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Tiny birds flicker into focus in exhibit

| Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004

In just a few weeks, native ruby-throated hummingbirds will leave the Pittsburgh area for their annual migration to Mexico.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers a last glance at them, along with 19 other North American varieties of the fascinating creatures, in "Hummingbirds: Jewels in the Sky," a photographic exhibit that will make its exit Sept. 12.

Hummingbird wings are constantly moving at about 80 times per second. They don't stop long enough to pose for pictures, so capturing them on film is a major challenge.

"Jewels in the Sky" photographer Robert Tyrrell has mastered the art. Tyrrell refocused his professional career in portrait work to concentrate on educating the public about the habits and behavior of the elusive hummingbird.

He and his partner -- his wife, Esther, who researches and writes the text for the books they have written and designed the Carnegie exhibit -- have journeyed more than 100,000 miles across the United States, Central America and the Caribbean looking for hummingbird photo opportunities. Finding the birds requires patience and knowledge of their feeding habits, she says.

"We know that hummingbirds require a lot of food, so we can usually find them near a food source," says Esther Tyrrell from their Southern California home of Murrieta. "We set up our equipment and wait, sometimes for days and days."

Neither of them was especially interested in birds until her husband watched a hummingbird feeding in an avocado tree in his mother's yard. He took a photo and later discovered the image was a disaster. "The bird's body was sharp, but its wings were a blur," she says.

Robert Tyrrell found that using a strobe light similar to those used in disco night clubs that create slow-motion effects was the key to "stopping" a hummingbird's wings.

Since deciding to concentrate on nature photography, he doesn't miss the glamour of his former job, his wife says. He previously photographed sports figures and actors, including Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Sylvester Stallone, Ann-Margret and former President Ronald Reagan.

"We had a lot of that. We both worked in Beverly Hills," she says. "This is much more enriching, fulfilling and makes a real contribution."

Since focusing on hummingbirds, their work has been published in National Geographic, Natural History, and National Wildlife magazines. Their books include "Hummingbirds: Their Life and Behavior," "Hummingbirds: Jewels in the Sky" and "Hummingbirds of the Caribbean."

The Tyrrells' photographic exhibit blends well with the bird specimens, says Robin Panza, collection manager for the museum's section on birds. She describes it as "a Guinness Book of World Records of hummingbirds."

"Hummingbirds come in some amazing varieties," Panza says. "The Tyrrells did a very nice job of incorporating our specimens with the photography. They take gorgeous photos."

Additional Information:

Details

'Hummingbirds: Jewels in the Sky'

What: Photography exhibit by Robert and Esther Tyrrell

When: Through Sept. 12. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays

Admission: Free with museum admission of $10; $7 for senior citizens; $6 for age 3 to 18 and students; free for age 3 and younger

Where: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Details: (412) 622-3131 or www.carnegiemnh.org

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