Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Last Hummingbirds

“…if I had continued consuming quantities of beer, slowly becoming louder and less coherent as the afternoon progressed the hummingbirds would have recognized my actions as normal…”

composite from video

On September 1st, I saw hummingbirds for one final time this year. My neighbor told me that they are usually gone by the Labour Day weekend. Just the weekend before I had spent an afternoon shooting some video of them coming and going from our feeder.

It was a spur-of -the-moment thing. That Sunday was a lovely summer day and I was sitting in the yard enjoying a cold beer. Suddenly one of the Ruby-throated birds hovered in front of my face for a few seconds then disappeared. It was one of those things that (at one time) would have caused me to question if it really happened. Now I was becoming accustomed to that sort of thing. Soon three hummingbirds were chasing each other around the yard and taking turns at our feeder. Being the compulsive videographer that I am, I headed into the house to grab whatever gear I could find. After rummaging through my computer room amidst some cursing, I emerged from the house with my video camera and tripod as well as other assorted accessories.

I set up the camcorder on its tripod and aimed it at what seemed like the most popular “flower” on the feeder and zoomed in as tight as the lens would go. Then I sat a little way from my camcorder with the remote button in one hand and waited. It was that simple… Well not quite. It seldom is. I had thought “just this once…”, but no.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (still from video)

 Hummingbirds live in another dimension, separate from our slow-motion lives. Everything they do is at a pace several times faster than us. I’m sure they regard our lumbering motions as we do a snail or a tortoise. Thus I reasoned that unlike many other creatures that I have attempted to video, they were oblivious to our habits and wouldn’t even notice anything different.

The “flower” that I had observed  them go to 9 times out of 10 suddenly fell out of favor and they began to use the other three randomly, if at all. They certainly seemed to know something was up and began to act cautiously when approaching the feeder. Animals are certainly more intelligent and observant than humans give them credit for. They had noticed that I was doing something out of the ordinary. I am sure if I had continued consuming quantities of beer, slowly becoming louder and less coherent as the afternoon progressed the hummingbirds would have recognized my actions as normal (for this locale anyway) and continued unworried about their business. They had noticed that now my motions were deliberate and I had suddenly got all quiet and still and they sensed that this was certainly not ordinary behaviour (for a Sunday afternoon anyways). I soon realized that if I was going to get any video at all, I would have to get more serious and abandon my remote-in-one-hand-beer-in-the-other strategy.

I gathered my resources once again for an all out assault. This time I mounted a shotgun microphone under the feeder on a boom stand and pointed it skyward. For enhanced audio I mounted a wireless lapel microphone on a willow branch next to the feeder. I realized the gaudy red t-shirt I was wearing was just the color that would draw the attention of said hummers, so I figured I might as well don my customary camouflage jacket, pants and cap that I had used many times for getting closer to my quarry. I also installed a 2X extender on my camcorder and pulled up a chair near to a bush so I could manually and discretely operate the camera. I focused, put on my headphones and waited patiently for the hummingbirds to return, which they soon did.

As it often does whenever I am shooting video, the afternoon passed quickly.  I tried some different apertures and number of neutral density filters. I even tried varying my frame rate from my usual 24P to 60P (for slow motion shots).  I activated my “cache” feature on my camcorder, which actually allows me to start recording a set number of seconds before I hit the record button. Perhaps this seems impossible to some of you, but it is a dream feature for any nature videographer. The hummingbird suddenly appears at the feeder, I hit “record” and the 2-5 seconds previous to my pressing the button are added to the front of the clip (allowing me to capture the hummer arriving).

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Still from video)

Shadows covered the feeder by late afternoon and the hummingbirds abandoned their feeding - which was just as well, because the lighting was decidedly poor. I retired to my computer room to review the clips I had captured that day. Some were better than others. A couple of them were exceptional. This is typical for me. Every time I step behind the camera, I learn something new. I am happy if I get 10 seconds of “good stuff” for every day of shooting.

The ruby-throated hummingbirds have migrated now. The days are cooler and soon winter will be upon us. Perhaps I will use some of the video I took that afternoon or maybe it will just be added to my collection of “stock” footage. Maybe one day this winter when the wind is howling and the world is gray, I will review my clips with just a small hint of a smile upon my lips.


1 comment:

  1. Good to see you post again. You tell a good story. I'm sure we'll see some more of these shots.
    I'm not sure if the hummers spoiled a Sunday afternoon or made for a good Sunday afternoon.