“I really hate hummingbirds!”, said no one ever. You really gotta love them if you live in Southern California! We moved to Redondo Beach from Paris more than two years ago, and the omnipresence of these birds is one of the natural wonders that make the eyes of any expatriate glow with awe. Hummingbirds, seals, dolphins, pelicans are matter of fact to most habitants of the Pacific Coast, but for Europeans they epitomize exotic fauna. For us, they are as much a wow-factor as koalas, parrots and gazelles would be. Let’s be honest: even raccoons, possums, skunks, coyotes and friendly squirrels get us really excited. But hummingbirds are one step above.
Yes, they are everywhere, but most times you encounter them, hummingbirds are going places. A little like avian electrons, if you know where they are you don’t see where they are going, and once you know where they are going you can’t know where they are anymore. That’s why I was really on my toes when I saw this hummingbird hanging out A LOT in our backyard. When I saw it carrying feathers and little straws in its beak, I thought it might be nesting. I could follow the bird’s alert and seemingly erratic flight until it laid on a surprising low branch and I saw the nest. I felt like a kid in a candy store: a photographic treasure had just uncovered itself a few yards from our bedroom. Little after I spotted the hummingbird, the “it” became a “her” because this charming birdie spent most of her days sitting proudly on her nest, keeping her egg(s?) warm.
This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This is the first photo I took of her. A word of disclaimer: although she might claim the opposite, I never invaded her privacy. I was always several feet away, shooting her with my professional Fujinon XF 100-400mm zoom lens.
I like names. I think names are great and provide a great connection with people and animals, so I decided this hummingbird needed a name. We brainstormed with Anne-Claire, and we thought Cindy was the most appropriate name. We understand and respect the fact that she probably has a name in hummingburdian, but our rudimentary vocal systems cannot reproduce the elaborate sequence of buzzes, whistles and chip notes it consists of, and she was a neighbor now so she needed a name. And names go with surnames, and given how – by then – she was the gossip of our whole block, her family name could only be Birdashian. That’s when Anne-Claire cleverly quipped “Ha! So you’re keeping up with the Birdashians!”.
Cindy offered me and my lens some incredible photography opportunities. I like to think that the best is yet to come, but I am not sure I’ll ever craft hummingbird pictures as precious as these. It must be said, Cindy Birdashian has a great taste for deco and put up her nest in a very flattering location, with patches of light playing on her feathers and the leaves around her in the morning and in the afternoon.
One night was the direst. Remember? It’s when that horrible storm hit the South Bay and the Los Angeles basin with buckets of rain and strong, strong winds. We barely slept, stressing the whole night, turning the light on in the backyard every few hours to make sure the nest and its occupants had not ruined to the ground. But hey, hummingbirds are great engineers and although she probably dragged down all of the saints in her calendar and said the grossest swearwords in hummingbirdian the whole night, the nest withstood the rage and the fury of the elements and was still standing strong on the following morning.
And then, one day it happened. My neighbor came down the stairs leading to the top unit and said “The eggs have hatched!” I grabbed my camera and hurried up his staircase, and there they were! Two little dragons, getting more and more bird-like with every passing day. They might feed on nothing but sugary regurgitations but it’s positively amazing to see how much they grow with each passing day.
Have you ever seen a hummingbird mom feeding her babies? I did, and my camera did too. It’s a unique wonder of the natural world. My favorites are when she taps on their little beaks to make them open wide, and once they are done, how she jump-sits on them to make sure they’re all warm and cozy. Just so you know, I was jumping with joy and I even made a little triumph dance when I saw what I had captured.
On my last photography session with Cindy I was able to get some good still images of her and her babies. These are some of my favorites family portraits.
The good news is that Cindy and the baby Birdashians are doing great, I see them every day. The bad news is that those last photos are probably the last I will able to shoot for a while. The reason is not my lack of passion, even though as the birdies grow her visits to the nest are less and less frequent and. Rather, Cindy has explicitly shown a growing distaste for being photographed. I am crouching behind a hedge, with a hoodie covering my head, just the tip of the camera protruding from the top of the hedge several feet away from her, and yet she’s not happy. She comes behind the hedge and buzzes (you know when they rev their wings and sound like a big bug) and chips and insults me straight in my face. Good photographers know when they have overstayed their welcome, and promptly retreat. Cindy had made it very clear, and it was time for me to congratulate her on the beautiful family she raised and walk away.
I might be brave, or lucky enough to sneak up the stairs with my camera one more time once the younglings are all feathered up, and in case I will update this post. Otherwise, the ride was good and I am grateful for being able to witness something so unique over the course of a full month.
See you around Cindy. It was really fun keeping up with the Birdashians!
UPDATE 2/17: I went out earlier and saw Cindy and her kids basking in the morning sun! I quickly grabbed my camera, got some shots, realized the memory card was not in the camera, hurried back inside, got the memory card, took some more pictures. Cindy gave me a grace period of five minutes, before losing her tempere and buzzing down on me. Totally worth it, though!
UPDATE 2/20: I spied a delightful sight yesterday afternoon. Cindy’s kids were perched on the nest, chilling. I thought that would make a nice image because you finally could see their bird-like shape. I grabbed my camera, got in position, aimed for the nest. I saw a blur, I heard a flutter, and the young birds scrambled. I could track them around the yard and in the back alley, mother Cindy watching over them (and freaking out a little bit, but that’s what she does most of the time).
I’m really proud of them. And I am grateful towards Nature and the Great Landscaper for letting me observe the wonderful functioning of such a small and perfect gear in the universal clockwork. I now say, half jokingly, that on the bright side I gained back full ownership of the backyard. I can use the fire pit again, or engage in any other fire-and-smoke related activity with an easy mind. And work out, very important. But in truth, not only I will miss them. There’s something more, and I think it connects with the strange times we’ve been living since early last year. I looked at the empty nest this morning, and my heart ached a little bit. My heart ached because I felt the passing of time. In spite of this feeling of an everlasting present dragging on since the last Spring, I realized that time does move on. Chapters are opened and chapters are closed. It’s just our human history, especially the micro-history of our plans and projects and affections and aspirations and longings and everything that makes us human that is still stuck.