Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One Last Look at Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration

Since my last post was about wintering hummingbirds and the presence of a Rufous hummingbird in east Tennessee, I thought I would take the opportunity to show you some of the juvenile images I took of young hummingbirds as they were migrating through on a grey day in late September.
I say young, only because their behavior was not typical of mature birds.  For example, at any one time there might be two to three hummers perched in the holly on various branches, some exhibiting guarding behaviors, others clearly just trying for a turn at the feeder without too much harassment.  As I've watched hummingbirds guard feeders throughout the season, I noticed that mature birds seldom tolerate another hummingbird in their chosen perch area once the intruder is detected.  These little ones seemed oblivious and tentative.  And watching them at close range was delightful.

So this post is a photo essay, paying tribute to hummingbirds and showing some of my favorite images from a morning with a very young appearing group of hummers.  Of course, hummingbirds are beautiful anyway and easy to fall in love with.  The garden and patio have seemed far too quiet without all that wing-buzzing and chirping going on.

Next post, I'll show you how I remedied all that quiet!

Links and resources:

Learn more about how bird banding helps us learn about hummingbirds.  
Visit the Hummingbird Study Group to learn more about hummingbird species.
Contacts for reporting sightings of hummingbirds during winter months in the east: Bob and Martha Sargent, or 205-681-2888
Posts about Ruby-throated hummingbirds on this blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Rufous Hummingbird in East Tennessee

I receive emails from our Tennessee bird club's list service so I can see what kind of bird activity is going on around the state.  This is especially fun during migration season and the winter months.  Though, I seldom travel to the places where unusual birds are sighted, it does give me opportunity to get to know the birds that are in my area of the state--in this case a rare for our area Rufous hummingbird.
Photo by:  Katherine Noblet, Johnson City, TN

Rufous hummingbirds do not breed or winter in the east, however, in recent years we are seeing them more frequently.  The Rufous hummingbird pictured above is currently visiting Katherine Noblet's yard in Johnson City, TN in Carter County.  That is about two hours northeast of where I live in Knoxville, in the Tennessee valley near the Smoky Mountains.  But it certainly stirs excitement and anticipation.  This is motivation and a reminder to everyone to leave a feeder out and stay alert for both late Ruby-throats and other migrating hummingbird species that you might otherwise not expect.  

Besides visiting the nectar feeder, Katherine reports that the Rufous visitor is feeding on pineapple sage and skip laurel blooms.    

Links and resources:

Visit this link to learn about how bird banding has helped us find out more about hummingbird migration.  Some migration patterns are changing.

The range map to the left is from Cornell's web page on the Rufous hummingbird.  Visit the link to learn more about this species and its habits.

You may also want to visit the Hummingbird Study Group for more information about this species and other hummingbirds.

Report sightings of hummingbirds in the east after November 1st to Bob and Martha Sargent, or 205-681-2888.  In east Tennessee, report sightings to Mark Armstrong, 865-748-2224.

For more of my posts on our eastern breeding Ruby-throated hummingbirds click the link.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Excitement of Fall

