My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Sometimes, it’s just dumb luck, or is it?

One of the things that I’ve always wanted to capture was a reasonably good photo of a hummingbird in flight. While the photos that will follow shortly aren’t great, they are far better than any that I have shot up to this point. One thing that I should mention early on is that the caveat I have set for myself regarding the hummingbird photos is that they not be taken of a hummer at a feeder, but in their natural habitat. Of course, I could “cheat” as some photographers do and use an eye dropper to add a few drops of sugar-water to a flower, then wait for hummers to find it, but I won’t do that either.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

So, you could say that these photos were just dumb luck, but there’s more to it than just luck, and how I got these is how I get many of the photos of rarer species of birds that I’m able to find and photograph.

To start with, the photos of the flying hummer were shot in the park that I walk every chance that I get, it used to be daily, but with my new job, I don’t make it out as often as I would like. The photos of the male perched on the dead snag came from along the trail to Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. The main thing though is that I’m very familiar with the park, and know that there is one small patch of wildflowers where I’m likely to find hummers. Usually, it’s one of them perched in the top of a short, dead tree, looking for insects to eat.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

Male ruby-throated hummingbird

When most people think of hummingbirds, they think that the main food for them is the nectar from flowers, and that is the source of energy that fuels their extremely high metabolism, but they also consume great quantities of insects as a source of other nutrients that they need to survive. Just how high is a hummer’s metabolism? Their hearts beat at 1200 beats per minute, and they beat their wings over 50 times per second when they are hovering. If you’ve ever seen a hummer, you’d see that they are one of the quickest creatures in nature, which is what makes photographing them in the wild so difficult.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly straight and fast, but can stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with exquisite control. Then, shoot off in search of their next meal so quickly that if you blink, they are gone.

Anyway, getting back to what I was writing about, I know from experience the areas where I’m most likely to see a hummer, not only around home, but in other locations as well. They are very territorial, both the males and the females, find one in an area once, and you’re likely to see them there often. That’s another reason that they like to perch up high in dead trees, to watch for other hummers intruding into their territory. Yet another reason is that they like to catch the early morning sunshine to help warm them up after cool nights.

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

Male ruby-throated hummingbird warming up

So, the first item that helped me get the photos that I’m excited about is knowledge of both the bird, and the area that I was looking for the birds in. An ideal place to find hummers has flowers that provide the nectar that they need, with different flowers that provide the nectar over the course of the summer, with one or two places out in the open where they can perch to watch their territory and to look for insects to eat.

I make it a point to stop and spend a few minutes watching for the hummers whenever I’m near a place where I’ve seen them before. So, I suppose that you could add patience and persistence, as well as knowledge to the list of things that helped me get these photos.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

I also pay attention to the slightest clues to help me find hummers, or any critter for that matter. Sometimes I hear either the hummers chirping before I see them, sometimes I hear their wings beating before I see them, most of the time it’s seeing a tiny grey blur shooting across a patch of wildflowers. That’s what led me to these images, catching a glimpse of something too large to be an insect zooming over the wildflowers. I focused on the area where I thought that the grey blur had gone, and spotted the hummer back behind a clump of cardinal flowers. I moved a few steps to my left to find the clearest shooting lane to the flowers, and the hummer behind them. Then, even though I didn’t have a clear view of the hummer, I took this shot to get the camera and lens focused at the correct distance ahead time so that if the hummer did come into view, I’d be ready.

Getting ready in case the hummer came out in the open

Getting ready in case the hummer came out in the open

Then, it was a matter of keeping the camera on the hummer, even when I couldn’t see it clearly, but as soon as it came out in the open, I pressed the shutter release, and let the Canon 7D do the rest.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Then, the hummer backed up, turned toward me…

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

…and I have one more blurry photo from that series as the hummer kicked it into overdrive and sped off, too quickly for the camera and lens to keep it in focus. But, since this is about good photos, no need for the blurry one to appear here.

