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Friday, November 18, 2011

Who's That Hummer? or, The Great Feeder Watch

In North Carolina, whenever a hummingbird decides to stick around for winter, you’ve really got to follow up on it. Our native Ruby-throated Hummingbirds rarely stick around for the winter, and it's much more likely that an over-wintering hummer is a rarer western species. So, when I heard about an unidentified hummingbird hanging out at a random residence in the middle of Chapel Hill, I had to check it out.

I had to use my flash in the shadow of the house, something I'd rather not do.

My vigil began slowly. The hummingbird feeder hung under an eave, and the whole patio lay cast in shadow, which made a cold, breezy day even colder. The birds didn’t seem to mind though. Common suburban species abounded, things like Titmice and Chickadees making up most of the flock, with some Robins, White-throated Sparrows, and Downy Woodpeckers thrown in.

These guys are definitely one of the perks of living in the southeast.

This Brown-headed Nuthatch had a propensity for a feeder nearest the porch, and several times would land at the nearby birdbath for a drink. Under one of the tables, a Carolina Wren would creep around looking for a nibble of suet before realizing he was feeding not three feet from a waiting birdwatcher.

Usually they're way more skittish than this, but I wasn't moving much.

That’s when it happened. The bird of the hour showed up with a high-pitched tsik! and landed in a bush next to me. Perfect, in the sun and everything! Only, there were branches and remnant leaves in the way, and the camera just wasn’t having any of it.

Bad autofocus! Bad! Stop being a moron!

The hummingbird quickly flew over to the feeder and took a few sips. Which should have been better for photography, but bird decided to drink from the opposite side of the feeder, barely poking his head out for a photo. That wouldn’t do. So I stood up to get a better view, rather more abruptly than I meant to, and with another couple tsik! tsik!s it flew off. And I thought that would be it. 

Stop being coy with me, hummer!

Until another tsik! drew me to a tangle of branches in a nearby maple, its leaves brown from autumn. Even without my binoculars, I could see the bright rump of none other than a rare Rufous Hummingbird, surprisingly well camouflaged amongst the remaining leaves longing to fall of their branches. He appears to be a subadult male, the rufous rump already well-formed, and generally bronze in color everywhere else. Luckily, he didn’t mind me inching closer for a couple more shots.

Maybe he's tired from crossing the entire country?

One step two close, however, and he headed off across a nearby grassy lot. The bird definitely appears loyal to that feeder he’s chosen, so perhaps he’ll stick around all winter. Or, at least, he’d better stick around for the Christmas Bird Count!

How about just til James gets back for Thanksgiving?

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