Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

The male fiery-throated hummingbird on his favorite perch.

I've focused the last few BOTB posts on the first days of my recent Panama trip. During those initial field trips in Panama (a new entry on my Countries I've Birded In list) the best bird we saw (for me anyway) was the fiery-throated hummingbird. There was a very cooperative male fiery-throated coming to the feeders at the upper cabin owned by Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa in Volcán Barú National Park near Guadalupe in the province of Chiriqui. This was one of the stops on our birding tour of Panama, courtesy of Panama La Verde Birding Circuits.

There were dozens and dozens of other hummers there at the Los Quetzales cabins—and perhaps 10 or more different hummingbird species. But it was the fiery-throated hummingbird male that captured the attention of the avid photographers on this field trip. The challenge of course was getting a good photograph. In the low light conditions of the cloud forest, under not only a thick canopy of trees, but also under a sheltering roof, there were two choices: use a flash unit or open your camera way up and hope that a tripod offered enough stability to compensate for the slow shutter speeds. I opted for the latter strategy, sans flash.

Now I know just enough about the finer details of digital camera settings to fill a thimble halfway. And I try not to think about all the great photographic opportunities I've blown by being such a digital photo doofus. (Note to self: Ask Santa for a photography workshop for Christmas).

Lucky for me this male hummingbird had a penchant for a certain perch when he wasn't visiting the feeders, so I (and my more talented fellow camera-wielders) got ample opportunity to take pictures, check the results (LOVE that about the digital era!), change settings, and shoot some more. As I mentioned before, both Jeffrey A. Gordon and Mike Freiberg gave me some sage advice. Later on, at the David airport, I paid them back by buying them rounds of a Panamanian beer that made Budweiser seem like fine French wine, but I digress...

Everything on the male fiery-throated hummingbird seems to be iridescent.

We took turns stepping into the best spots for photographing the fiery-throated. Then we'd edge closer. Every few minutes the male would fly up to the feeders and we'd head back under the porch roof to await his return. Eventually, just before we had to leave, I got close enough to get some decent, frame-filling images of his fieriness.

In low light, when he faced to the side, the fiery-throated hummer looked like just another small, straight-billed, dark hummingbird.

In low light, facing to the side, only two gorget feathers of the male fiery-throated offer any hint of the colorful plumage.

But when any part of his head, breast, or gorget faced directly at you, a blast of color went right to your eyes.

When he turned slightly toward me, the colors began to appear.

After taking a bunch of images I decided I needed to see the bird better with my eyes, so I got the keys to the Land Rover and ran back down the muddy trail to fetch my spotting scope. Back at the cabin, scope set on the male on his favorite perch, I blissed out (despite my panting from the run down the hill and back) just watching the little guy sit, preen, snooze, and chatter at passing rivals.
Every so often I got lucky and captured a blast of iridescence.

This is one individual bird I am going to remember for a long, long, time.

Fiery-throated seems like an appropriate name for this little dude.

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At 1:14 PM, Anonymous OpposableChums said...

Hummers, luckily, have what I call "site fidelity," returning to the same perches repeatedly. This has allowed me to get some great shots that I'd otherwise be too slow to get (including some cool video of a male Ruby-throat flicking its tongue repeatedly).

But, yikes: those Fiery-throated shots are amazing! What a bird! I'D mate with it!

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Beth in NYC said...

What an amazingly beautiful little guy! You did well considering the conditions you faced in capturing him. I hope to get the chance to see these some time.

Photography seminars are really helpful but you might also want to consider Artie Morris' book, The Art of Bird Photography. It's not very long and a really great primer on getting great images. It's helped me immensely. He also has CD book for sale all about photographing hummingbirds with a multiple flash setup. Here's a link to his website: http://birdsasart.com/books.html
(no, I'm not related to him but tell him I sent you anyway. ;-)

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Gorgeous bird,with that brilliant color.

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Bill of the Birds said...

Dear Jason, Beth, Ruth:
Thanks for the comments and compliments.

Beth: I can actually take some small credit for Artie M's photo career since I was there in his apartment in Queens when he decided to quit teaching and become a full-time photog. I DO want to take one of his workshops!

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Julie Zickefoose said...

These are irreproachable, B. Just ravishing, tack-sharp and impossibly good. I say that as a purveyor of informational bird snapshots, rarely sharp, but well-intentioned and undeniably over-captioned.

Take a well-earned bow for getting splendid results in ridiculously difficult conditions. Helps to have friends, huh?

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Tucker said...

Amazing bird and great photo. If only we had those in Iowa. Well I suppose we have some pretty birds but nothing like that.

I enjoy your blog and it was nice to meet you at the IOU meeting this fall.


At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Rondeau Ric said...

great photos for a dufus.

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

Gasp! I've never seen a tiny creature so stylish, gorgeous, and ready for the catwalk.


At 1:12 AM, Anonymous T.R. said...

Wow wow wow. Tack sharp indeed. You have become a fine photographer. Dangerously, one could look a that bird and dismiss evolution on the spot - what kind of survival creates a fittest so resplendent? That was certainly hand painted by some Mayan god or other. No other excuse.

I am off to Nicaragua tomorrow with a little birding on the side. Its been impossible to find a guide so far. I hope I get to encounter this little guy somewhere there.

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Heather said...

Thanks for sharing this little beauty with us, BOTB! Eye-popping color, for sure.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Kyle said...

Stunning images, Bill. Fiery-throated, indeed!


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