Tag Archives: hummingbird

Arizona Hummingbirds

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird, in Madera Canyon.

Ah, Arizona.  I’d never been to Arizona, until about 8 years ago, when we went on a family vacation.  It’s such a diverse state, with mountains, deserts, the Grand Canyon, and the very large metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson.  For me, vacation is about seeing the natural world, and Arizona certainly offers some amazing experiences.  While I love the Grand Canyon, the forested mountains of the east, and the Sedona area, nothing for me can touch far southern Arizona, with the Sonoran desert habitat and the forested “sky islands”.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird, on the outskirts of Tucson

We found a wonderful bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Tucson, nestled up against the eastern edge of the city and the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park.  Hacienda del Desierto is an acreage with natural Sonoran desert habitat surrounding it, with a pair of small ponds literally offering an oasis in the desert to the animals of the region.  We’ve seen coyotes, javelina, bobcats, jackrabbits, tarantulas, lizards, and snakes on the grounds of the B&B, but of course for me, it’s the birds that are the attraction.  And when I think birds in Arizona, I think hummingbirds.

May 7th.  Within a day or two, that’s the time our one resident hummingbird comes back for the summer in South Dakota.  It’s wonderful having Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around our house in the summer, but they’re the only species found in eastern South Dakota, and they’re only here from May through September.  A spring visit to Arizona on the other hand offers the chance to see a dozen or more species of hummingbirds, with several species found throughout the year.  Costa’s, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope Hummingbirds are some of the more common species to be found in the state at times, but lurking in the sky-island canyons of southern Arizona, and in nearby locations, a birder may also run across Magnificent, Allen’s, Blue-throated, Lucifer, White-eared, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, with yet rarer finds including a  Berylline Hummingbird or Plain-capped Starthroat,

Magnificent Hummingbird

Magnificent Hummingbird, on Mount Lemmon

After a long, very cold winter in South Dakota, we made plans for a week-long trip to the Tucson area around Easter. We again stayed at Hacienda del Desierto, and as always, the birding in the area didn’t disappoint.  My wife and son aren’t birders, so to maximize my birding time on vacation, I’ve gotten into a habit at getting up at dawn and birding until they’re ready for breakfast.  The B&B is wonderful for desert birding, but even with a few feeders up and a lush, flower-filled landscape, I’ve never found all that many hummingbirds around.  The exception is a wonderful Broad-billed Hummingbird female who annually builds a nest on the vines that cascade over the roof and trail down into the B&B’s courtyard. She didn’t disappoint on this trip either, as once again she built a new nest, and had two young that appeared to be about ready to fledge.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird in Madera Canyon

Within the city of limits, there are a number of parks that are wonderful to visit, with our favorite being Tohono Chul park on the north side of Tucson.  It’s a botanical garden with a wide variety of micro habitats, and a vast array of flowering plants, and I’ve always had wonderful luck finding hummingbirds.  It seems to be a “hotspot” for Costa’s Hummingbirds, a species I’ve found without fail at the park.  Tohono Chul also has a wonderful cafe, where you can dine in the courtyard and enjoy the wonderful vegetation and birds.  On this trip, a Costa’s Hummingbird had built a nest in a light fixture on the courtyard wall, with a mother feeding 2 young and seemingly oblivious to the diners and servers continually walking by.

Saguaro National Park has two units, one on both the east and west sides of Tucson.  Hummingbirds can always be found there, foraging on blooming Ocotillo and plants, but they tend to be quite dispersed.  Sabino Canyon and Mount Lemmon are two very popular destinations on the outskirts of Tucson, for both tourists and residents alike.  Family hikes through both have yielded Hummingbirds.  On this trip, a feeder at the visitor’s center near the top of Mount Lemmon attracted many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, but a gorgeous Magnificent Hummingbird would also occasionally fly in.

Anna's Hummingbird at Nest

Female Anna's Hummingbird feeding young at the nest

However, for both the sheer number of hummingbirds, and variety of species, nothing can touch the sky-island canyons.  Names like “Ramsey Canyon“, “Madera Canyon“, and “Miller Canyon” are famous among birders, as rarities from Mexico are often found here, and nowhere else in the United States.  The same holds for hummingbirds, with the canyons attracting an incredible number of hummingbird species.  Destinations such as the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, or The Nature Conservancy center in Ramsey Canyon, further enhance the excitement, with feeder complexes that attract large densities of hummingbirds.  On this trip, we visited Santa Rita Lodge.  While no rarities were seen, an hour at the Lodge feeders turned up a number of Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and a Magnificent Hummingbird also made an appearance.

A week-long vacation interspersed with casual birding, and 7 hummingbird species were tallied (Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Costa’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Magnificent, and Rufous).  Arizona never disappoints, and for hummingbird lovers, nothing can top a spring trip to the southern part of the state.

Climate Change and Hummingbird Migration – With Great Photo!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding at a honeysuckle plant. In Brandon, South Dakota. On June 9th, 2008. At someone's front porch. With a guy grilling hamburgers nearby. Just a hunch...

