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Creature Feature

I had planned a different post for today, but there’s been too much fun happening around the garden this week.  So today, it’s a creature feature.  By the way, if you click on the photos, they enlarge.  You’ll probably want to do that with the three at the end.

First, all week I’ve been trying to get pictures of a male Rufous hummingbird who has been hanging around the feeder and ferociously driving off every other bird except one.  But he’s been too quick for me.  By the time I’d get the camera on and in position, he was either chasing another bird or camouflaged behind some leaves up in the oak tree, lying in ambush.  He’s the most beautiful little creature.  In the bright sun, his back is a glowing copper color, and his throat a dark scarlet highlighted by his white breast.  He’s gorgeous, and he knows it.  The only other hummer he’ll allow to feed is a drab little thing I’m thinking must be a Rufous female.  He let her take long turns at the feeder.  I watched him defend the feeder from all other comers for three days.  The other pair, perhaps Allen’s (they are so hard to identify when they are swooping around), could only sneak in for short sips when Rufous was off on some other brief business.  But everything changed on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Rufous male didn’t show up.  I sat on the deck all day, armed with the camera, and he never came.  However, a bird who looked like his dull, little friend came to guard the feeder.  She was almost as aggressive as the male, and she sat in the tree all day, twittering to herself, scratching, and chasing off other birds.  She sat so long in the same place, I was able to get a couple of short videos of her and a few pictures.  (I can’t upload the videos here, but you can see them on Facebook later.)  Judging by her aggressive behavior, I think she is a Rufous female, but I am not sure.  If anyone can make a positive I.D., I would love to know.

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Other hummers flew in briefly on Thursday and Friday to feed.  The little female chased off as many as she could, including a hummingbird twice her size, perhaps a Broad-tailed.  I didn’t get a picture of the big hummer, but I did get a picture of her on the feeder and in the tree afterward.

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This state of affairs lasted until Friday evening, when a Rufous male showed up.  The same one?  I have no idea.  I have read that these birds are highly migratory, making a big circle from Mexico to British Columbia every year.  They may only spend a few days in one area before moving on.  While they are around, they consider the feeder theirs.  The Rufous male was in and out all day on Saturday, but I think he may have been guarding another feeder in the neighborhood.  He didn’t really spend much time at ours.  And the little female?  She seemed to take the Rufous male’s arrival as a signal to depart.

Years ago, when my kids were little, I put out a feeder every summer (we don’t get hummers here until June at the earliest), and we always had some traffic.  But after the kids got bigger, and everyone got busier, I stopped putting out feeders.  I knew my neighbor put out several feeders every year, and I had lots of dianthus and petunias, which the hummingbirds loved, so we still saw them for some years.  And then, for a period of about seven years, they visited very intermittently.  I believe they were feeding on manzanita blossoms higher in the mountains, and our yard was only a brief rest stop for them.  Starting about ten years ago, our area was devastated by wild fires every summer or every other summer.  I think a lot of the hummingbird feeding ground was destroyed, particularly in 2008, and that is why we saw so few of them for so long.  (About this time, we also started seeing more bears lower down on the mountain.  Much of their habitat was destroyed too.)  For three or four years, I didn’t see any hummingbirds in the summer.  Vegetation is now growing back in those burned areas, and we’re seeing an increase in hummingbirds.  It’s good to have them back again.  They always make me smile.

But hummingbirds aren’t the only interesting creatures visiting the garden this week.  I was out tickling tomato blossoms one day, and I heard a strange sound.  It was a very quiet flapping/humming noise.  I turned around and looked at the asparagus bed behind me.  I have some clary sage growing there as well, and at first, I thought a hummingbird had discovered the blossoms.  But it wasn’t a hummingbird.  It was a hummingbird moth.

I have seen these hummingbird moths before.  I got a short video of it (it’s on Facebook). I watched the moth for some time before it flew away, and I haven’t seen it since.  It was a brief visit, but I’m sure glad it stopped by.  There’s a good still photo of one at http://www.birds-n-garden.com/hummingbird_moths.html.

That same day, I saw another insect I have never seen before. I have no idea what this thing is.  If you do, please tell me!  It flew up from the potato patch when the sprinkler came on and landed on a green tomato.  The hummingbird moth had just flown off, so I had the camera in my hand.  It looks vicious.  Is that a butterfly in its jaws?

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The other visitor to the yard was a young doe.  She bedded down in the shade right beside the gate.  After she’d been resting for a bit, and I’d been snapping pictures of her, I learned why she chose that spot.  It was because she could stand up on her back legs and grab a mouthful of leaves from the maple tree.  Then she could lie right down in the shade and chew them.  I didn’t get a picture of her up on her back legs.  I’m afraid I yelled, “Hey, don’t eat my tree!” and she took off.  A photographer, a real photographer, would have let her eat the tree for the sake of the picture.  But, gardener that I am, I spoiled the shot.  That says volumes about my priorities.

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Finally, some photos I have to share because the subjects are just so darn cute.

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The twins weren’t actually on our property, although I’m sure we’ll be seeing them up here soon.  They were on the side of the road down the street.  They weren’t at all worried about us or our truck.  They obligingly stood very quietly and let me take their pictures.  No matter how many times I see baby deer, they still make me say “Aww!”  And be glad for my six-foot wire fence.

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7 thoughts on “Creature Feature

    • Thanks, Tara. I’ve been putting my camera out on the patio table when I go outside in the morning. That way, I don’t have to kick off my shoes and run back in the house to get it when something fun happens. I still miss a lot, though. And my camera skills, while improving, are still not as good as my husband’s!

  1. DeAnna says:

    Dear Jeanie,
    Janos read this blog entry and said that the bug on the green tomatoes is a Robber Fly. Robber flies are pretty vicious and will eat all kinds of other bugs, according to him.
    DeAnna

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