Today started pretty badly. The plan was to use the day photographing some of the birds found in southern Arizona. I headed onto the trails and saw a pair of gorgeous Vermillion Flycatchers. After about an hour all I had was a few so-so photos of the female. Then I moved on to a nice big open field with several Cassin’s Kingbirds. From the other side of the field they flew away up into the trees. Patiently waiting didn’t help either. It wasn’t just these birds – it seemed like wherever I went all the birds wanted nothing to do with me. I felt like I must be doing something dreadfully wrong or else that today I should just give up. I headed onto a trail that followed a stream and even the sparrows would have nothing to do with me. Just when I was going to turn around and make my way back out, my luck turned and boy did it change. Right in front of me was the holy grail of Arizona birds – the Elegant Trogon. This is a tropical bird that belongs in the tropics of central america but ventures into just this one tiny patch of southern Arizona. I had acutally run into some birders the night before who were looking for this bird as it had been heard calling nearby but we had no luck with it and here it was right before me!
Considering my luck earlier and that this was a bird that I had dreamed of seeing, I was extremely cautious and circled at quite a distance around to approach it from a direction where the light would be good. I was in complete disbelief when the bird flew right at me and landed half the distance away. In an attempt to set it at ease, I moved back further and it came again a few minutes later. This kept up for almost two hours as I realized what it was doing. It was hunting the insects along the river and working its way upstream. It would up a little bit and sit and watch for insects before repeating its pattern. It had absolutely no fear of me and at one point landed less than a foot from my shouder. It was a joy to photograph and an amazing beauty. I was able to hear its vocalizations, see it catch some large neuropterans and moths, and watched it fly numerous times through the latter half of the morning – not mention take many photographs with different compositions, poses, and backgrounds. Usually you get just a few seconds where you can photograph a bird and here I had many opportunities – several times it was too close to photograph. In the end, I finally said goodbye and watched it continue its short flights upstream as the ground cover became impossibly thick to walk through. What an end to the morning!
It’s near impossible to top a morning like I had, so for the afternoon I would just be happy with getting an animal in front of the lens. So I returned to the location where I had scouted yesterday and decided to slowly work whatever was around. I wasn’t able to get a lens on the numerous sparrows in the scrub, but I found what I presume was the same Say’s Phoebe that was down by the water the day before. It was nearly as cooperative as the trogon had been. It was in fantastic light and in a spot where it was easy to isolate it against a clean distant background. Flycatchers have a very distinctive feeding behavior. They’ll launch off of a perch fly a loop in the air catching insects in flight and then land again on a perch. This Say’s Phoebe was having a field day hunting the insects near the water.
At first I was just concentrating on getting some portraits of this cooperative bird. Then I started to get a little bit smarter. Its feeding behavior made it highly predictable. It used the same two perches over and over. The wind was in a good direction as well. That meant that I had a good chance to get some flight photos of this bird. Sure enough, the conditions were definitely right for it. If only I had realized this earlier in the afternoon! The light began to fade as I realized how to make the technique work best for this kind of flight shot. I did get a couple flight shots today and I now knew how to handle the situation in the future. Today was a great day and I felt like I had made two new feathered friends – or at least two birds who wouldn’t fly away as soon as they saw me!