Hummingbirds photos at Tortí, eastern Panamá (Touring with Advantage Tours Panama, Part 2.1)
As stated in the About page, I never do set up shots; also I currently do not use flash for birds or other large animals, and by large I refer to being larger than insects or certain arthropods. Regarding the set up shots, I have nothing against it, it's simply a personal preference. Regarding flash I prefer to avoid the stress or physical harm that it could possibly cause to large animals like birds and prefer to work with available ambient light but I've made expections in the (dark) tropical forest with toads and lizards, always restricting the quantity of shots and avoiding as much as possible direct flashing.
Disregaring that, I must admit that both technics combined are the best way to do hummnigbirds in-flight photos, and it requires mastery of both. It's not simple in any way and sometimes best results are achived using multiple flash set ups.
Given this explanation, most of my hummingbirds pictures are done when the subject is perched, and away from feeders. Actually, some of my shots have been done in the forest where I have found these little, fast and active fellows taking a break.
This is an example of what I call a set up shot. Feeders and branches are set to attract birds, when birds approach and perch momentarily on a branch the pictures are made; procuring control over the background, the clearance of the subject, and partially, light.
This time I took advantage of feeders that are placed in Hotel Avicar at Tortí to take pictures of their visitors, specially because there were several species of hummingbirds that I didn't had already in my photo collection. Below are the resulting pictures and the usual information we provide in this blog.
Let's star explaining that Hummingbirds are exclusively New World birds, they constitute the family Trochilidae, and are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) range. Indeed, the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm bee hummingbird, weighing less than about 2.5g. They are known as hummingbirds because of the humming sound created by their beating wings which flap at high frequencies audible to humans. They hover in mid-air at rapid wing flapping rates, typically around 50 times per second but possibly as high as 200 times per second, allowing them also to fly at speeds exceeding 15 m/s (54 km/h; 34 mph), backwards or upside down. Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of any homeothermic animal., but to conserve energy when food is scarce, they have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate.
In the wild, hummingbirds visit flowers for food, extracting nectar, a sweet liquid inside certain flowers. Nectar is a mixture of glucose, fructose, and sucrose, and is a poor source of nutrients, so hummingbirds meet their needs for protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc. by preying on insects and spiders. Hummingbirds will also take sugar-water from bird feeders. Such feeders allow people to observe, and enjoy (and of course photograph) hummingbirds up close while providing the birds with a reliable source of energy, especially when flower blossoms are less abundant. A negative aspect of artificial feeders, however, is that the birds may seek less flower nectar for food, and so reduce the amount of pollination their feeding naturally provides.
Some species of sunbirds of Africa, southern and southeastern Asia, and Australia resemble hummingbirds in appearance and behavior, as do perhaps also the honeyeaters of Australia and Pacific islands. These two groups, however, are not related to hummingbirds, as their resemblance is due to convergent evolution.
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii) (12 cm / 4.5 in). The best field mark on this large, rather nondescript species is the large white spots on corners of tail, also a small pale spot behind eye, and pinkish base to lower mandible, and the incospicous scaling on breast. In Panama they are uncommon in lowlands on Pacific slope, and rare in lowlands on Caribbean slope from Canal Area eastward. Occurs in open areas, scrub, second growth, and magroves. Male and female are the same, and it's also found in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua
The Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward) (10 cm / 4 in) has a distintive demarcation between green chest and pure white lower breast and belly. Lower back and rump are coppery. Tail is also coppery on birds in most of Panama. It is found in Costa Rica, Panama and extreme north-western Colombia (near the border with Panama). In Panama it's common on Pacific slope, and on Caribbean slope between northern Coclé and eastern Colón Provinces, and rare in Bocas del Toro.
The Sapphire-throated hummingbird (Lepidopyga coeruleogularis) (9 cm / 3.5 in) has a distinctive forked tail which helps to distinguish it from other similarly sized and coloured hummingbirds. The male is metallic green overall, with a violet-blue throat and dark tail. The female (not pictured) has entirely white underparts from throat to vent and distinctive green spots along the sides of the breast. It's fairly common on Pacific slope, and on caribbean slope from northern Coclé eastward. It is found in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama.
The Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) (11 cm / 4.5 in) breeds from southern Mexico to Panama, from Colombia south and east to Bolivia and Brazil, and on Trinidad. It isan uncommon but widespread species, which appears to be a local or seasonal migrant, although its movements are not well understood. In Panama it's rare on almost entire Pacific solpe, and in Bocas del Toro, Canal Area and eastern Kuna Yala.
This hummingbird inhabits forest, and is usually seen in woodland clearings, but will sometimes visit gardens. The black bill is straight and very long, at about 3.5 cm. The male has bronze-green upperparts, a blue crown, white moustachial stripe and reddish throat. The underparts are grey shading to white on the flanks and mid-belly, and the tail is mainly black. The female is similar, but has a green crown and a purple-edged black throat.
Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) (12 cm / 4.5 in). It breeds from Panama south to northeasterm Bolivia, southern Brazil and northern Argentina. It is also common on both Trinidad and Tobago. In its range is a local or seasonal migrant, with some birds moving up to 1000 miles, although its movements are not well understood. Male is distinguished by black stripe bordered with blue that runs down center of green breast (from throat to belly), and by marron tail. Female shares marron tail, and has black stripe extended down center of white underparts. It's common in lowlands of Pacific slope, from southern Veraguas eatsward; and on Caribbean slope, from western Colón eastward.
Often take nectar from the flowers of large trees; and it is also notably insectivorous, often hovering in open areas to catch flying insects. It appears to be somewhat picky regarding favorite foodplants and often does not visit ornamental plants popular with many other hummingbirds.
The Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) (10 cm / 4 in) is the most common and widespread hummingbird in Panama, present on both slopes. It breeds from east-central Mexico, through Central America and Colombia, east to western Venezuela and south through western Ecuador to near the border with Peru. This is a common to abundant bird of open country, river banks, woodland, scrub, forest edge, coffee plantations and gardens up to 1,850 m (6,070 ft). The almost straight bill is red with a black tip; the black is more extensive on the upper mandible, which may appear all black. Rufous-tailed hummingbirds are very aggressive, and defend flowers (and feeders) and shrubs in their feeding territories. They are dominant over most other hummingbirds. These feeders were no exception to that habit, this species was clearly dominant over all other, even larger hummers like the scaly-breasteds and specially the mangoes were scared to approach the feeders, and were intimidated by these territorial guys; the smaller guy, the sapphire-throated had even a harder time to get to the treasurous sugar-water.