Hummers 2020

The most interesting and frequent visitors to our backyard feeders and flowers in the summer are hummers – two very different kinds of hummers.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve been negligent in landscaping for hummingbirds so most of my observations and photos center on a sugar-water feeder and adjacent perches.

Diurnal moths. Phlox is one garden flower that thrives despite my neglect. It reaches full bloom in August and another “hummer” visits almost immediately: the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. They buzz around like miniature hummingbirds, feeding on dozens of flowers in the time it takes to lock in on one. Mid to late afternoon is prime time.

Touch-me-not (Jewelweed), a native wild flower, is now in bloom. It’s sought after and guarded by hummingbirds and, with a lot of luck, might lead to a followup post on hummers!

Photos by NB Hunter (July and August, 2020). © All rights reserved.

 

Hummingbird Highlights

Having a hummingbird feeder suspended in front of a kitchen window, adjacent to a sand cherry perch, affords an opportunity to observe and photograph the nuances of daily behavior that might not be possible in a more natural setting. Despite the many obstacles to quality images – the haze and imperfections of glass in small windows, undesirable background elements, the ever-present contrast of sunlight and shadows – I sometimes shoot scenes just to capture the fascinating behavior that results from several hummers visiting the same feeder.

We see males and females throughout the day, probably two mated pairs.

The typical sighting is a single bird, male or female, at the feeder at any one time. On this occasion (2 images), a female was on the back side of the feeder when a second female arrived. There was obvious tension in the air, as the feeding bird stared menacingly while the incoming hummer put on the brakes and hovered, not sure whether to feed, fight, or fly.

Unlike the females, males are notorious for their aggressive defense of feeders and flowers. There is a feisty little male in our group, and he has an abundance of attitude. He defends the feeder aggressively, often poised for combat until it’s too dark to see him. When perched near the feeder, his head is on a swivel, looking in all directions for an intruder. Should one show up, a spectacular chase ensues and, in the blink of an eye, the feeder is ours again.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

 

Songbird Migration 2019

The National Wildlife Federation has promoted the creation of sustainable wildlife habitat for as long as I can remember. It maintains that “Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife”. The scope of this mission is broad – residential properties, institutional grounds, urban green spaces, etc. – and the support is equally impressive. Programs include gardening for wildlife (including butterflies and bees), the certification of wildlife habitat, education, current events and photo contests.

The rewards of wildlife habitat enhancement are evident throughout the year, but never more so than during the peak spring migration in May. Songbirds in myriad shapes, sizes and colors are on the move. Some are passing through, perhaps offering no more than a glimpse, while others are settling in on summer range. In either case, the birds need places to rest, feed, shelter — habitat!

Visitors to habitats around a home present opportunities for viewing and photographing that are virtually impossible at other times of the year for many species. This post is an example. Overall, the habitat includes mature trees, shrubs, herbaceous vegetation, water and feeders. The micro habitat for most of the images is a purple-leaf sand cherry and bird feeders next to the house. The sand cherry, a shrubby tree, provides valuable perching habitat and convenient access to feeders.

Male hummingbird guarding a sugar water feeder (1 of 2; May 10 and 15, 2019)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders in mid May (1 of 2; May 6 and 15, 2019)

Male Baltimore Oriole exploring its feeding options (1 of 2; May 16, 2019))

Male Indigo Bunting (May 17, 2019)

Female Eastern Towhee laying claim to a nesting territory (May 15, 2019)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

Hummingbirds in Late Summer

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Our hummingbirds will be gone in a month so I’m savoring every moment with these little marvels. Numbers have peaked, boosted by the young of the year, and all are feeding voraciously in preparation for the long journey to the Gulf Coast and Central America.

They’re devouring sugar water in feeders, in some cases swarming like bees and constantly fighting for position.

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Gardening for hummingbirds is a more natural and satisfying method of attracting and feeding hummers. Red and orange tubular flowers like this Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ can be dietary staples.

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Perches near feeders are my favorite setting for observing and photographing hummers. Portraits that capture the nuances of perching behavior shed an entirely different light on a species best know for its aerial magic!

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When out and about in the summer months, I often think about hummingbirds foraging in natural areas, apart from the direct influence of man and artificial feeding practices. Are there tubular flowers blooming in the wild now? If not, what are the hummers feeding on? Three native species come to mind: Bee-balm (Monarda), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia) and Jewelweed (Touch-me-not; Impatiens).

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Jewelweed or Touch-me-not (Impatiens) in early August

Photos by NB Hunter. All Rights Reserved.

 

Late Summer Jewels

Yesterday I watched a hummingbird visit this patch of wildflowers for nectar. When a very chilly night left everything covered in dew, I became the visitor! Called Jewelweed (also Touch-me-not) for the way water droplets linger on plant parts to form glistening, jewel-like beads, this native Impatiens is a late summer favorite.

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Photo by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

August Hummers

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Like most birders around the world, I’m fascinated by hummingbirds and love watching them. Early August – about a month before their southern migration – is my favorite time to observe and photograph: populations have peaked, natural food sources like Touch-me-not, Bee Balm and Cardinal Flower are blooming, and, last but certainly not least, I have an opportunity to visit a friend who attracts huge numbers of hummingbirds. It’s not unusual to see 20 or 30 birds at his two feeders at one time, an incredible scene that is not unlike a swarm of giant bees (see my post from 2013 for details and photos: https://nicksnaturepics.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/hummers-a-summer-favorite/ ).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, females and juveniles, visiting a sugar-water feeder:

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Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, females and juveniles, visiting a native wildflower (Cardinal Flower).