Jason Courter from Taylor University, along with his co-authors, published research that examined the migration of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, finding the birds are moving north earlier than they did historically.  The birds are arriving back in North America 12 to 18 days earlier than they did prior to 1970.  Overshadowing the research itself is of course the incredible, fantastic photo that has accompanied the story that’s been carried by the popular press.  The photo is of a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering in front of an orange honeysuckle bloom.  I happen to have very, very personal knowledge that the photo was taken from the front porch of a private home in Brandon, South Dakota, in between the grilling of hamburgers  (just a hunch).

It is cool to have a photo in a science story like this, a story that’s been picked up by AP and has shown up in a number of news outlets, including overseas in The Guardian and elsewhere.  But of course it’s the science itself that is the cool story here.  The research isn’t the first to show that migration dates have changed in the last century, presumably in response to climate change.  It is yet another very strong piece of evidence that indicates our climate is changing, and that natural ecosystems are evolving to adapt.

Nice story, and the research article is definitely worth reading if you can get a copy.  It is published in The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists Union.

Drawing – Green-breasted Mango

Green-breasted Mango by Terry Sohl

Click for a larger view

Getting back to reality tomorrow, going back to work after being at home the last couple of days with shingles.  Still hurts, but getting better, and 2 days of sick leave is 2 days more than I think I used over the last year or two.  Time to get back in the swing of things again.

So, to get my butt off the couch and get used to moving around again (it HURTS when I move!!), I got up and drew tonight.  This is a male “Green-breasted Mango”, a really beautiful tropical hummingbird.  They’re just visitors to the U.S., as their normal range is in Mexico and Central America. Curiously though, there have been some sightings FAR from their normal range, including one up in Wisconsin!  So, while my chances of ever actually seeing one “live” are poor…I keep an eye out on my hummingbird feeder, just in case.  ;-)
But until that happens, drawing one is about as close as I’ll get to this species.

Drawing – Xantus’s Hummingbird

Xantu's Hummingbird - Hylocharis xantusii

Colored pencil drawing of a male Xantu's Hummingbird. Click for a larger view.

It’s been a long time (months) since I’ve touched a pencil.  I need to start drawing again, so here’s one I did this morning.

This is a Xantus’s Hummingbird.  These are pretty enigmatic, rare little dudes, especially in the U.S.  There aren’t very many of them to begin with, and they have a very tiny geographic range where they’re found, in Baja California.  However, on a handful of occasions, one has been seen north of the border in California.

Fun drawing things like this that I’ll likely never see.

My wife, savior of Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird in my yard. A beautiful male hummingbird like this one spent a harrowing (for him, and me!) few hours in my garage this weekend, before my wife saved him.

May is probably my favorite month of the year.  It’s when the warm weather usually takes hold after a long, cold South Dakota winter, and from a birding perspective, no month of more spectacular, with summer birds arriving and many migrants moving through that you don’t see at any other time of the year.  One of the highlights of May for me usually happens around May 8th or so, when the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird shows up in my yard.  We’re at the fringes of their normal breeding range, but I live across the street from a state park that has some forested land next to a river, and it does seem like they breed there.  Breeding has never been confirmed in my part of the state, by I do have hummingbirds around my yard all summer long, including young ones that usually show up in my yard sometime in July or so. 

We’ve had an incredibly mild winter, and March was spectacularly warm for South Dakota.  Many trees and other plants bloomed a good month before they normally do.  I’m not sure if that’s the reason why, but this spring has been very slow for hummingbirds in my yard.  I have only seen one male occasionally visit my yard.  Sunday, I was out doing yard work most of the day, came in the garage, and noticed a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying around the top of the garage, constantly banging up against the roof as he tried to find his way out.  We have a very tall garage, with a good 6-feet or more above the actual garage doors.  The poor little guy was obviously freaking out, and couldn’t figure out that to get out of the garage, he needed to first go down about 6 feet to where I had left all the doors and windows open. 

I continued my yard work, hoping he’d find his own way out.  But after an hour, he was still in the garage.  He was obviously getting tired, as he’d fly up and bang up against the roof for a bit, then come down a foot or two and rest on a wire to the garage door opener.  I started to try to find a way to lure him out.  I brought in my hummingbird feeders and placed them low in the garage.  Later, as I worried about his strength, I put one high near his wire perch, in the hopes that he’d at least feed.  He was having none of it, with no interest in coming to the feeders.  After 2 hours or so, when his energy was obviously getting less, I slowly brought up my 2 long-handled fishing nets in the hopes of trapping him in between them, so I could bring him down and out of the garage.  No luck.  He wouldn’t budge from his wire perch and fly into the nets, and I certainly wasn’t going to force the issue.

I was very frustrated, thinking that the one hummingbird I had coming to my yard was about to die.  I went back out and started working in the yard again, when I saw my wife coming very slowly out the back door of the garage with a very long feather duster in her hands.  She said “Is he on there???”.  Given that the bird didn’t want to fly much any more because it was tired, my wife slowly raised the feather duster up by the bird on the wire until the hummingbird clung on.  Then she ever-so-slowly and carefully brought the duster down and out the garage door.