I love fall. I love the crisp air, the changing leaves, the migrating birds passing through. And I love my patio and my bird bath. The patio with the deck overhead provides a sheltered place for me to relax and take everything in, even when its raining. And I never know what I might see. Sunday, for example, the unexpected.
Already seated, I had looked down at something, then up again to find a male bluebird drinking from the birdbath right in front of me.  I caught my breath, feeling so excited to see a bluebird so close again.  My resident bluebirds hatched their second brood in late summer.  When the juveniles fledged, the parents only brought them back to the feeder area a couple of times, then they were gone.  I mean, completely gone.
Without the need to protect their nesting territory for another nesting attempt, they had no reason to stay once the second brood juveniles fledged. This movement to different hunting grounds is an important survival behavior. The longer the bluebird family stayed in the nesting area, the more likely predators would detect the inexperienced fledglings.    
The male flew up to a low branch and perched for a while, partially concealed by the leaves. I picked up my camera thinking he might return for another drink, but instead, his companion, a female, landed on the birdbath and drank.  What a pleasure.  It may seem like such a simple thing, but there are few things more beautiful or peaceful than sharing an intimate moment with a bird as it goes about its ordinary daily activities, seemingly undisturbed by your presence.  (All the Eastern bluebird images you see here are of the female.)  
And bluebirds are so quiet when they approach.  They land with no fuss, no scolding, utter silence.  And just as quietly, the female departed, joined in flight by the male as they flew in the direction of the front yard.  They did not visit the mealworm feeder even though it had mealworms in it.  I added them earlier when I first heard a bluebird singing near the yard.  Maybe this pair was not familiar with mealworm feeders or maybe food is too plentiful this time of year for the feeder to draw their interest.  But that's okay.  The mealworms are not wasted.  Most of the time, the titmice empty the feeder.  Sunday, Carolina wrens also shared in the feast.  It was while watching the Carolina wren at the feeder, that I spotted the hummingbird that also visited that morning.    
A shy visitor, female or juvenile, she came back to the feeders several times but did not linger very long during any one visit. I was glad I happened to see her since she was the first hummingbird I've seen since Oct 9th. There are fewer and fewer hummers coming through now, generally late juveniles and late nesting females.  It's easy to miss them and mistakenly think all the Ruby-throated hummingbirds have departed.  This sighting on the16th of October is actually the latest date I've recorded a hummingbird in my yard in east TN in the fall.  But even after November 1st, it is a good idea to leave at least one feeder out through the winter months.  Other species of hummers have been documented in the east in the winter, and there are even a few records of Ruby-throats. In all, fourteen species have been documented in the eastern United states: Ruby-throated, Black-chinned, Rufous, Allen's, Broad-tailed, Anna's, Costa's, Calliope, Buff-bellied, White-eared, Green Violet-ear, Magnificent, Broad-billed and Green-breasted Mango.  If you see a hummingbird after November 1st, contact Bob and Martha Sargent at or 205-681-2888.
I certainly don't need three feeders out this time of year, but I think of them as welcome flags, along with the flowers that are still blooming, advertising an oasis for thirsty, late travelers.  Below, a female Rose-breasted grosbeak that visited my sunflower feeder a week ago.  She is just passing through, on her way to the West Indies, Mexico or South America to spend her winter. Many migrants are passing through our yards this time of year, both seen and unseen.  
Fall is a beautiful, exciting time of year!

Next post: Fall color and more fun around the bird bath.

Links and Resources:
Blog posts on the bluebird family that nested in my yard during the 2010 breeding season.
Visit these links to see juvenile bluebirds enjoying a bath and my experience with feeding mealworms.

Learn more about how bird banding helps us learn about hummingbirds.  
Visit the Hummingbird Study Group to learn more about hummingbird species.
Contacts for reporting sightings of hummingbirds during winter months in the east: Bob and Martha Sargent, or 205-681-2888
Posts about Ruby-throated hummingbirds on this blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Big Year--Go See It!

Fun film.
When I went to see this movie, I met up with a group of birders from Knoxville's TN Ornithological Society (KTOS).  Great company!  Having commentary from a nearby experienced birder who knows birds all over the world adds another dimension to the movie.  For example, he identified the Swainson's hawk that is in the wrong place, in the wrong season.  And while viewing the portrayal of coastal bird "fall out", birds pushed inland by a storm, it was great to turn to a neighbor and say, "Really?  Is it really like that?". The firm, no, was reassuring.  I was glad I hadn't been missing something quite that spectacular!

The movie describes a type of birding that is foreign to me personally, but familiar to many, one that focuses on lists and going where ever the bird is to see it and add it to your list of sightings.  In the movie, that list involves a competition among birders to obtain a list of the most species seen in a year's time.  Despite the disclaimer that introduces the movie saying, "based on a true story, except where we've changed the facts", it is fun to see a depiction of this activity, the traveling, the amount of money that gets poured into the economy, the enthusiasm and excitement generated by seeing birds, no matter what the personal goal of the birder.
Most of all, if was fun to watch a movie about birds, showing various ways that birding, especially competitive birding, can challenge human nature.  The story illustrated people from modest means to wealthy, and demonstrated that the activity can lead you where ever you want to take it, depending on the sacrifices you're willing to make to reach your goals.  Especially enjoyable were the tender moments, when birds were viewed with awe and unexpected finds inspired a reverence that came close to the real experience.  This is the one place where I wished for the producers to team up in a bigger way with documentary film producers, so that we could see a little more of the birds themselves.  But this movie is a comedy, designed to inform, entertain, and poke fun.  And in that vein, it's peppered with exaggeration and a taste of the conflicts that are inevitable in any passionate pursuit.    

Who doesn't love birds?  There's everything to love.  This is a movie about loving birds, and about human nature as it unfolds while birders compete for the "big year".  Go see it.  If you're a birder you'll love it, both because its fun and because some aspect of it is about you.  If you aren't a birder, you'll find it curious, and I hope that will lead you to some form of birding.  Birds are full of magic and they're all around you.  Take a closer look!

Visit this link to see the trailer that includes "fall out" and the Swainson's hawk.
More on the movie, the Big Year with trailers.
Roger Ebert Review
Review by John Pushock for North American Birding
Visit the Knoxville Ornithological Society
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham