May 7th. It always within a day or two of May 7th when the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird shows up in our yard. While there are no confirmed breeding records in far southeastern South Dakota, there’s little doubt they nest there. I have birds in my yard all summer, and by July sometime I start to see immature birds. After a great (but short!) summer flitting about our yard, they’re gone by the end of September. That’s less than 5 months, with the “hummingbird off season” consisting of 7+ months of cold weather and absolutely zero hummingbirds.
It’s the “hummingbird off-season” where I am this week, in Tucson. After peaking in August here, where up to 15 hummingbird species may be sighted, numbers and variety start to dwindle. By this time in November the slow season is definitely underway. There’s just a WEE bit of a difference in the Tucson off season compared to South Dakota. Here in the Tucson area, you can still find plenty of hummingbirds, but “only” 4-5 kinds (typically).
There are some extremely famous hummingbird locales that attract birders from across the world. Madera Canyon south of Tucson is world famous for many birds, but it’s the hummingbird feeders at Santa Rita Lodge that are the big attraction for many. In the non-work part of my trip I twice visited Madera and Santa Rita Lodge, and I’d be hard pressed to call it the “off-season”. No, there were no Plain-capped Starthroats, Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, or other U.S. mega-rarities that make southern Arizona famous. For the week I “only” saw and photographed five different species, with all five being seen at Santa Rita Lodge (and some species also found elsewhere).
From a photographers standpoint it’s really nice taking photos at Santa Rita Lodge. Until 1:00 or so you have the sun at your back, and most of the feeders are out in the sunlight, making it easy to get beautiful photos of hummingbirds with their gorgets “lit-up”. The ever-present Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmouse, and Wild Turkeys are there to entertain, and you never know what might show up to feed on the suet, fruit, and seeds that are also available. Hepatic Tanagers have an extremely limited U.S. range, but they are pretty reliable in Madera Canyon. Despite it also being the “off-season” for them, I did find a pair at Santa Rita Lodge and was able to add the species to my life list.
Santa Rita Lodge is also the only place I have ever found Arizona Woodpeckers. Acorn Woodpeckers are also always around, while the Niger seed feeders typically have a bunch of Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskins. Checking the trees around the feeders can reveal all kinds of interesting songbirds, and even in this slow season, I saw Black-throated Gray Warblers, Hutton’s Vireo, Yellow-rumps Warblers, and more. I also got a nice surprise by standing by the one big berry-laden bush in font of the feeders. A Red-naped Sapsucker flew in and landed literally 2 feet in front of me and started feeding on the berries. A newcomer to the Santa Rita Lodge, a pair of Canyon Wrens started nesting under the building recently, despite the uncharacteristic habitat
Not a bad “off-season” visit! And this doesn’t even touch on the Elegant Trogon or other birds you can find in the Canyon.
I enjoyed birding this week all around the Tucson area, but in terms of “birdy-ness”, nothing beats a trip to Madera Canyon and Santa Rita Lodge.