Not only did I get better photos of the hummer in flight than I ever have before, I got an added bonus as well. In one of the photos, you can see how the cardinal flowers have evolved over time so that hummers pollinate them when the hummers sip the flower’s nectar. Here’s a close-up photo of a cardinal flower from my last post.

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

You can see that the flower’s reproductive parts are on the end of the long stalk towards the top of the flower, and here’s the hummer’s head contacting the flower’s reproductive parts as the hummer goes for the nectar.

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

That’s what has been driving me to improve my photography, being able to capture moments such as that which shows every one how nature works, much better than I could say it in words. You can see that over time, the cardinal flower has developed so that it is a perfect fit for the head of a hummingbird. The hummer gets much-needed flower nectar, and in return, the flowers get pollinated, a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship.

So, how can I match that? How about a good photo of a flying barn swallow’s butt?

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Or, a not so good photo of another swallow in flight?

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Maybe these will do, even though they are quite bad, they show that swallows turn their heads 180 degrees while in flight. I don’t now if they are looking for food, or on the lookout for predators from above, but since I captured it twice in a short time, it must be somethings swallows do very often.

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

I never knew that swallows did this before I saw those photos. They fly way too fast for me to see that with the naked eye, but I can see it clearly in the photos, another reason to continue to improve my skills, to catch the things in nature that we’re not able to see unaided.

Since I’m on swallows, I may as well include these two as well, since they are slightly better quality.

Barn swallow with lunch, in flight

Barn swallow with lunch, in flight

Barn swallow in flight

Barn swallow in flight

You may be able to see that the swallow has a small crane fly in its bill in the first photo, unfortunately, I missed the swallow’s swallow. 😉

It doesn’t have to be behavior or action that I want to capture, sometimes just catching the natural beauty of something is enough, as with this yellow-collared scape moth.

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

Yellow-collared scape moth

I’d like to be able to strike a better balance between portrait shots…

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

Lesser yellowlegs, not cropped

…and action photos.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

What it all boils down to is that I want to be able to share all the things that I’m able to see, but many people don’t have the opportunity and that means that I can’t forget the flowers.

Blue vervain?

Blue vervain?

Grey coneflower

Grey coneflower

Bee balm

Bee balm

Unidentified

Unidentified

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Milkweed

Unidentified sunflower

Unidentified sunflower shot using polarizing filer to darken the sky

Or, the insects that the flowers attract.

Unidentified grasshopper

Unidentified grasshopper

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Ladybug on milkweed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

Unidentified bug on butterfly weed

I’d also like to branch out to shoot other genres of photos, and with that in mind, I attempted, and failed, to get photos of the Perseid Meteor shower. Since I work nights, and I get paid by the mile, and my return load is often late and I have to wait for it, I decided to stop on my way to the Detroit area and try for a couple of long exposure shots. My first attempt was ruined when another truck drove into the frame, parked for a few minutes, then went on its way.

Star and truck trails

Star and truck trails

I still kind of like that one because of the appearance of the trails left by the lights on the truck. Still, that wasn’t what I was after, so I tried another 15 minute shot.

Faint star trails

Faint star trails

No meteors, darn. I know what I did wrong though, I stopped the lens down and had the ISO set very low, so that I could keep the shutter open long enough to catch several of the meteors. I know that three of them crossed the frame while the shutter was open in the second image, but they didn’t leave a trace in the image because they are so short-lived. I should have set the aperture wide open, the ISO up a lot higher, and taken many shots with the shutter open for 30 seconds to a minute at a time, to catch the brief glow that the meteors create. So, it was a learning experience, and what I learned will help when I’m in a better location to shoot either star trails or a meteor shower. The parking lot of the weigh station just 20 miles from the outer suburbs of Detroit isn’t a good place for those types of photos, but it was the best that I could do without missing work.

