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Years ago I learned that nectar feeding Hawaiian Honeycreepers returned to the same flower repeatedly Iiwi with Akalathroughout the day, much like hummingbirds in North America.  But unlike hummingbirds, Honeycreepers will not visit artificial feeders.  Nectar feeding birds like Iiwi, Apapane and Amakihi are usually found high in the tree canopy where they take nectar from flowers of Ohia, the most common canopy tree in Hawaii rain forests. Ohia can reach over 100 feet, putting the birds out of photographic reach for all but the monster telephoto lenses.  But during the spring, these nectar feeders forage lower down, feeding in the flowers of Akala, a native raspberry, sometimes within a few feet of the ground. This plant is easy to find in most mid-elevation rainforests on both on Maui and the Big Island, and blooms for about a month in March and April.  Another plant, the Kolii, a native Lobelia found on Kauai, attracts birds to its’ showy blooms in October.  In both of these situations, the birds will frequent the nectar rich blossoms at eye level, providing great photographic opportunities.

To photograph these colorful nectar feeders, I start the day searching for native flowers that are low in the under story, plants that will give Akohekohe with Ohiame an “eye-to-eye” photo opportunity. I watch for plants that the birds are frequenting. Depending on the situation, I may set up camo-netting between me and the flowers, or even set up a blind. But generally, these are not necessary as the thick vegetation usually provides enough cover. I’ll start photographing about 30 to 40 feet from the flowers. This may seem a little far, but I find that it’s important to get the birds habituated to my presence from a good distance. Once the bird visits the flowers a few times, I can move my setup closer, a few feet at a time.  After several hours I’m usually at minimum focus with great opportunities for shots.

Being this close allows me to get action shots of birds feeding and flying to and from the flowers, as well as great portraits. The birds pay little attention to me as I fuss with the camera, adjusting aperture and shutter speed etc.  Even moving a few feet right or left doesn’t seem to disturb them at this point, as long as I make my move when they are away from the blooms.  On succeeding days at the same spot, I usually don’t have to start so far away because the birds will be more accepting of me. If they don’t come into the flowers right away, I just move back a bit until they start makingAnianiau with Ohia regular visits. Then I start the process all over again.  It works like a charm!  This strategy will also work for the native thrushes, like Oma’o. These fruit feeders will continue to forage in the same native fruit tree day after day.

Invariably, what works one day doesn’t always work out on another. One morning, I had set up early at a great feeding spot that had been very productive the day before.  Well, I sat, watched and waited for 5 hours in the cold light rain waiting for Iiwi to come into some flowering Kolii, with no results.  About noon, a good friend showed up to photograph. I explained to him that I hadn’t seen any birds all morning. Being his usual optimistic self, he set up his camera 20 feet to my right.  Within ten minutes we were both burning film on some beautiful Iiwi.  Go figure!


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