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A Fairfax County, Va., park is abuzz with beautiful hummingbird photos

Jane Gamble of Alexandria recently photographed this ruby-throated hummingbird sipping nectar at Green Spring Gardens in Fairfax County, Va. Gamble has organized an exhibit of 46 hummingbird photos by 20 photographers at the garden's historic 1784 house, on display through Oct. 16. (Jane Gamble)
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I have been promised hummingbirds. I am, after all, at Green Spring Gardens, in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, prime hummingbird territory.

On this particular summer day, the garden is a profusion of colorful blooms, presumably dripping with tasty nectar. In fact, just before I arrived — toting my camera and its long, heavy lens — Jane Gamble has fired off a few shots of her own, capturing a ruby-throated hummer feeding on coral honeysuckle blossoms near the park’s historic 1784 brick house.

This bird has inconsiderately zipped off, so Jane takes me somewhere we’re guaranteed to find hummingbirds: inside the house, where 46 hummingbird photos hang on the walls.

The exhibit opened last month, the work of Jane and fellow members of a group she dubbed the Capital Hummingbird Photographers, a collection of like-minded, mostly amateur, nature photographers.

“We’re more than friends. We’re a little community,” says Jane, whose day job is with the State Department. “We’re always running into each other.”

They run into one another at places such as Huntley Meadows, with its boardwalks through the bird-rich wetlands, and at Green Spring Gardens.

“Some of us plan travel together,” she says.

That’s to destinations such as Costa Rica, where dozens of different hummingbird species buzz and shimmer in the air. The exhibit at Green Spring Gardens includes stunning photos of exotic birds from Costa Rica and Ecuador — the violet-ear hummingbird, the violet sabrewing, the long-tailed sylph — but just as many were taken within a stone’s throw of the 1784 house. Around these parts, it’s the ruby-throated hummingbird that holds court, though the occasional rufous hummingbird also drops in.

The photos let you scrutinize these sublime creatures: the rainbow of colors, the tiny crosshatched feathers, the needlelike beak.

Why do some photographers love hummingbirds so?

“Their diminutive size and ever-changing colors immediately attract you,” Jane says. “There’s the added dimension of the beauty of the flowers.”

The photographers hope for more than just a good bird shot. The best photos include fetching flora to complement the feathered fauna.

As we walk through the garden, Jane points out red hot poker plants. They look like, well, red-hot pokers. Those are the flowers where photographers want to catch the hummers.

In most of the photos, the birds are frozen with their wings outstretched, like tiny versions of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In others, the birds are perched.

“They’re cute when they’re resting,” Jane says. “They have all kinds of cute facial expressions, like puppy dogs.”

Among the 20 photographers with work in the exhibit are four — Jane, Parameswaran Ponnudurai, Barbara Saffir and Kathrin Swoboda — whose photos have graced my annual Squirrel Photography Contest, so you know the quality is high.

How do you take a good hummingbird photo?

“You have to have the speed up,” Jane says. She usually sets her shutter speed at 1/1,250th of a second to freeze the rapid motion of their wings.

But it’s not all about equipment or technique. You have to know the birds, what plants they favor, how often they return to drink up.

“I think of them as being resilient,” Jane says. “They have an enormous migration from Central and South America. They’re so small, so vulnerable, and yet they’re able to make that migration up and down every year.”

The exhibit is up until Oct. 16 at 4603 Green Spring Rd., Alexandria. Admission is free.

That ’70s show

Images of a different sort are in the window of Second Story Books at 2000 P St. NW. The black-and-white photos are of Dupont Circle in 1971, snapped by Charles Sacks, an Army psychiatrist who had just returned to the United States after a tour of Vietnam.

Charles decided not to live in the Fort Belvoir barracks, choosing to room near the circle, which was the center of the District’s counterculture.

“I went to the circle almost every weekend. A lot was going on there,” said Charles, now 83 and living in Chevy Chase, Md.

There were political demonstrations. Music. People carousing in the fountain. People playing chess. Playing football. Hare Krishnas whirling.

“Everything was intriguing and exciting and interesting to me,” said Charles. “It was just such an amazing time. Just thinking about it gives me real nostalgic feelings.”

Charles said he hopes the window display — there’s a box of photos inside the store, too — will help people “understand the evolution of D.C., what it was like, how marvelous it was.”

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