The hummingbird was indeed clinging to the feather duster!  But he must have been very tired, because even after getting him out into the sunlight, he just clung there for a minute or two.  Finally, he zipped up and away.  Given how long he was in there and how tired he seemed to be getting, I just hope he was able to feed quickly and recover.

One thing I will do is change out the ends of the manual garage pulls that dangle down from my garage door openers.  They are bright red balls hanging down in my garage.  I had heard that hummingbirds are sometimes trapped in garages, because they area attracted to the bright red color, fly into the garage to investigate, and can’t find their way out.  I’m not sure if that’s what happened to this little guy, but just to be safe, I’ll be removing the red balls.

Drawing – Bumblebee Hummingbird

Bumblebee Hummingbird - Drawing by Terry SohlHere’s one that is literally “larger than life”.  The Bumblebee Hummingbird is often referred to as the smallest bird in the world.  It’s not…it’s the 2nd smallest, by just a smidge.  But it is one TINY bird.  A penny weighs more than one, and it’s just a bit over 2 1/2″ long.   Hence the “larger than life”!  Think this is the first one I’ve drawn where the bird on paper is bigger than the bird in real life.

It’s another one I’m not likely to get a photo of in the near future.   They live in Mexico and can be common in places there, but there are only like 2 records from the United States, and those were > 100 years ago. 

I found some photos of the plumage, but decided I wanted to try to draw it in flight.  So, I used another hummingbird photo I had as kind of a reference for pose, but then drew it with the plumage/shape/etc. of a Bumblebee Hummingbird.  You can click for a larger view.

Time for a new hobby…

Lucifer Hummingbird
Kind of a rare beast up in South Dakota, the Lucifer Hummingbird. Ok, actually, the closest they get is like 800 miles away. Time for a new hobby, other than bird photography!!

I have way too many hobbies.  My wife can attest to that.  I love my work with USGS, but I also love doing a lot of other things.  When retirement happens some day, I certainly won’t be hurting for activities!

But hey, you can always add a new nobby, right?  For my birding website, I “needed” a photo of a Lucifer Hummingbird.  Well, the closest a Lucifer Hummingbird is ever going to get to South Dakota is in maybe 100 years, when global warming makes it a little more hospitable for them up here!   But until then…there’s no chance I was going to get a photo unless I traveled to Mexico in the near future.  So…time for a new hobby!!

I used to draw quite a bit back in high school and college.  Back then, it was mostly baseball players!! It was all simply using basic graphite pencils, so just black & white drawings.  I dabbled on the rare occasion in the past 20 years, but by “rare” I mean about 5 or 6 drawings in that time.  But today when I “needed” an image of a Lucifer Hummingbird, the thought came to me to draw one.  But who wants to draw a gorgeous tropical Hummingbird in black-and-white?  So I headed to Hobby Lobby to pick up some colored pencils, and thought I’d give it a whirl.

It went a lot better than I thought it would.  I’m pretty slow drawing, and it took about 3 hours, but I was pretty happy with the results.  BOOM!!  Photo problem solved!  No more need for a Lucifer Hummingbird photo!  Now…I just need another few days added to the week so I can indulge yet another hobby…

No!! Summer ending, bye-bye Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at one of my Hostas. Click for a larger view.

 No!!  It can’t be!!  I swear to goodness that it was just a few weeks ago that I anxiously awaited for summer to arrive, an occasion I always mark by the first hummingbirds to show up in my yard.  That is always right around May 7 - 10, and this year they arrived right on schedule.   I’m lucky to have Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around all summer, even though there never has been confirmed breeding in my part of the state.  I’m sure they do breed here though, as I even have had the males do their courtship flights in my backyard most years, including this year. 

The time the hummingbirds leave in the fall isn’t quite as “clockwork” as when they arrive in the spring, but it is in September at some point when they start disappearing.  Already, it’s been over a week since I’ve seen a male, as they’re typically the first to leave.  I still have a number of females and first-year birds in my yard, even counting 6 zipping around and chasing each other at one point this weekend.  However, I know they could now disappear at any time, so today, I spent some time trying to photograph them before they head south.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Another hummingbird photo from the yard.

We built our house five years ago, and I did all the landscaping myself.  I purposely planted many different types of plants that would attract hummingbirds, and it’s certainly been successful.  However, most of my photos in the yard have been at either this massive honeysuckle I have, or have been of birds perched in trees.  I’ve noticed them really using the flowers on my hostas lately, so I decided to try to focus on flight shots around my hostas today.  They’re certainly not shy, as they’re more concerned about defending their own little flower patches in the yard than they are about the weird guy with the camera, so it didn’t take long for me to get a number of shots today. 

However, in bird photography, it’s one thing to get a “number of shots”, vs. getting some GOOD shots!  I did get a few that I was pretty happy with, especially since they are so different than the other hummingbird photos I’ve gotten in my yard.

I’m hoping they’re still around my yard this weekend, but they could very well be gone by then.  Oh well…only 8 more months until they show up again!   Gotta love South Dakota winters!!