Ramblings of a Ranger- Hummingbird Heaven
Connect to Nature-Heavenly Hummingbird Habitat
From the Summit Lake Ranger Station log book, Lassen Volcanic National Park: Another season! Finished (teaching) school down south in a heat-wave, full on summer, then headed north to lovely Lassen, where spring is just showing a first blush! ...the ranger station is in great shape, a small fire crackles, candles and oil lamps throw a warm and mellow light... a toast to the summer ahead!
So I had the opportunity to spend time at my twin sister's place, part of the winter and spring, in the sunny, supercrowded Southland of California. They live in an almost typical suburb, marching lines of homes in rows, tiny yards and houses 10 feet from each other. Almost typical, but not quite. To walk out their back gate is to step into another world, a step back in time. Down a steep embankment, through stands of willow that belie a tiny seasonal water source and up the other side to the rolling hills of Chino. Several hundred acres of protected open space and then 15,000+ acres of state park land beckon! Hills greened from the winter rains, (as meager as they were), roll on and the variety and number of birds is astounding. Cooper's hawks and red tail hawks soar, buzzards and finches and sparrows and hooded orioles ( in striking yellow and black dress, who drop in to sneak a slurp of sugar water from a humming bird feeder); roadrunners run, yesterday I spied a passing visitor, a colorful western tanager, hummingbirds, of course. And then there are the lizards, toads and frogs and screech owls and snakes (king, gopher, and Southern Pacific rattlesnakes, among others), and ticks and beetles... a plethora of wildlife to experience. Coyotes howl and bark their frenzied calls many nights, and a herd of horses roam at will, often showing off by standing dramatically at the tops of hills as the sun sets, striking scenic poses, their silhouettes dark against the perfect sky. This place is on a major Pacific migration flyway, and there are both native year round bird species and those winging by, bound for distant lands, especially in the spring and autumn. My sister and brother-in -law have made sure to create habitat that is welcoming to bird life, especially hummingbirds.
Just about any place can be made more bird friendly. Having fresh water for them to bathe in and drink, and changing it regularly, is a big plus. We use a small waterfall with a recycling pump so the water is aerated, and fresh water is added several times a week. Several seed feeders and a variety of bird seeds, make for attracting a wide variety of bird species, but this can also become an expensive habit. A yard with different trees, bushes and flowers to attract the optimum number of species is also a big plus. Cats, feral and domestic, are a serious problem for birds and small animals... it is estimated that literally hundreds of millions of birds, lizards, small mammals and other critters are killed each year. Common sense placement of feeders so that birds can safely feed is a necessity.We keep feeders stocked for the many seed eaters: sparrows, wrens, finches and others, but it is for the hummingbirds that we seem to have created the perfect environment.
This scene is one of pure magic! Five to seven hummingbird feeders (depending on the season and the numbers of birds), with extra strength sugar water are maintained for those hummers who call the area home, and for those passing through.At any given time, there may be 15 or 30 hummers zooming around and drinking the sugar nectar, bathing in the small water fountain, nesting or roosting nearby. But, as each evening draws near, there is a dramatic increase in the number of hummingbirds, as they congregate to 'tank up' for the night. With 10 feeding spots at each feeder, and some spots shared by two, on many evenings we witness 70 or 80 birds. It's no exaggeration, maybe a conservative count, but some winter evenings upwards of 90 or 100 hummingbirds are in a frenzy of feeding. This is my favorite time to observe, all the little birds in a more sharing mood, and to stand in a small space surrounded by these feeders and birds all around, is to feel a deep connection to the beauty of nature's design.
Many have grown used to me, and sometimes when I am taking empty hummingbird feeders in for cleaning and refilling, several will be buzzing around my head, inches away, or still siting on the feeder in my hand, reluctant to give up a chosen spot. During the day, there is the typical hyper flying and dive-bombing and general competition of hummingbirds, some trying to chase others away and 'lord over' one particular feeder, others sneaking up to grab a spot while some little male chases others away, yet it seems that everyone gets his/her turn, eventually. When there are the greatest number of birds around, we go through several pounds of sugar a week, though now with the warmer weather, flowers and other food sources more available, and the draw of migration pulling at them, the numbers have dropped off some. But that number will grow again, come autumn.
An on-line search reveals that there are at least thirteen species of hummingbird one might see in California, and most of them are represented at the feeder free-for-all. These thirteen species are: Allen's, Anna's, Black-chinned, Blue-throated, Broad-billed, Broad tailed, Calliope, Costas, Green-violet ear, Ruby- throated, Rufous, Violet-crowned, and Xantus' (which is said to be rare)... there are just too many feeders for any one bird or one species to dominate, with birds switching feeders, more hovering around or streaking in and out of the area, others nervously sitting for a moment in the trees above, and it's all about moving, moving, moving! To stand in the center of this nightly event is breathtaking, makes one almost giddy: the sound and sight of so much movement, color, zooming wings and trills of calling hummers just gladdens the heart. And though I witness some close calls, they never collide into me or each other and that is amazing to me that so many high-speed sugar water junkies can be so talented as to avoid mishaps.
The hills here are drying out now, the grasses soon to wither and bake under the dry winds and heat of summer. I can quickly run or hike up over a hill top and see before me only bright vistas of rolling hills, little wooded canyons, scattered wildflowers and pretend, for a while, that I an not surrounded by millions of people, asphalt parking lots, freeways, malls, houses, and endless sprawl. It is beautiful country, made all the more so by the fact that it won't last. Every green thing is rushing to flower and seed, laying the groundwork for next year's spring show.
Our national parks and wilderness areas are exceptional and worthy of visiting. Our connection to nature is deep and powerful and important in this technological overload of a world we have created. Visit a wild place, hike or camp or fish and, to paraphrase Muir: let nature's glad tidings flow into you! Or hang a bird feeder and plant a wildflower garden and welcome nature to your place. It's the connection that counts, however it is made, and you'll be glad you did!