Yeah … Not So Innocent!

Immature Rufous Hummingbird captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

Our hummers are very seasonal here at The Ranch, seeing our first normally in the middle of May and the last one the middle of Sept. We have one or two adults at the start of the nesting season and not until the kids are out do we have a dozen or so buzzing about. We have fives species that visit us, the Anna, Black-chinned, Allen’s, Rufous and the sweet little Calliope Hummers here. We had none the first year here so we feel fortunate for those here this summer. We do most of our attracting with plants which definitely love all the attention they receive, from us and the hummers. We do have three feeders at opposite ends of the property. And as you might imagine, each one has been claimed as the sole property of one hummer. We’ve seen that “owner” change a couple of times. The feeder I set up to photograph at belonged at first to a Calliope, then it changed hands to an adult, male Rufous. And now there is an immature Rufous male and he is the funnest hummer I’ve photographed!

One of the great things is he’s not shy, not one bit! I’m right at the MFD of the Z400f4.5, about six feet away from the feeder just standing there with the Z 9 / Z400f4.5 / Z1.4x on a tripod with the SmallRig Fluid head (on a side note, the Z400f4.5 is a fabulous lens! Sharp, fast, light, I’m loving it!). This little guy is pretty darn smart, or clever, or devilish depending on your point of view. In his taking “ownership” of the feeder comes defending his new territory. He will occasionally sit on a nearby perch and swoop down on an intruder but he prefers to “hide” right behind the feeder and ambush interlopers! There is a period around 08:00 when the sun comes through the feeder striking him as he hovers in wait and creates a really cool light on this devilish little guy.

He will just hover there in place behind the feeder which is great for photography. The Z 9 in Auto Area AF animal eye-detect locks on faster than I can see it appear in the viewfinder. The 20fps burst catches a whole lot more hummer photos than the “empty” images I was use to. At times, the little Rufous will perch on the chain holding the feeder in wait. It occasionally will drink itself, but for the first hours of daylight, it’s full on guard duty. Then there are the times he hides hovering right alongside the Z400f4.5 to the right. Trying to figure out how to get that photo. He’s quite the character. We don’t have a name for him yet (but thinking Sly) but he sure has filled the void of the nesting House Wrens which now travel about The Ranch in a pack of seven.

I hope you’ve having the opportunity to photograph hummers this summer! These photos are using the KISS method, just using sunlight. If you need to use flash which I typically do, remember I posted this video that goes through my entire rig. Though the rig has now changed, all the basics are the same. Well, back out to my new little friend. He’s such a character but yeah, not so innocent!

Capturing the Rain

Kodiak Brown Bear family captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

Rain is a part of our experience outdoors photographing critters. Often though, we either run from it or curse it. It’s not very often we embrace it let alone try to tell its side of the story. In Alaska, rain is part of the summer which is why in part it is so green. The critters there including the Kodiak Brown Bear go about their day rain or shine like normal. On this particular afternoon, I wanted the gloppy Alaska rain to be as much of the story as the bears. There are two challenges with this goal, both are technically. Keeping the gear “dry” while showing the rain in the photograph. Both are actually easily once you think it through.

As for the gear, my rule of thumb is, if I can stand the rain, so can my gear. The Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS are old hands at working in the rain. You just need to “blot” your gear dry to keep water from pooling. The gear is not hiding under the towel or some cover, it’s hanging out there just like me. You blot with a clean, dry, white towel so as to not force any moisture in places it shouldn’t go. And in showing the rain, it’s a highlight so making it appear, you need something dark behind it. Then depending on the size of the rain drops and how fast its falling, you dial in the shutter speed for the “blur” you want and that makes it appear in the photograph. And with that, you photograph a rainy day in the Kodiak Brown Bear world. It’s all about capturing the rain.

And Then, They Were All Grown Up

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

While we were gone over the weekend, the kids fledged and the nest box was emptied. As quickly and mysteriously as he appeared, they had all left. The quiet about The Ranch is deafening, neither Sharon nor I realized how much we came to depend on that little House Wrens company the past month! Always amazing how quickly one can get attached to a critter!

I knew time was getting close to the kids leaving home. I spent every single moment I could the last week out enjoying their antics and behind the lens photographing all the activity. Mom & Dad would from sun up to sun down bring in bugs to the box. Don’t know how many kids were in there but the book says it can be up to ten! Even during one of the afternoon down pours when we had nickle sized hail, there they were hauling food to that box. I always knew when it was the male coming in. He would land and flutter his wings (like you see in the video at the top of the website) which I always thought of as excitement of being a dad (there is a biological reason though). And he was always the gentleman, letting the mom go in the hole and feed the kids first, him waiting on the perch with the withering bug in his bill. And they brought in every bug they could find! You’ll see a few examples in the slideshow below.

I would prefocus on the perch on a section I thought he would land on by the direction I saw him approach. I had to acquire them quickly in the viewfinder as they would only perch for a heartbeat prior to going in the box. The speed of the Z 9 AF Firmware 2.1 was greatly appreciated! I was just standing there, out in the open behind the Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS, I wasn’t hiding and he knew quite well it was me. Working in good light was a challenge the last few days. Though good light was on him, I was standing in the full, hot sun. I was wearing my wide brim hat to hide from the sun which he did not like and he told me so. I know that because he gave me the same scolding he gave the Western Bluebird when it came and landed on his perch to investigate the activity at the box. I was bad and took the hat off. It made him happy.

