The Marvelous Tale of the Surreal Fighting Bees ...

What’s Up?

Monday was day one of post-travel recovery 🙂 Though I did my core and hip flexor exercises and enjoyed a 1/2 mile swim–my first in a long time, I spent much of the day feeling like a zombie. I started catching up on a slew of NFL and UFC stuff on Tivo. All that I can say about Conor McGregor is that he backs up what he says. He is the first to hold two UFC championship belts at the same time.


The Tale of the Scale

After eating pretty much everything in sight for 10 1/2 weeks I got on the scale this morning with much trepidation. I started the scale at 190. It wound up at 185 1/4 pounds. I was thrilled as this represented a weight gain of less then 3 pounds. I ate well today and will continue to do so.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of the folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear, especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

The Streak: 410!

Today’s blog post marks a totally insane, irrational, illogical, preposterous, absurd, completely ridiculous, unfathomable, silly, incomprehensible, what’s wrong with this guy?, makes-no-sense, 410 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a really great job recently–please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. And please remember also that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the new BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would of course appreciate your business.

Your Favorite?

Which of these three images would you enter in the Nature’s Best Contest? They love ICUN endangered species.


marvelous-spatuletail-male-side-view-_a0i3646-pomacochas-peru

This image was created at Pomacochas, Peru with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. ISO 3200. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/100 sec. at f/7.1. Three rows up from the center AF point (Manual selection)/AI Servo Expand/Shutter Button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was squarely on the bird’s eye. Click image to see a larger version.

Fill flash at -2 stops with the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT with a Better Beamer on the Mongoose Integrated Flash Arm via the Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord (2′).

FocusTune/LensAlign micro-adjustment: -1

Image #1: Marvelous Spatuletail male

A Marvelous Tale: the Surreal Fighting Bees

“It eez here,” said my guide Alex in a whisper. I looked at the perch that he said the bird would land on, but did not see any bird. I did see what looked to be two large bumblebees fighting just below the perch. I swung my lens to view the bees and was stunned. The two “bees” were actually the rackets on the bird’s two very long modified feathers. As the bird moved them about as if by magic they looked just like two fighting bumblebees. The male hummingbird’s body was impossibly tiny. When the bird flashed the feathers of its purple crown and aqua gorget it revealed its improbable beauty.

Over a two hour period on my first morning with this tiny bird, I had more than a few chances to photograph the male marvelous Spatuletail as it sat on its lek perch. The photos were all sharp, well exposed, and nicely designed but from my standing position on the steep hillside the light-toned branch that cut right through the hummer’s neck was far less than ideal. It is funny how you can fail to notice the background when confronted with a stunning bird …


marvelous-spatuletail-male-_a0i3914-pomacochas-peru

This image was created at Pomacochas, Peru with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.

ISO 3200. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/125 sec. at f/6.3. Two rows up and two to the right of the center AF point (Manual selection)/AI Servo Expand/Shutter Button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was on the side of the gorget well below the bird’s eye. Click image to see a larger version.

Fill flash at -2 stops with the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT with a Better Beamer on the Mongoose Integrated Flash Arm via the Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord (2′).

FocusTune/LensAlign micro-adjustment: -1

Image #2: Marvelous Spatuletail male

The Second Morning

After spending some time at the hummingbird feeders, Alex and I headed back up the hill to the spatuletail lek. This time I sat. Getting lower helped a lot with the still somewhat cluttered background. As soon as I had leveled my tripod platform by adjusting the leg lengths the bird landed in the same spot. It flew from its perch every few minutes only to land again almost immediately. Over the next 17 minutes and 26 seconds I created 838 images; it’s no wonder the that flash did not fire for many of them! Amazingly, I never once buried the buffer on the 1DX II. (Note: a month later on Bleaker Island in the Falklands I did bury the buffer on my 5D Mark IV for the first and so far only time on a braying/displaying Magellanic Penguin; photos here soon.)

Sated, I left the lek and headed back down the hill with Alex carrying my gear.


marvelous-spatuletail-male-_a0i3336-pomacochas-peru

This image was created at Pomacochas, Peru with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and the and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.

Off-camera fill flash did not fire.