Starting with this post, I was going to do a paragraph or two at the end explaining what camera, lens, and any other accessories that I used to get the images in this post and future ones, but I decided against it. Most of you don’t care, and I’m also beginning to experiment with combinations of gear that the manufacturers recommend not using together. So, I’d better keep the things to myself, although I have posted a link or two to videos that also suggest doing what the manufacturers (and others) say that you shouldn’t.

You may have noticed that I’m no longer separating my photos into posts from around home, and from the Muskegon area. I see no reason to continue that, as I’ve written as much as I can for the time being about the Muskegon area, but when I go somewhere that I usually don’t, or someplace new, like Loda Lake for example, then I will write those trips up as a separate post.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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36 responses

  1. If you fly fast and eat insects I guess it’s an advantage to have your head on a swivel!

    August 14, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    • Thank you Bob! That’s very true, but I’ve never seen it before.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:36 am

  2. No Jerry, never just dumb luck in your posts. Today’s whole collection shows how much time you spend practising your craft and placing yourself in the right place at the right time. An amazing series of photos. I particularly like the swallows in flight.

    August 14, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    • Thank you very much Brandy! Aren’t you glad that I haven’t shown all the bad photos I shot as I practiced shooting flying birds to get to where I could get fairly good ones?

      August 15, 2015 at 3:37 am

      • Indeed 🙂

        August 15, 2015 at 6:59 am

  3. You are just getting better and better! The shots of the hummingbird and the swallows are fabulous. I really look forward to your posts because I know I am going to see great photos of a variety of creatures and flowers. Thanks Jerry!

    August 14, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I try, and I’ll continue to try, for getting the best possible photos of a wide variety of the things seen in nature. I have the advantage of being able to spend more time outside than most people, I may as well do something with the photos I shoot.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:41 am

  4. The unidentified bug on the butterfly weed might be some kind of leaf hopper or a nymph of a leaf hopper. It looks very much like the ones I see over here except the ones I see are green.

    August 14, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    • Thanks again! I thought the same thing myself, the one I photographed may have been one that had just morphed into an adult, or freshly hatched, and may not have developed the green coloration yet.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:42 am

  5. I would be very happy with any of these captures. Great work indeed! I have seen similar bugs like the ones in the butterfly weed – don’t know what they are either!

    August 14, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    • Thank you very much Dennis! If only I could catch either the swallows or a hummer on a bright sunny day where I could raise the shutter speed to freeze the action better, then the photos will be great. But, these will do until I get better light.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:45 am

      • Yeah, I know exactly what you are talking about!

        August 15, 2015 at 9:32 pm

  6. great shots! love the hummer flying at you!

    August 15, 2015 at 1:37 am

    • Thank you very much Cindy! It’s great when a bird does what I hope it will do, in this case, pause for a photo while looking at me.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:46 am

  7. Beautiful photos, Jerry! We have many hummingbirds here as well. In spring they work the apple trees and blueberry patch along with the bees.

    August 15, 2015 at 2:20 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! We have only one species of hummer here, the ruby-throated, I believe that you have several different ones, it must be great to see so many different ones.

      August 15, 2015 at 3:49 am

  8. Wonderful pictures of the humming bird on the cardinal flower, well photographed indeed. You must be very pleased with the results.

    August 15, 2015 at 4:08 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I was pleased with the hummer on the cardinal flowers, last week when I shot them. But now, I’m looking to do even better the next time, although I’ll probably have a few failures before I top these.