To get a bigger image size, I needed to get closer physically so I attached a extension tube permitting me to move fourteen inches closer and increase the image size by about 18 %. That was about as comfortable as the male was to me though Maggie would often lay down below the nest box while I was shooting and that didn’t phase either adult. On my last shoot as it turned out at the box, I finally started to hear the chirps of the nestlings and I knew I wouldn’t see them fledge as we were leaving the next morning. At the same time, the activity of the parents was at a fevered pitch bringing in bugs it seemed every couple of minutes. One of the last shots I got is the one above, the male perched on the pine behind the box in the morning sun. For once, he sat darn still and for him, a long time in one place, perhaps forty to fifty seconds. It was like he knew, it would be our last time.

We got back to The Ranch a couple days later and as we pulled in, I saw a House Wren out front and I knew they had fledged. When I open the door to the truck, I heard what had become that oh so familiar and heart warming call and then, it was gone. Chores around The Ranch the past couple of days have not been quite the same without his company, it’s pretty quiet. Then, when I sat down to write this post, outside my office window I heard my friend. He was perched in the aspen outside my window, looking in and singing. Then off he flew after the family heading out. What a great spring! Loved every moment except at the end. Can’t wait until next spring to see if the story continues!

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

He Found Love

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6 AFS

Sharon & I were so routing for him! He would be outside our bedroom window before sun up singing and continue all day until sundown. He was at it for almost two months. Though I had seen him once in the company of another wren and I thought I saw copulation, the singing persisted. We thought he hadn’t found a mate. We started to call him Mr Lonely Heart. Then at the beginning of the week we saw him with food in his bill heading into the nesting box. Then we saw TWO wrens with food heading into the nesting box! So, obviously had he not only found love, he made some kids!! And as soon as we discovered this, his singing stopped. What we interpreted as looking for love was actually, bragging he had found love. This little guy is quite the character making observation and photography mandatory for us. When Sharon is in her garden tending to it, he is all around her within arms reach looking for bugs. When I’m out photographing him, he flits all about and the moment I walk away from the camera, he make my 800mm his perch. Our daily vigil now is not to see if he founds love, but looking for the kids to stick they head out the hole. I still don’t know how he found our nesting box, even bigger mystery is how he found a mate, but we’re so glad he found love!

New Resident Looks for Love

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

One of my bigger Ranch projects this spring was to build Sharon a deer proof enclosure for her garden (might have gone a little overboard as it turned out to be 38’x14′). I wanted to make it a little more “homey” so on 30 April, I installed a brand new bird house on a east facing post. I was hoping to attract the bluebirds we’d been seeing and that next year they would use the box. Well, we were blown away when, on the very next day from installing the box, it had a resident making a home, a House Wren!

What’s really amazing to us is not that it took up residence that fast, but that we had never seen nor heard a House Wren at The Ranch, ever! We have no clue where it came from and what we’d really like to know, how’d it find us and that new house so fast! It took the little guy no time to overfill his new home with “stuff” and start advertising that he was available. And man, can that guy sing! He serenades Sharon when she’s working in the garden. He’s at the other end of the house singing outside the office window. He’s at our bedroom window at 05:40 singing at the top of his lungs until nearly sunset. And here we are mid June and still, no mate. I did watch him once copulating with a House Wren on his little perch which had me thinking he had found a mate. But I dunno … she left him as he’s still singing his heart out. In fact, he’s at my window looking at me as I type.

We love his presence and he is such a character. We wish him luck as its been fun to watch our new resident look for love!

A Great Mother

Kodiak Brown Bear with 1yr old cubs captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

Bear cubs, they are just the cutest critters to observe and spend time with. Folks don’t realize just how special this opportunity truly is on so many levels. Most simply revert to the old “don’t get between a mother and her cubs” or “mother bears mean certain death” when nothing could be further from the truth. Proof, I’m here sharing my photos of this family group! Yes, mother bears are fierce protectors of their young but like all bears all the time, they much rather avoid confrontation than ever advance it. We saw this family group leave time and time again rather than confront other bears. The world is challenging for a mother bear so for this mom to have three cubs and then a year later, still have three cubs means in the simplest terms, she’s a great mom!

Cubs are a handful! Most Brown / Grizzly Bears have one cub, then comes twins and the most infrequent are three cubs. You can kinda pigeonhole the characteristics of the three with some human traits. The first born is the most prococial, the one out front being adventurous, getting in trouble and giving mom a great amount of anxiety. The second born is the tag-along, being pulled between being with their older sibling adventures and the safety of mom. The last born is the mamma’s boy, always on mom’s flank and unsure of try anything new. It’s easy to assign these traits when you watch them though they can just as easily be totally wrong. But that’s the fun of watching the family group as they go about their day.

One thing is for sure, when there is any question about their environment, the cubs raise on their back legs to look out over the grass that is nearly as tall as them. If there is any perceived threat by the cubs, they are right next to mom in a heartbeat. Mom communicates to cubs with her facial disk her thought on the perceived threat and from that, they react. This mom is around 1150 pounds, she’s a gorgeous nine-year-old Kodiak Brown Bear. There is truly nothing in the area that at her age and health twould scare her, a confidence she communicates in her actions to the young. That confidence is why she permitted us to be part of her world for three days. I can’t wait to spend time again with her next spring and see what the cubs are up to. She’s a great mom!

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