FocusTune/LensAlign micro-adjustment: -1

Image #3: Marvelous Spatuletail male

ISO 2500. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/60 sec. at f/5.6. Three rows up and on to the right of the center AF point (Manual selection)/AI Servo Expand/Shutter Button AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point was on the edge of the gorget below the bird’s eye. Click image to see a larger version.

Marvelous Spatuletail

Marvelous Spatuletail, a Peruvian endemic, is a very rare bird indeed. It can be found only in a single valley in Pomacochas, Peru. Other than the fact that this species is ICUN endangered, there is not much definitive information on this species on the web. It does however, seem that there are less than 1,000 individuals. Conservation efforts include protecting habitat and planting vegetation that supply the tiny hummers with their preferred nectar.

I had thought that the Hummingbird Queen, Linda Robbins, had traveled to Peru to photograph this species, but I learned recently via e-mail that she never did. Folks interested in learning to photograph hummers at multi-flash set-ups should check out Linda’s Hummingbird Guide: How to Photograph Hummingbirds Using High Speed Multiple Flash.

Alex Durand

Many thanks to my guide Alex Durand for his expertise in checking out several lekking areas before hitting paydirt. If you’d like to photograph this rare species or plan a bird photography trip to Peru, do know that Alex is superb. You can learn about his offerings or contact him here. Thanks also to Santos Monte Negro, a young man who lives in a tiny lodge in the center of the valley. Several years ago he purchased a small tract of spatuletail-rich land adjacent to the major highway that runs through the valley. The two leks that Alex checked out — including the magical one — were on Santos’ property.

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As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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Typos

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30 comments to The Marvelous Tale of the Surreal Fighting Bees …

  • avatar Rafy

    Definitely the second one with the hummer in one side of tha hoyo showing off its beautiful crest, and as a balance to the composition the gorgeous spatuletail in the other side.

  • avatar Mike

    Welcome home!

    IMO image #2 is the best of the three. The composition and colour are beautiful. In image #1 my eye is drawn straight up the bill to the (albeit out of focus) branch immediately above. This seems to lock the bid in and leave it nowhere to go.

  • Welcome Back Artie.

    Such an awesome bird. Some how I like the third Image because of the position of the tail.
    Thank you for sharing about this image.

    Like to know which one will you prefer and the reason for the same.

  • avatar Holly

    I like photo # 2. I love that the tail feathers are above and below the branch, this seems very unique to me. I also love how he is displaying his feathers and looking at you. Lovely photo. I am glad you had a wonderful trip. I am looking forward to seeing your future posts. Happy New Year

  • Art, I definitely agree with James Saxon. The placement of the bird is right where the background has the least distraction, and the tail feather arrangement could not be more perfect!

  • avatar Kerry

    Artie
    Tough to decide between 2 and 3. The positioning of the head and tail feathers on 2 is unusual but very pleasing while 3 is a bit more common.
    I vote for 2!!!!
    Both are amazing – what a fun trip!
    I am putting this on my must-go to list!

  • avatar Guido Bee

    I’d go with #2. I think the color separation / contrast of the hummer’s body from the branches in the background is better than #1. #3 has nice color. Not often I see you using fill flash; I kind of wondered if you had something against it. Useful here, and effective without being obvious (-2 EV with do that for you). I’m not jazzed about the background, but there are times when it just is what it is, and the hummer likes it there. Great shots in a challenging environment.
    Thanks for helping me live in South America just a little bit. Welcome home.

  • avatar Peter Noyes

    WELCOME HOME! and thank you very much for keeping us informed while you were gone.
    I like the third picture because it looks like the bird posed for you. His spatula tail is spread out evenly, In the second picture the spatulas are on the left with one crossing over the tail. But, then there is something I like better about the head in the second picture. They are all very good pictures!
    Thank you very much for sharing.

  • avatar Esther Corley

    Interesting the variety of choices among the 3 photos. I really like #2 enlarged. Quite stunning.

  • You picked a difficult subject Artie with Spatuletail and you have to include the tail and it seems impossible to to get the depth field with a Telephoto lens. The only way would be a potable blind (we call them hides in the UK) and a wide angle and a small f stop.

