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Hummingbirds and Bats
of Southern Arizona


This year, our Arizona Hummingbird and Nocturnal Wildlife Photo Tour was one of the most hectic for me, since I flew directly from Ecuador, where we did our first Ecuador Hummingbird Photo Tour, to Tucson. Meanwhile, Mary flew home, and packed our truck with the help of her brother, Howard, for the three day drive to Madera Canyon. For Mary, although also hectic, it was a wonderful time to share with her brother Howard, and, in abstensia, his twin, Harry, who participated as 'Flat Harry' and was featured in the Facebook postings they made as they traveled across country.

The last shot of Flat Harry, and this one
I helped set up with a rattler we caught.

Meanwhile, with the help of two great friends, Tom Wester and Christian Cunha, I prepared for our hummingbird shoot. When we arrived, I was surprised and disappointed to find almost all of the hummingbird feeders at our lodge empty and no birds in sight. The empty feeders, I discovered, was an exception, but it is always a bit scarey not to see any birds when I arrive at a sight. Within hours of placing our feeders, however, every one of our six shooting stations had birds visiting, and as it turns out, the two weeks of photo shoots became among the most productive we've had in years. Every station had activity, and generally that activity was constant, so the shooting was exceptional.

This year, for the first time, we had a Canyon Wren nesting right next to our cabin, in a bird house labeled 'bat house!' I set up a rock 'canyon' and planted mealworms, which the bird used constantly to feed her growing babies. One morning, with some free time, I set up a Range IR and did a morning's worth of shooting, shooting straight up at birds hovering overhead. It provided a unique perspective that showed the birds' wing and tail positions.

bSetting up our feeders nearly four days before the actual shoot is a tremendous advantage to our photographers, as birds have time to find and acclimate to our feeders and adopt them as their regular feeding locations. This was highlighted by the experiences of four different photographers who visited the lodge while we were there. Two of them, whose set-up was fairly close to our's, finally had activity and they left happy, with some productive shooting, but the two others rarely had a shot, as birds did not find their feeders during the three or four days that they were there. For some locations, thirty days may not have been enough time, as some spots may simply not get birds visiting. In contrast, our sites do, and I'm convinced that the hummers remember locations and feeders, and when the feeders are placed in familiar locations they're visited almost immediately.

I suspect this might be similar to birds 'knowing' that particular flowers might be available at a particular location at a particular time of year. To illustrate, our Pennsylvania hummingbirds, after an absence of seven months, will hover in the air space on our porch where a feeder should be, if we haven't placed the feeder before the birds arrive for the season! Although it is somewhat comical to see the birds hovering as if to feed at an invisible feeding station, it certainly illustrates their memory -- they know a feeder should be there, and by golly, one soon appears, as we hurried oblige our birds!

bThis year we had our usual visitors -- the colorful and abundant Broad-billed Hummingbird, which would probably be the trophy hummer if it wasn't so common, and four other species, including Magnificent, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Blue-Throat. An Anna's and a Calliope and a White-eared may have visited one or more feeders, but no one in our group got shots -- although in previous years we've had luck with Anna's and White-eared as well.

I'm most puzzled by the abundance of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds which, when we first started doing shoots in Madera Canyon, we'd almost never see. These birds were usually seen at feeders higher up in the canyon, or not at all, and in any case were rare. Now, they're common, with both males and females visiting the feeders, so they're obviously nesting in the canyon near our lodge. I can't account for the change, which started about five years ago (and we'd been doing this shoot for 15 years prior to this!).

As stated, we had six different stations going, using both Vivitar and Nikon flashes, all hard-wired together so that there was no stutter or ghost imaging that might result from slave-tripped flashes. The amount of equipment involved for the shoot in enormous, with each set having four flashes, and five Manfrotto Articulating Arms or Magic Arms for the flashes and feeders, another Magic Arm and Super Clamp for the umbrella to shade photographers from the hot sun, and multiple batteries to keep the flashes at power. For the Bat Shoots we used four Einstein Flashes, and Manfrotto Magic Arms and U-brackets, and had, thanks to Tom, another entire set of Einstein's as back-ups. For each of our hummer sets I had back-up flashes as well, so, in total, we had over 50 flashes packed for the trip.

bAlthough I had a feeder set up for Nectar-feeding Bats throughout the shoot, only on our last few nights did these bats arrive. The group set up for the bats, but the bats (or bat) came in only rarely, and I managed getting just one shot, and Christine two (one per night), and only did so by keeping our gear out the entire night. That was a disappointment, as I had hoped the entire group would get shots of this species.

However, we did very well with the bats, which was offered this year as an optional shoot. In years past we booked this as part of our tour but the location, The Pond, run by my good friend Bill Forbes, was not going to be available when we first planned the trip, so we only included the shoot as an option. Nearly everyone did make it down, including Tom, Christian, and me, and we did quite well.
Regal Horned Lizard, and the white spot visible on the top of the lizard's head is a peneal eye, a 'third eye' that is thought to be sensitive to light, but does not provide any type of vision.
Banded Gecko, and Speckled Rattlesnake
Black-tailed Rattlesnake

One of the highlights of the shoot was our mini-reptile shoot where we photographed two species of Rattlesnake, the Western Diamondback and the Arizona Black-tailed, using my flashes for a well-lit, studio-like session similar to what we do in our Reptiles of the World Photo Shoot that we conduct at Hoot Hollow. For many, this was the first time, and exciting time, to photograph a rattlesnake up close, at eye-level. Christian found a Sonoran Mountain King Snake, and everyone got some shots of this beautiful snake as well.

