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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Most Rufous-y Hummer in the... Yard

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and while that means a day of turkey, beer, and football, it also means that James is back in town from college! We only had a couple hours to bird, but our first stop was a no-brainer: I took James to visit the Rufous Hummingbird that’s been coming to a feeder not five minutes from my apartment in Chapel Hill.

The last three times I’ve visited this bird, I’ve had to wait anywhere between and thirty minutes to an hour and a half for the bird to show up, but not so this time. Within about five minutes we heard a reedy whistling and looked up to see the hummingbird sitting right in the sun! James got fantastic life views, and I enjoyed seeing him closer than I ever have before when he flew off. So I devised an experiment – because of the difficulty identifying Selasphorus hummingbirds, nobody’s really quite sure whether or not this could actually be an Allen’s Hummingbird. So I preloaded my phone with the song of a Rufous, and upon playing it the bird dashed from over the weedy field and hovered right in front of us for several seconds before landing in a bush not six feet away! In my mind, this confirms his identity as a Rufous Hummingbird.

I doubt we could've gotten this close even in its home range!

As we accomplished our goal nearly an hour ahead of the time we’d allotted for it, James and I decided to hit up Mason Farm, the local spot that’s always got a little bit of something. Today, that something turned out to be sparrows of all kinds – loads of White-throateds, Chippings, and Songs poured out from the bushes along the canal. In the middle of a nearby path, we found this rather bold Painted Turtle attempting to cross from one section of canal to the other, but not before we stopped to take a couple pictures. He didn’t seem to mind too much, never completely retreating into his shell, and after we were done he went about his merry way and slid down the nearby bank into his watery home.

Although I don't think anyone enjoys having a camera shoved in their face.

Once we got away from the main canal, the bird life seemed to lessen, in number anyway. But as we walked along the vast fields, a bird flushed from the undergrowth much like a sparrow would. But the bird flew too high, too quickly, and it was too black. No, the dry call notes we were hearing belonged to a male Rusty Blackbird who’d apparently been foraging next to a small pool beneath a bush. He’s a male, but most of his breeding plumage has turned into that rusty coloration that gives the bird his name. While Rusty Blackbirds as a whole have undergone a massive population decline in the last couple of decades, I can still find them every winter, something I’m truly thankful for.

This makes something around forty-two I've seen this winter. Must be a sign!

While James photographed the blackbird, I heard the unmistakable jungle-like call of a Pileated Woodpecker emanating from the nearby forest. Turns out, the bird was closer than I thought. As we rounded a corner, James gave the signal to stop moving and crept over to his left. The bird lay just on the other side of a tree just a couple yards off the path. James got into position and snapped this shot of an enormous Pileated Woodpecker working his way up a horizontal branch.

Still looking for that perfect shot, but this'll do. For now.

But that’s not even the best part: just after James took the picture, the titanic bird flushed off the tree right towards him, and skimmed less than two feet over his head! Talk about your close calls! The rest of the trail didn’t hold many new or exciting birds for us, and the clouds appeared rather ominous, but the memory of point-blank looks at Rufous Hummingbirds and Pileated Woodpeckers is more than enough to label this day of birding a smashing success!


  1. Wow, what a great photo of the Pileated. Sounds like a great day. Rufous Hummingbirds in my area are actually pretty tame - I guess it's all the feeders.

  2. I agree, it seems like all the west coast hummers are a lot more tame, especially compared to the Ruby-throats out here. I walked up within 3 feet of an Anna's Hummingbird in California before she stopped calling at me and flew away - no way I could get away with that with a RTHU!

  3. Looking forward to hitting Mason Farm again now that the leaves are down. Great catches today!