Twenty years ago, early one summer morning before our sun burned its way down into this magical place, I was high on a ladder here in the Wind River Canyon. We had just moved into our little cabin near the icy-cold spring-fed creek, and I was painting window trim. I had already seen a snake nearly as big as me, when to my surprise a hummingbird came right up to me! As I worked, another hummingbird streaked near by!
It didn't take an ornithological expert to figure out these were Rufous Hummingbirds; spelling is correct. This species of hummingbird is known to be the most aggressive found anywhere in the Rocky Mountains! And you can trust me, the reputation is very well deserved.
I'd fallen in love with hummingbirds as a child in the gardens of my grandmothers in the state of Ohio. But the only species in the northeast is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I was told that you couldn't take their picture. They moved at a speed that no other bird had even thought of, and thus began a life-long obsession with the tiny jeweled birds.
To make a long story short, film was an expensive waste of time as I watched some high school kid not giving a crap as my film came out of some machine he knew very little about! A cool white-haired guy turned me on to an amazing new technology....digital. It definitely wasn't cheaper than film, but now I had the power; and it changed my life as an artist.
You can never really control nature, as recent weather events factually prove, but, digital gave me a power of creativity that I had only known with paint and pencil. I could do so many things with my nature and wildlife photographs, but that Rufous was a bit of a nightmare. I shot so many frames that I wore out my first digital Canon camera! Early one summer's morning a baby Rufous, just out of the nest that very morning, was making his debut. To this day it is considered by some friends, and my doctor, to be my best image; I of course disagree. What I just printed is my best, or maybe the next one? The image is below---- Both male and female Rufous are aggressive and will challenge others for the rights to control one of my nectar feeders. There's a reason that they're the color of Tigers! And something else fascinating that is the result of hours of listening to them with my eyes closed; they have a language....I know, it sounds nuts. But, the warnings that female gives to others as they near the feeder changes depending upon how close they get, or if she has to get up, or fight them! This realization came to me as a strange understanding, on a sweaty afternoon, of something that maybe others did not know, or shouldn't........below is my favorite portrait of a male Rufous in his prime. This beautiful in-flight portrait won 1st Place at the Cody Country Art League's Cody Art Show. As bizarre as it sounds, this picture represents over 200,000 digital RAW images, almost all of them tossed out because they were not "perfect." I may be nuts for hummers, but my final photographs must be just right. I hate some so much that they are on my website:-) Photograph of one of those females is below---- Besides being an artistic decision, notice how curious these hummingbirds are. This is not by accident, as they find us by pattern recognition. Rufous usually arrive the first week of July in the Wind River Canyon, but they have been known to arrive earlier if the weather is warm and dry through their migration route; this year was cold, wet and yucky.
One of my dentists (i have 2) was high in the Wind River range when a hummingbird came right up to him, face to face as it were. As astonished as he was, this behavior is typical and happens to me all the time; once in a while with a feeder in my hand, which is funny. This type of image is what I love, but seldom get well. Not because I don't know how, because they move like lightning. To capture focus you've got to be quicker than quick with that shutter button.
Studying their behavior is almost akin to a full-time job, but a necessity none-the-less. And one hummingbird behavior is so amazing and took me twelve years! to capture. You see, Rufous males are aggressive no matter what their ages, and this causes interesting confrontations that are impossible to image with any equipment I can afford. But last summer it all came together in a flash of a second, thanks in part to a new, used Tamron lens. I couldn't believe I gotten it, I really was amazed: A young male and an adult male Rufous competing for the same hummingbird feeder. The entire "fight" lasted less than two seconds----three of the pictures from the sequence are below, in order as photographed. Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures with an ability to fly like no other bird outside the Americas. Why do so many people love hummingbirds even when they have never even observed a living bird? They are super special, and the Rufous Hummingbirds are strong willed with a drive to succeed----just like the rest of us Americans. They spend the winters in Mexico, and I would too if I could fly down like my Rufous Hummingbirds!
Every speck of information in my Wind River Canyon Blog and my HogbatsPhotography.com website is protected by international copyright laws; I hope. So until next time, thank you for reading about my favorite magical creatures. I have many more interesting images of hummingbirds and, now I have four different species on my website, and Bighorn Sheep, and mountains and other things that crawl around the Wind River Canyon, right here in the middle of Wyoming!
Goodbye from Wyoming