August 2016: Wildlife photography project in Arizona for photographing hummingbirds

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA.

In August 2016, we went to Arizona to photograph the hummingbirds that go there to mate and spend the summer before returning to Central America for the winter.

Spring is the time of year when most hummingbirds migrate north from their winter ranges. In Arizona, species from Costa Rica start arriving in January. Black-chinned, rufous and broad-tailed hummingbirds appear in March. The rare Lucifer shows up in April. Violet-crowned and white-eared hummingbirds arrive in May. Allen’s hummingbirds pass through in July. Anna’s hummingbirds take up residence in September. When they leave, they do so in a similar order. See the table at the end of this article for approximate arrival and departure times for the impressive list of hummingbirds that can be found in Arizona. You can see that there are hummingbirds in southern Arizona all year round.

The hummingbirds follow the blooming flowers northward out of Mexico, feeding on nectar and insects. Records indicate that the same birds follow the same route each year. Apparently, they learn the route as juveniles and don’t risk trying another unproven way. In years when the rainfall is good, most hummingbirds in our area stay out in the desert, eating a natural diet. They seem to prefer it to manmade nectar solutions. If this happens at your feeder, still keep your feeder stocked with fresh, clean nectar even if fewer birds than normal are feeding at it. The hummingbirds will return to it when native food sources dry up. Planting native flowers and blooming cacti will also help attract them to your yard. Last month’s newsletter contained a list of native plants that hummingbirds like.

Even though the migration zones have been mapped in Arizona, it is sometimes difficult to find the birds because their territories are so vast. But, they always need water and flowers, so we always look for an area that has many flowers and is near a river. To make it easier to photograph the hummingbirds, we set up red feeders with sugar water. We place them in natural environments to attract the birds.

Hummingbirds move very fast. We have to use blinds and tripods to photograph them. Often, we also have to use a flash to freeze their movements. By doing so, we can clearly set the subject apart from its background. If we were to increase the sensitivity, we would have flatter photos with less contrast.

The photos in this blog post are raw and come straight from the camera. They will be used for fine art collections.

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA.

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA

Black-chinned hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA.

Broad-billed hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA.

Broad-billed hummingbird flying in Arizona, USA.

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