of images...
|Humming bird profile sitting on a feeder|
|The mouth of the humming is definitely not designed to eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal!|
I was unable to capture the bird in flight to see it's wings (it was my first attempt at a hummingbird photo). Fortunately the light started to fade and I used my flash, off-camera, to add some light. Due to the very short duration of the flash on one of these small units (I shot at 1/16th power which is roughly 1/15,000th of a second) I was able to freeze the humming bird in flight.
|Frozen in flight|
|A perfect shot - well my best for the day.|
|The Canon 1Dx does a very good job at handling high ISO|
Unfortunately we had a passive happy hummingbird who happily kept her tail tucked neatly behind her.
So it was onto plan B: take as many shots of the bird as possible then upload them and have the "experts" take a look. This is both the beauty and the beast of the Canon 1Dx: beauty because it takes 12 frames per second, beast because I have to sort through the ~350 shots, crop them to get the bird to a decent size in the frame (they really are very small!) and upload them.
4-5 hours later - Done, 223 cropped straightened and adjusted photos (thank goodness for for Adobe Lightroom). My friend Matt then sent out a message to his "Bird Friends" to try and identify the bird. 3,200 page views later and a meeting has been arranged at Matt's house, Sunday morning at 8:30am to formally catch, tag and release the bird. 8:30am on a Sunday morning, hmmmm......
Well in for a penny in for a pound as the saying goes. Recharged batteries, three Canon 580EX II flashes, Pocket Wizard triggers, light stands, tripod, my faithfull Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, add in a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM for the people shots and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM for close ups. I also packed my Canon 5D MK II as a backup just in case I ran out of battery power or, as the case turned out to be, want to quickly move from a macro close up to a wide angle shot. I was definitely ready to shoot.
Bags packed, 7:30am Sunday morning I tried to rouse the family, but to no avail. So headed out to see what the morning would bring. I thought I would arrive early to get my first cup of coffee before I started. I walked in to Matt's house and found a number of strangers all with a similar profile - warm jackets, pair of binoculars and at least one item of clothing advertising the particular person bird of choice (flashback to the movie "The Big Year"!).
|Binoculars, jackets and un-brushed hair - a common birdie profile|
|Allen Chartier (middle), Matt Erickson (left) and Darlene Sillick (right)|
Back to the story...
I think I'd taken my first or second sip of coffee when the Hummingbird turned up for her routine feed...
|Morning feed - I reckon the bird in the image is close to the original size of the bird.|
After watching the hummingbird go through her routine, it was a time to get ready...
|Preparing for the capture...|
Next was preparing the band for the Hummingbird, which was incredibly tiny...
|No it is not an optical illusion - it really is that small|
The band had to be stretched open using a thin knitting needle...
|spreading the band on a knitting needle|
Finally the number on the band was registered in Allen's bird banding book...
|Recording the details|
Once the bird was captured it is put in a special bag to take out of the cage (all with great care and expertise).
|Careful handling of the bird throughout the process|
The following indoor shots were taken with a flash bouncing off the ceiling and show a variety of activities...
|Blowing on the breast separates the feathers and gives a view of the breast. This helps is seeing how much fat the bird has... a gauge of overall health|
|Counting spots on the neck...|
|Spots on the neck...|
|Closely examining the beak to see tiny grooves on the bill which can age the bird. They grooves disappear after maturity and can only be seen with 10x viewer in the hand|
|marveling at the ever changing color of the spots...|
|Measuring of the tail feathers...|
|Looking at the tail feathers...apparently they are critical in determining the type of bird|
|Keeping everyone informed...|
|and finally weighing of the bird...|
After all of the activity it was time to go outside and let the bird fly free...
|A few last minutes photos by Allen for reference...|
|another good look at the tail feathers...specifically the fourth feather from the left|
|Getting ready to release the bird....|
|and finally waiting for the bird to leave.|
I was a great day and very informative, even for us non birders.
Photography wise it was a challenge to keep moving with the flow, so as not to interrupt the banding or the delay of the release. Having great cameras, with bounced light kept it simple.
Thanks to everyone who was involved in making this work.
If you'd like to contact me regarding this article (or to correct any birding terms that I am still learning) feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org