    Welcome back Artie

    Best wishes

    Kel
    UK

  • avatar Catherine Costolo

    This bird is stunning and your photos too. I am so glad that I receive your posts because I had never heard of this hummingbird before.

  • avatar James Saxon

    I would submit No. 3. With the bird almost centered in the frame, I prefer the way the tail feathers are separated which lets my eye move around the frame. Welcome home.

  • avatar Mike Ross

    I like #2. The bird is pleasantly highlighted by the darker background and the placement in the frame is consistent with the direction of the birds gaze.

    Were you using the 1DX II because of the low light conditions, bigger buffer or a combination of those two factors? I recently rented both the 1DX II and the 5d IV. I also read Arash Hazeghi’s comprehensive reviews of both cameras plus DPREVIEW and others plus your comments on the blog. I am having a hard time deciding between them. After your travels, using both cameras, do you have further insights to share? I will probably buy the 5D IV first and see if it can meet my needs after extensive use before deciding to add the 1DX II. I will of course use your B&H link.
    Best regards,
    Mike

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I went with the 1DX II mostly for its excellent high ISO performance. The frame rate benefit was an unexpected bonus in an unexpected situation 🙂

      artie

      ps: Good plan on trying the 5D IV. It is lighter and you can buy two for the price of one 1DX II. And the image quality is superior. I used the 5D IV almost exclusively for most of the 10 1/2 weeks …

  • avatar Jay

    I actually prefer images 1 and 3 over 2. I like the perspective of image 1. Particularly the head angle of the bird, they way the branch angles up (the head angle and the branch clearly move the eye along), and the spread of the tail feathers directly behind the bird. Image 3 I like because the bird fills up a bit more of the screen, and again the spread of the tail. All three are great shots.

  • avatar Ruth Schueler

    Strangely enough I like the first picture best. It seems the most natural and dynamic to me….I can see a busy bird constantly on the go….
    Ruthie

  • Artie, these are killer. What a cool bird and a great experience. I like #2 best – the unique position of the tail feathers lead your eye right to the bird, where he greets you with his displaying gorget and feathers raised on top of his head. Head angle is great, makes me connect with the bird. Those little feet show well in this one too. It’s a winner! Did you make a video of this guy???

  • Artie, I like the the second image, larger than #1, not centered, good eye contact and the sweeping tail perspective..only minus is a bit darker than #3.

  • Curious to know why you were using the Canon 1.4x TC version 2 rather than version 3.
    Any particular reason for this?
    Is there no significant difference in image quality between v2 and v3 of the 1.4x TC?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Bharat, Good catch. I used the 1.4X III. Not sure how the error crept in. Image quality with the 1.4X II and the 1.4X III are identical. The advantage of the series III TCs has to do with AF only when the TC is used with the newer Series II telephoto lenses.

      I have corrected my error.

      artie

      • You have a very attentive audience. 🙂

        Thanks for the feedback about the image quality.
        So no need to upgrade the 1.4x v2 unless I have one of the series II lenses.

        The 2x vIII is visibly superior to the 2x vII, even with the older lenses if I am not mistaken. Would this be right?

  • Welcome back Artie and thank you multiple stacks for sharing your adventures and photography via the blog! Though I’m not a frequent participant, I do look and learn (and live a little vicariously) every day.

    It gave me goosebumps to read of your encounter with this ICUN-listed species. It was part-thrilling / part-tragedy all at the same time. Over the last few years, I’ve really come to appreciate how essential food, water and habitat are to species survival and especially how complex and integrated those factors are. Stress one and the collapse cascades through multiple species.

    Anyway, as for which to submit to Nature’s Best, I had a tough time choosing. After going back & forth a few times, I think the second is gorgeous with a favorable composition. The position of the rackets helps add a little depth and dimension IMO. What a gorgeous little creature that bird is!!

  • avatar Peter Macdonald

    Artie,

    Welcome back to the northern hemisphere. You list the gear used for the three hummer pictures, and all are credited to the EOS 1DX II. You then talk about not filling the buffer on the 5D IV. Was this not filled because you were, indeed, using the 1DX II? Or is that post travel zombie feeling working its kind of magic?

    Best,

    Peter

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