The Tody is Anything but Common

Common Tody Flycatcher captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 TC w/Z2.x & 1.4 engaged @1680mm

The blinders were off when I was in Costa Rica. While I had my mind on photographing just the Snowcap, all the color bouncing about reminded me there was a lot more than just hummingbirds and this is one of those colors. The Common Tody Flycatcher is a unique bird that I found to be anything, but common. About the size of your thumb, the first thing you note about the Tody is, it does its flycatching within bushes. Most flycatchers catch their prey on the wing, launching from a branch and snatching their prey out of the air. The Tody does the same thing but within the confines of a shrub. You see this dash of brilliant yellow and then see it dart in an opposing direction and then back again. It’s quite something. Then there is that bill, the Tody’s is anything but your typical flycatcher bill. Not small or pointed, I thought of it more like that of a platypus’ and when it looked at me, it gave the Tody quite the gesture. It required all the horsepower I had and the speed of the Z 9 to make a still of this greased ball of lightning. I ‘m really into this little cutie! I only saw it in two locations in Costa Rica and able to photograph it at one so to me, the Today is anything but common!

Makes It Hard to Concentrate on the Fly!

The Bitterroot River and Mountains captured by Z 8 / Z24-120

There are certain things that are a must when you go out fly fishing, rod, flies, net, license and for Jake and I, the camera. The main goal of the camera is to get shot of the other as they are playing and landing that great fish. Then there is that other thing, photography in general. I have no doubt that other fisherman saw me out in the water fishing with a camera on my back thinking I was nuts. I’m sure I am but when you’re offered up views like this, well, I just gotta click. For me, views like this make it hard to concentrate on the fly!

It Can’t Make up Its Mind

The Bitterroots captured by Z 9 / Z70-200f2.8

Whenever Sharon & I are out running errands, we always take time to swing through Lee Metcalf NWR. The gear is in the car and the bins are in hand looking and this time of year, we’re keeping an eye out on the Sandhill Cranes as they nest on the refuge. The wx was on the gray side at first and then broke for a short time and then the rain came, again. The snow line is high on the Bitterroots giving them a white cap which is gorgeous! With the clouds dancing around, the sun playing hide & seek, can’t help but to look up and take in the beauty. While we didn’t find the cranes this field trip, we did have a gorgeous view to reward us for cruising. As the rain started up again on us, snow up on the peaks, the wx told us it was time to head back towards home. But we had to wonder if, it can make up its mind.

The Bitterroots captured by Z 9 / Z70-200f2.8

At First, Just a Silhouette

White-crowned Parrot captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 TC @840mm

It’s 05:25 my first morning on the deck at Rancho Naturalista and I might have come across as a kid on Christmas morning. I was looking out at a silhouette on a tree not too far off wondering who it belonged to. A voice from behind me said, “That’s a White-crowned Parrot” and before I could put my bins up to my eyes, it flew off. My new friend was soon giving me a quick lesson on the lay of the land, the birds I was hearing and seeing. Later the amazing Harry was on the deck and he called out, pointing to a small flock zipping by, “White-crowned Parrots.” I’ll be totally upfront, I was not a parrot guy. Seeing them or photographing them wasn’t on my radar. Had nothing against them, I always blame the Tiki Room at Disneyland for my lack of attraction to them. Well, that all took a wild turn that morning!

White-crowned Parrot captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 TC @840mm

Now they caught not only my attention, but imagination. We had two species of parrot we would see, the White-crowned and Brown-hooded, almost always as small flocks flying past and out of range. On our 4th day they came into the high canopy and fed. Completely backlit and way too high up, there was no photograph to be had. At this point with all the teases, I was really looking at how to get them in the viewfinder. The last morning and the luggage was packed, the van was in route to take us to the airport. I’m on the deck at the crack of dawn with the Z 8 / Z600f4 TC just in case. I’m relaxing there with my coffee (such great coffee!) when I saw a White-crown land up in the canopy. I put the camera to my eye and I could see who it was, but still, no photo. Then it flew off. I brought the camera down to find it had flown down to me! It landed on some sorta seed or fruit pod and just stared at me. It was kinda saying with its body language, “OK I’m here, take your darn photo!” So I did, and did and did some more. What a bloody cool bird! Great color, heck of an attitude and definitely one I don’t see in Montana. I’m now into White-crowned Parrots and look forward to photographing them more next year, and not just a silhouette.

The Weight of a Penny

Stripe-throated Hermit captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 TC @840mm handheld

Hummingbirds are simply, amazing! You might be wondering why the Stripe-throated Hermit looks like a hummingbird but it’s name is Hermit? That’s a long story the biologists need to answer, my challenge is to say in the photograph it’s special, and it’s small. Looking at them with the naked eye, in binoculars and especially in the viewfinder, they seem larger than life. It is actually a bizarre phenomenon how the mind “plays a trick” on our senses that fascinates me pushing my photography of these lightning bolts. The Stripe-throated is on the lower end of the hummingbird pecking order being push around by all the other species (nearly 20) in the area. It would appear in the shrubs like a ghost and disappear the same way. This bird, weighing the same as a penny, no bigger than a business card, how do you communicate that in a frame, the challenge I gave myself for the week. My first photos the Hermit was larger in the frame with more shrub surrounding it. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. It looked “big.” So I fell back on the basics, the eye first goes to light and bright in a frame, and then sharpness. Knowledge I’ve employed over the decades works so well in telling a visual story. In this case, I needed to find that one blossom by itself with the right light and catch the Stripe-throated feeding at it. You can’t tell in the photo, but the rain forest a mile off is the background. With the restriction of the shooting area where we were shooting, I waited with the Z 9 / Z600f4 TC @840mm handheld for it to appear. When it appeared the race began to acquire the feeding spec in the viewfinder, follow it as it fed and wait for it to go to the blossom I had in my mind for the story. In the lower light, I had to raise the ISO to 1600 and relied on Auto Area AF – Bird to lock on to the Hermit. On the 4th day, I found my shot. Later on I was out exploring and one came up to a blossom right next to me, just a foot or two away and I could see then, and only then, just how tiny this mighty power plant truly is. Still amazes me, it’s the weight of a penny!

The Survivor

Costa Rican rainforest survivor captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 TC

Greeting the sun brings with it moments of warmth rewarding the early riser. I had a routine in Costa Rica, being out on the birding deck at Rancho Naturalista by 05:10 with my cup of coffee perched at the railing. High up on a hillside, the view sweeps all the way to the distant volcano. Cane fields and homes fill the valley below. The mountain side where the Rancho hides still has its rain forest habitat, something the view misses. It’s about at this moment that the chorus bursts out taking my mind away from the missing forest. Brown Jay and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird are the first out and heard, soon joined by the Clay-colored Thrust and Red-throated Ant-Tanager. Then the Lesson’s Motmot, Bright-rumped Attila, Montezuma Oropendola, Golden-crowned Warbler and Cocoa Woodcreeper add their voice to the deafeaning chorus. One morning a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl adds its voice, another morning a Tropical Parula, it’s volume is stagering and then at 05:25 everyday like clock work, the White-necked Jacobin arrive at the feeders just inches away keeping me company in the early morning twilight. As the light comes up, the chorus quiets down and as it does, more folks come to the birding deck to see what birds can be seen. The morning fog slowly burns off and by 06:00 birds are silent, busy filling up after the night of fasting. Across away the sugar cane fields fill with workers and appearing are two lone trees, the last survivors of the once vast forest. I wonder what the volume of the morning chorus was like when all one saw was forest? I wonder how long it would have lasted then? I watched those trees to see if any birds visit them. I see none.

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