Summer 2007, Blodgett, Oregon, and Bass Lake, California.
They are tiny and beautiful, dozens of them, darting up and down, forward and even backwards, as they flit, chirp, click, and chase each other. They are the Rufous Hummingbirds, and are after the sweet nectar in the feeders hanging from the porches at my Aunt Betty's house in Oregon.
(The picture is an Anna taken in my yard at Bass Lake)
As they crowd the feeders, their wings move so fast that they sound like bumble bees. As they fly to and from, they let out a long, rather screechy kind of noise, which surprised me, as I didn't hear that when they were passing through my area at Bass Lake, CA, a month earlier. (They only stay a couple of days usually, on their way north, but this year they were stalled in a freaky weather pattern, and decided they liked my feeders, so they were with me for 2 weeks. I' like to think that they then flew straight to my aunt's house, and I was able to meet up with them again!)
The Roufus' colors are exquisite. Basic brown and white, the male has an orange-red head and neck. When caught in the right light, as we photographers strive for, he lights up in a fluorescent glow of golds, greens and red-oranges. It is like magic not only to witness that beauty, but to capture it on film! It catches it your throat! The female is lovely too.
My Aunt Betty lives in the coastal range of mountains, in central Oregon. She is half way between Corvallis and Newport. Her 3 acres are nestled in among thousands of Douglas fir trees. When you take a walk it smells like Christmas. If I were a bird, I would want to nest there too. It's an enchanting forest.
As lovely as hummers are, their tomfoolery can be perplexing. They are just downright mean and vicious to each other. They guard their feeders fiercely, and actually attempt to injure other birds by flying right into them, sometimes knocking them to the ground, and/or impaling them. The sound of the impact is startling. They mean business! Our family has rescued them many times from a fateful battle, or when they get caught in my bedroom!
I live in a hummer fly zone here at Bass Lake. We have mostly Annas, some of which stay throughout the winter. However, this year, when I got back home from Oregon, hundreds of Rufous' arrived and stayed all summer. So you see, they did follow me back! We had dozens of feeders full of Annas and Rufous.
I, like all other faithful hummer feeders do, am constantly brewing the sweet nectar for them, using 4 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar. It needs to be boiled for 3-5 minutes to get rid of any impurities in both the water and sugar, then cooled. I learned in a wildlife course to be sure the feeders are always cleaned thoroughly with hot soapy water and brushes, to get out all the black mold that can grow inside. The mold can get on their tongues and kill them. A dirty feeder is a death sentence for hummingbirds. I think that anyone who decided to feed them, should take an oath to keep the feeders clean. I see so many of them back with mold, hanging abandoned. That's a no no.
I have numerous brushes for this job of cleaning. Tooth brushes, a bent bottle brush, even a mascara wand to get into the small port holes. In the winter when it freezes, I try to remember to bring in the feeders, however at the crack of dawn, even if I'm slightly late putting them back out, they actually peck at my sliding glass door! I think that's just brilliant!
Years ago, while living in Ventura, my daughter, Kim, saw a hummer taken down by another. She rescued it before the attacker went in for the kill. She held it sideways in her hand, putting its beak into the feeder, and soon it was revived enough to fly away. Another time, Kim and her daughter, Erika, and I finally rescued one that had been flying around in my bedroom for over 5 minutes. It finally just dropped to the floor from exhaustion. We let it rest in our hands, fed it nectar, and soon it said thanks, and flew away. At my aunt's in Oregon, I rescued one on her porch that was caught in large glob of cobwebs.
In the spring of 2007, my daughter, Kecia and I went to southern Arizona to see the migrations of hummingbirds that fly north from Mexico. We both have the same camera, and it was quite exciting photographing birds that we had never seen before, like the blue-green of the Broad tails, and the purple of the Costa's. (I will post pictures soon.) The high desert was lovely with all the saguaro cactus, and it was teeming with all the different kinds of birds. Both Kecia and I have a Canon Rebel Digital SLR. It's such a great camera. With a lot of concentrated time and effort, along with our intuitive eyes, we've gotten quite proficient in being able to catch these tiny, jet-like creatures in action. The camera not only picks up their speed, but their incredible colors. After a lifetime of taking pictures, this digital SLR process has changed my life forever, and brought me total joy and passion with my photography!
I've often wondered about the hummers' long migrations. Do they fly in groups, or go alone? At what altitude? Does anyone ever see them? From a plane? Do they collide with planes? I wonder how many are lost to predators. I have several books that don't cover these questions of mine. I've heard that one reason why some of them don't leave in the winter is because they are too old, and know they can't make it. One, I named Mean Anna, has been out there on my back deck for 3 years, and of course, owns the place!
In Oregon, my Aunt was picking blackberries, and found an exquisite, empty, hummer nest. To this day, it sits in her kitchen window, in a special place, along with her agates, sea glass, and other treasures.
Thanks for being there for us, hummers! You are a god treat. We love your song and dance! You make our days good!