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Teasel

Teasel is an alien wildflower that commonly occurs in lowland habitats with moist soil. I encounter it almost daily, yet I still pause to admire its form and natural beauty. The spiny flower heads – and aesthetic value – persist through the winter, providing year-round entertainment.

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Teasel; August 1, 2014

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Teasel in bloom; August 13, 2014

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Eastern Elk Country

The springboard for my career was graduate studies of elk and other herbivores in the heart of a region that is now marketed as the “Pennsylvania Wilds”. The experience also spawned a 40-year friendship with my field research mentor, a retired forester and author of works on forest history and elk. Return trips to visit, hike, fish and photograph are always mutually rewarding and memorable. It is this connection that brings to mind a quote of Aldo Leopold: “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”

Covering a dozen counties and roughly 2-million acres in the northcentral portion of the state, the PA Wilds region is largely forested and under State or Federal ownership. Outdoor recreation and tourism are the backbone of local economies. Historically, deer hunting was the main draw to the area, and may still be, but new outdoor recreation activities with growing participation rates are rapidly altering the landscape, and the experience.

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Appalachian Mountains/Allegheny Plateau in northcentral PA

When visiting, I stay in my friends log cabin and seamlessly slip into a refreshingly different world of backcountry wildlife, mountains, tumbling brooks, endless forested landscapes and rich land use history. On a cloudy night the experience is enhanced by environmental qualities that are nearly extinct in the civilized world: the virtual absence of human noise and the disorienting, but enlightening, experience of total darkness.

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Beaver, feeding on the bark of a twig (probably willow).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the region was a bustling network of logging camps, sawmills, tanneries and related industries. Extensive stands of virgin White Pine, valued for lumber and ship masts, helped one local city lay claim to being the “lumber capital of the world” in the late 1800’s. A pine log destined to be used as a ship mast had to be straight and at least 90 feet long and 18 inches across – at the small end! Using only horses, oxen, hand tools, the power of water (and later, railroads), loggers harvested and transported these massive timbers with incredible ingenuity. One example was the use of a series of “splash dams” to move large logs down small streams. Gated dams were constructed from nearby timber and rocky substrate to created a reservoir that was filled with logs hauled off the mountain. When the gate was opened, the logs shot downstream, buoyed and propelled by the artificial flood water. 

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Remains of a 140-year-old splash dam on a small mountain creek; the foundation of Hemlock logs is waterlogged and remarkably well preserved.

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Old, historic railroad bridge in the heart of the PA Wilds region

The last native PA elk was killed in the latter part of the 19th century. However, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of elk and a wild, free-ranging herd of several hundred animals has become the center piece of the PA Wild program.

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Wild Pennsylvania elk: an immature bull in velvet; photo 1 of 3

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Elk, deer, bear and turkeys are the main attractions for tourists and hunters alike, but the detailed landscapes of forest openings, beaver meadows, and the edges of sparsely traveled trails and roads are often rich in plant and animal life.

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Porcupine; strolling along the edge of a beaver meadow and grazing on succulent, herbaceous vegetation

Three plants, or plant groups, that are spectacular in mid-summer are the daisies and daisy-like flowers, Bee Balm and Cardinal Flower. All of these photos are wild plants, growing naturally in the area being featured.

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Crescent butterfly on Coneflower

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Bee Balm (Oswego Tea); past peak bloom

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Spicebush Swallowtail on Cardinal Flower; flood plain of a mountain stream

When available, both Bee Balm and Cardinal Flower are favored, natural food sources for hummingbirds.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird, preening

I stopped near the eastern border of the PA Wilds on my way home to break up the trip and photograph a mountain stream. This was my final capture of the trip.

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Red-spotted Purple; gravel bar on the flood plain of a mountain stream.

Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.

When the Fish aren’t Biting

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Wild Columbine

For many years a close friend and I have traveled to the mountains in late spring to tent, fly fish for trout, photograph and solve the mysteries of life. Our destination is a 45 square mile forested watershed that lies within a much larger forested region, most of which is State-owned.  The area has relatively few year-round inhabitants and is a web of unpaved, seasonal roads; unbroken forestland of mixed hardwoods and conifers; pristine, freestone streams and the various discord elements that challenge and erode the wildness: natural gas right-of-ways, private lands, etc. The camp site is a dead zone too, which adds to the flavor of it all. We never achieve goal four but have fun trying. The trip is always a highly anticipated adventure that has a profound and lasting effect on our life story. The destination never changes but the experiences are never the same.

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Forested mountain road typical of the region

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A “freestone” stream in the watershed surrounding camp, harboring native Brook Trout and a reproducing population of stocked Brown Trout

I have many pictures from these trips but decided to be true to the theme of my blog and focus on my experiences with nature that filled the voids when the fish weren’t active.  The gallery that follows is a sampling of my many encounters with the natural world during five days in camp in late May, 2013.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.