Frequent contributing author and photographer Jim Burns photographed the Rufous Hummingbird that appears on the cover of our April issue, on newsstands now. Here's how he got the shot. — M.M.
Every summer during southbound hummingbird migration, I try to get up to the Becker Lake Wildlife Area in the White Mountains of east-central Arizona. The area is centered around a fishing lake surrounded by grasslands.
In a large field east of the lake, sunflowers and thistle have taken over disturbed ground. If the summer rains have been good, the field is a riot of color — yellows and purples of the flowers — and a sea of movement — four flavors of hummingbird, bees, and white-lined sphinx moths buzzing, darting, and flipping everywhere, competing for nectar.
This Rufous Hummingbird shot was taken in August 2007 with a 600mm Canon lens on a Canon 1D camera with flash. Rufous are the most numerous hummingbirds in the area during migration, and the most aggressive. I had made a trip hoping to find and shoot a male Calliope Hummingbird, a bird that is few and far between the many Rufous. I thought I had been lucky when I located one, but this Rufous kept running it off every time just as I’d get set up and bring it into focus. I finally decided, "Fine, I'll just shoot you instead of the Calliope." I spent two mornings on that trip without getting the Calliope shot I wanted, but there's no denying the burnt orange of the Rufous against the backdrop of yellow and purple flowers is spectacular.
Yes, Virginia, there are mountains in Arizona and it snows in those mountains in August. I camped overnight and awoke to snow showers on the second morning, then took this photo in bright sunlight with melting snow on the surrounding hills. Only in Arizona!