Saturday, March 24, 2007
Aerial dogfights of spring
The Rufous Hummingbirds have arrived. After a refreshing winter spent in Mexico, they're raising hell with the resident Anna's Hummingbirds. The dogfights don't really get going till the migrants regain their feistiness. Then they start kicking butt like rowdies from some out-of-town motorcycle gang. This doesn’t seem quite fair to the Anna's hummingbirds who toughed-out the damp cold winter here like staunch Minnesotans. But this is only a whistlestop for the Rufous Gang; when the snow pack starts to melt they'll revv up their engines and head for the nesting grounds in the Sierra Nevadas and points north.
But that doesn't end the dogfights. The Anna's like to fight among themselves. On a cool spring day two years ago I was sunning on the patio like a lizard with a cup of coffee, when two Anna's hummingbirds suddenly swooped before me in an aerial dogfight. They feinted at each other in mid-air with gorgets flashing. Usually a high-speed air-chase ensues, but not this time. These guys were equally "pumped". Suddenly they engaged in mid-air and crashed to the ground. They glared at each other momentarily while balancing awkwardly on their miniature landing gear. Then one skittered to its opponent, seized him in his mini-feet, and zoomed over the low wall down into the oaks. I was stunned. It happened so fast. It seemed the aggressor latched onto his opponent's feet and carried him off like a raptor.
Last week I decided it was time to test the camera trap at the hummingbird feeders where much of the drama plays out. My first lesson was that no matter how I aimed the camera, it always wanted to focus on any texture in the background. Most of the first pics were out of focus. I solved the problem by hanging a relic from grad school days -- a piece of black velvet photographic backdrop, behind the feeder. In no time the hummers filled the memory stick with a variety of images. A few of the daylight shots were in focus, but the wings were ablurr.
The hummers arrive at 5:45AM and feed till 7:00PM, and in the twilight the camera relied on the flash. I was pleased to discover that the flash stopped the wing action completely.
You can even see the tongue on this Anna's Hummer, which launched itself after tanking up.