      August 15, 2015 at 4:20 am

  9. We don’t have hummingbirds here in Australia, Jerry, but I do know how fast they go. You must be very pleased to have caught these images. The patience and observational skills and experience certainly pay off. It’s wonderful to watch your development as a photographer, Jerry. It’s obviously a great passion in your life and I’m glad that you are sharing it with us. Beautifully clear and vibrant images. I look forward to seeing where this takes you… Night sky photography is a whole new area! 🙂

    August 15, 2015 at 7:52 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! It’s a shame that you don’t have hummers there, they are so much fun to watch. I used to dabble in night photography back in the days of film, but it was too expense if you made mistakes, and I made a lot of them. 😉

      August 15, 2015 at 6:30 pm

  10. I like these little birds.
    I am absolutely sure it’s so hard to take decent photos of them. You know I like very much photos with barn swallows (ours prepare themselves for migration. They will go Africa, in a few weeks.) I noticed they turn their heads but didn’t know they reach 180 degrees.
    How gentle is is that Lesser yellowlegs!
    And flowers are so nice. I don’t remember to have seen a milkweed flower until now (or maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention).
    Interesting star trails, I should try to get a shot like this, too.

    August 15, 2015 at 7:53 am

    • Thank you Cornel! Our barn swallows are preparing to leave for the southern part of the united States and points south soon as well, I will be sad to see them go. The yellowlegs are a pretty bird, and also fun to watch. There are a number of websites with information on how to shoot star trails, the most important thing is to be far away from any city lights, even the faint glow from them on the horizon can ruin your photos.

      August 15, 2015 at 6:38 pm

  11. I’d be happy just to see the cardinal flowers! That shot that shows the flower’s stamens curled over the bid’s head is just perfect. As you said, who could describe the process any better than that? I look at such things as one of the great rewards of nature study and I’m glad that you got that photo.

    We used to have a few hummingbirds come for the hosta flowers, which they also like to sip from. Trumpet vines also attract them. We need to start planting the flowers that attract them and get away from these fake plastic flowers full of sugar water.

    That’s interesting about the swallows turning their heads like that. I hope they aren’t near any walls when they do!

    That blue flower isn’t a blue vervain but I’m not sure what it is. I’m not sure about the white one either. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them.

    At least you tried to get a shot of the meteors. I didn’t even get that far.

    August 15, 2015 at 9:05 am

    • Thank you Allen! Yeah, the shot of the hummer feeding with the flower’s stamen resting on its head is one of those that will be hard to top, and it does show exactly how the process works, who could ask for more.

      You’re right both the hummers and people would be better off if we planted more flowers that the hummers fed from, it be a much prettier world if we did.

      I wasn’t at all sure about the one that I labeled a blue vervain, but I know that it’s not loosestrife either. The white one has me completely baffled as well. Both were found at the Muskegon wastewater facility, as part of their wildflower plantings for butterflies.

      After my limited success with the star trails, I really want to go up north away from any big cities and shoot a few good ones. I think that there’s another meteor shower in November, maybe I’ll have better luck then with meteors.

      August 15, 2015 at 6:52 pm

  12. All amazing photos, but I probably like best the ones with the swallow and its head turned 180 degrees!

    August 15, 2015 at 9:12 am

    • Thank you very much! They were interesting to see for the first time.

      August 15, 2015 at 6:39 pm

  13. Wow, as if those hummer pix were amazing enough, you go and get that swallow flying, what, upside down or whatever it was doing–super cool! Love those action pix–keep ’em coming! 🙂

    August 15, 2015 at 10:02 am

    • Thank you Lori! I’ll try to keep the action shots coming, how about a flock of cranes taking off?

      August 15, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      • Ooh, yes, please! 🙂

        August 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm

  14. Debra

    These are absolutely brilliant shots! All I can say is wow!

    August 15, 2015 at 10:41 am

    • Thank you very much Debra!

      August 15, 2015 at 6:41 pm

  15. Delightful artistic photos.Jalal

    August 15, 2015 at 11:21 am

    • Thank you very much!

      August 15, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      • You are welcome.

        August 15, 2015 at 7:37 pm

  16. The swallow shots were very good. Those birds fly at some speed.

    August 15, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I caught the swallows on a slow day, when they were using the wind to provide lift as they looked for insects on the water surface.

      August 15, 2015 at 6:44 pm