Earlier this week, a hybiscus bush blossomed in my side yard bringing with it the ruby-throated hummingbird seeking its nectar. The window beyond my computer monitor overlooks these purple blossoms and the delightful buzzing of these little birds has offered a minor respite for this temporarily desk-bound field ecologist. Selfishly perhaps, I subsequently bought a hummingbird feeder and placed it directly above the rocking chair on my front porch. In these strange times, it's amazing how a simple plastic feeder filled with red colored, vitamin enriched sugar water could bring me such joy.
Beyond my temporary digs in northern Virginia, the diversity of hummingbirds has recently astounded me. Growing up in the northeastern United States, hummingbirds were an infrequent but always discernible treat. If I saw a hummingbird, I knew it to be a ruby-throated one. Although I've read of their diversity, it wasn't until I traveled to the neotropics where I became enamored with the beautiful diversity of the hundreds of species in the family Trochilidae.
Hummingbirds are unique the the Americas and the Caribbean. Indeed the Eastern hemisphere has its own nectar-feeding birds but they are not hummingbirds. Sunbirds are no doubt beautiful convergently evolved counterparts to the familiar hummingbirds, but they lack incredible flight behavior of these frenetic feeders. Hummingbirds are an evolutionary product of new world ecology.
I took this photo in the cloud forests of Monte Verde in Costa Rica, while teaching a field course. These hummingbirds dodged the relentless raindrops as they flit between their floral quarry.
On this day 157 years ago, this bucolic site in south central Pennsylvania was the location of a pivotal moment in American history. The aptly named Cemetery Ridge, featured here, was the line where Union soldiers stopped the advance over 12,000 Confederate soldiers after they marched 0.75 mile over an open field in Pickett’s ill-fated charge. This site represents the high-water mark of the Confederacy in the Civil War, signaling the ultimate defeat of the Confederate cause. I admittedly was never particularly fascinated with Civil War history, but I’ve recently gained a much deeper appreciation for how the events on fields like this one in Gettysburg continue to reverberate through contemporary society.
Like my last image, I shot this photo with my Pentax K-1000. I was shooting a monochromatic film that used C-41 processing, meaning I would get a black and white image that could be cheaply processed with commonly used drug-store techniques as opposed to some of the classic darkroom techniques. I believe that this image was shot in September 2002 on while I was on a Boy Scout camping trip. Being affiliated with a scout group, we were allowed to camp within the National Military Park, which allowed for a bit of quiet twilight introspection on what Lincoln later described to be consecrated grounds. The battlefields at Gettysburg are a sad and eerie place, and the land still bears the weight of the suffering 7 score and 17 years later.
This photo is one of my favorites if only for its sentimental value. Shot in 2002 on an old Pentax K-1000, as part of a high school photography class project, it represents one of my first intentional explorations of lighting, pattern, and depth of field. I set up a small makeshift studio in my childhood bedroom to photograph pheasant feathers, which I have always found captivating. Manipulating the light and pattern, I learned the basic controls of that elegantly simple SLR. Since I was shooting on film, I lacked the benefit of exif data or instant image review, so I kept a notebook to record the shutter speed and aperture for all of the images. Unwilling to shell out the extra cash for expedited film processing at the local Rite-Aid, I waited a week to get that film back. It was like Christmas. Going through those photographs and comparing depth of field and contrast for the different camera settings was such a valuable learning experience. I’ve always appreciated the medium, but that’s when I fell in love with it.