The Case of the Curious Towhee and the hummingbirds

August 10, 2019

     When first opening my eyes on a summer's morning here in the Wind River Canyon, my thoughts always drift to the day's work that I love so much; photographing the wild hummingbirds that come to nest in Wyoming.  It's always good to get a very early start to the day when imaging hummingbirds, they start their day at five-fifteen!  Check the nectar feeders to see whom is around and make a mental note; maybe write it down later.  Is there anything special going on, or somebody new to this isolated ecosystem.

     I was outside with my trusty tripod before the sun broke the eastern rim of the canyon on a beautiful morning recently.  We don't see the sun down here till nine-thirty in the morning during the summers; eleven-thirty in the dead of winter!  An early start means observing time till the sun "comes up." 

     In the shade of junipers I was photographing Rufous and Calliope hummingbirds early in the day when I had one of those feelings.  I've learned to respect these moments as they've sometimes paid dividends.  Swinging around my monster camera-rig I saw watching me from behind was an adult male Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).  They used to be known as  the Rufous-sided Towhee, and some of my books still refer to them as such; they're probably old books---you know, those paper things.  

     He was beautiful but sitting in the shade, so I quickly lowered the shutter speed and fired away.  When I was sure of the quality of the digital file, I just spent some time looking at him looking at me. 

     And this is a good time for me to make a respectable point about spending time with Mother Nature in the wilderness.  Just take some small time to be quiet and take in the sounds and smells and vistas.  Too many just shoot through our nations wonderful parks and really never take the time to let the wild forests change our attitudes:  To let nature heal our very souls in these troubled times. Rufous-sided Spotted Towhee PortraitSpotted Towhee in the Wind River CanyonPortrait of a male Spotted Towhee imaged in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming.      I'm sure you've noticed the color of his eyes by now.  The big joke around here is they must've stopped in Colorado on the way up.  They arrive every spring and nest in the canyon every summer; I've even spotted the spotted towhees mating-in-the-verge. 

     But it gets even funnier than that....the adults bring the baby towhees down to our feeders where they can fatten up on the sunflower seeds, and then the adults leave!  The baby towhees are then under my care and supervision till they finally leave in late October.  They're ground feeders and can't even use the two bird feeders at our "seed stations."  They are also food for the big snakes out here.  And yes, they are here right now just outside the kitchen door, and probably hungry again----I'll stop this and "drop some seeds."    

     He seems to be eating something that the sun is just lighting at the end of his beak, the sun just a spot on his magnificent breast.  But did I get a hummingbird picture?  Sure did, and I worked it in monochrome (black and white) which is something I rarely do with hummingbird photographs.  In this case I wanted the emphasis on the wings and tail, and not the distracting green reflection of his (a young male) feathers.   Black and White Hummingbird In-Flight Hummingbird In-Flight MonochromeHummingbird in-flight monochrome image from the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming.      The towhee was photographed at 1/250th at F/6.3, ISO 500 at 500mm.  The hummingbird was photographed at 1/3200th at F/8, ISO 500 at 329mm.  The camera was an aging Canon 7D with grip and a Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens with both images; no outrageously expensive gear here.  Which leads me to a finer point----knowing the operation of your equipment like the back of your hand is more important than that $13,000 lens----if I can quote the Tinman, "But I'd still like to have one."  

     Thank you for reading my Wind River Canyon Blog from right here in the Wind River Canyon.  All content in Wind River Canyon Blog and is produced by Michael John Balog and all rights are reserved.

MjB Hummingbirds fighting in WyomingRufous Hummingbirds Fighting, Wind River CanyonRufous Hummingbirds fightting in-flight in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming.    






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