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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

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.


Anonymous said...


Your "blog" is great. Candy and I really enjoy your weekly adventures. We are enjoying the same with our 6 humingbird feeders over our property. Seems like where ever we are on the property there are humingbirds doing there thing.

John Rentz

Camera Trap Codger said...

Well, it's good to know you're reading this stuff and can relate to hummers. With six feeders you guys are seriously supporting them. Here they're emptying a feeder a day now.



Anonymous said...

I am a science teacher in AZ and I was hoping to do something like this with the birds on our campus this spring as a part of our ecology unit. What kind of camera trap are you using and how far away from the feeder are you placing it?
You pictures look really great.

Camera Trap Codger said...

I used a Sony S600 point and shoot camera hacked to a Pixcontroller Universal controller. Both a bit hard hard to find these days, but you can buy these so-called "homebrewed cameras" on trail camera forums on the internet. My cameras were about 4 feet away. You could also use a DSLR with a remote wired to a sensor. It will take some experimentation, but you can get a lot of help off the forum like Hag's House and Camtrapper.com. Good luck