As usual, Mary worked her butt off making lunches and, this year, trying to attend to home office work as our previous office manager quit without warning, leaving us with a real mess to deal with at the office. Fortunately, our office staff, including our wonderful new hire, Bernie, and our loyal part-timer Lisa, did a great job, and between their work at the office and Mary's labor on site (with SLLLOOOWWWW internet servite) worked got done, but it kept her busy. I was, or am, still recovering from major back surgery (11 weeks earleri, by the end of the shoots) and I was often flat-out exhausted by the end of the day, sometimes even needing a nap mid-morning or mid-day -- a first for me! Fortunately, Christian and Tom took up the slack and helped me out immensely.

One afternoon we introduced a small Diamondback Rattlesnake to Bill's roadrunners, and we were surprised by the disinterest. Bill regularly feeds the birds mealworms, so they weren't too tempted by a snake, and I suspect the snake was too big for anything but a really hungry roadrunner. Still, it provided an interesting few minutes of shooting and observation.

Because 'the Pond' was not originally booked (the property was supposed to be sold), not all of our groups had a chance to visit this location, although everyone in the first group did have one chance. Next year, now that the property is no longer for sale, we'll be including the Pond as a part of the tour.

However, as a substitute, we included a wonderful visit to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson, and that was a true highlight for everyone. One of the museum's features is the hummingbird aviary where several of Arizona's hummers fly free, and nest. Several in our group got great shots of the hummers, including a female feeding her chicks in the nest, right off the path. Although it is called a museum, the institue in a zoo -- in terms of featuring live animals, not mounts, as a museum might imply, but all of the exhibits feature wildlife found only native to the Arizona and Sonoran Desert area of Arizona and Mexico.
The desert museum has a variety of exhibits, from birds of prey, like this Barn Owl, carried about by a docent, to salt water tanks with Gulf of California sealife, to native reptiles and amphibians. Mountain Lions, a great hummingbird aviary, and much, much more makes this a highlight for everyone.

This photo tour is one of our oldest, as we've been doing this trip almost every year for over twenty-three years! The area, Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 40 miles south of Tucson, is one of my favorite locations in the United States. The biodiversity is incredible, with wildlife ranging from mountain-dwelling black bears to desert geckos, and, of course, a variety of birds.

Bats from the pond. This year we did exceptionally well, and even captured a Sphinx Moth in flight!


Since we've been doing this trip for so long, and because we are kept so incredibly busy during the photo shoot, Mary and I have very little time to actually photograph, except for the bats we do on several nights where it is quite easy to be a part of the photo shoot, and a necessary part as well as I'll describe later. However, because we don't shoot very much, last year I used the images of talented photographer Christian Beaman, from the Netherlands, to help illustrate our 2012 and 2013 Trip Report. I've included his portfolio at the end of this report once again to present a wonderful representation of the images available. Thank you, once again, Christian!

I've also included our nocturnal mammal shots from last year, that I set up 'in my spare time' that allowed me to do some additional photography while we were down in the desert, at night, photographing bats. For this I used a Range IR camera tripping device, and with it we captured Ringtails, Coatis, Gray Fox, Striped Skunk, and Raccoons. We were hoping to do so this year but the mammals did not cooperate. We'll attempt to do so again next year.

skunk ringtail
In 2013, using a Range IR with my unmanned camera, I photographed Coatimundi, Raccoon, Gray Fox, Striped Skunk, and Ringtail Cat while I was in the desert with the group photographing the bats. In the afternoon, while our participants would be shooting hummingbirds, I'd be working on setting up for the mammals at night. Unfortunately, on many nights nothing came in, and action was too unpredictable to attempt having everyone trying the setup, as it took hours. I was hoping to do nocturnal setups this year, but nocturnal mammals were inexplicably absent (very, very wierd) and only on the last two nights did I even see a Coatimundi, but we got no shots. Next year, we'll try again!

Our last day of the last tour was extremely hectic, with the group shooting hummers in the morning, and in the afternoon, the reptiles, while Tom and Christian started breaking down our six hummer sets, packing up gear, and labeling the tables and supports for next year. The following day we continued to pack up, not just for the trip home but also for our first Texas Bird and Wildlife Photo Tour, which we were doing immediately afterwards. We didn't finish packing until 9PM that evening, and left the following morning for the 1.5 day drive to southern Texas, where we would start the tour a day later.
We left Arizona with the usual regrets, simply hating to leave, but we will be returning again next year for three shoots in 2015. We hope you can join us!

To give readers an even better idea of the photo opportunities available, I've included images from our 2012 shoot, which included the Desert Museum and the Pond, as we'll do again in 2015. The following images are from one of our participants, Christian Biemans, from Holland, who made this portfolio in 2012.



p d



b b
b m

I hope you enjoyed Christian's wonderful portfolio. I've never featured anyone's entire portfolio before in one of our trip reports but this one may mark a new trend.
There were several reasons for this. One, Mary and I were so busy that we did not have the opportunity, even once, to photograph any hummingbirds ourselves. I only shot 'test shots' to make sure the lighting was correct for the sets, and since we've been to the Museum many times each of us concentrated on specific species. I really regret I didn't follow Christian around, shooting some of the birds he got! More importantly, Christian's work was superb, but it ALSO ILLUSTRATED THAT THIS IS THE TYPE OF SHOOTING you too can enjoy on this special shoot. No one else offers this type of combination, of birds, bats, reptiles, and a paid-for trip to the Museum. The shooting opportunities are diverse, and Christian's portfolio truly shows this. THANK YOU, CHRISTIAN!

Check out our 2009 and 2010 Bat Portfolio
Read our 2009 Trip Report and 2010 Trip Report or our 2011 Trip Report for further information!

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