I needed a break from the damp studio and squeezing cold clay in cracked fingers. My need corresponded with weak winter sun breaking through gray clouds, so I wandered outside with my camera. I could hear a high, thin zszsszs like a small air leak, and followed the sound, knowing who was singing it.
adult male Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costæ) seeming to sternly glare from a creosote twiglet in Scottsdale, AZ, Dec 2013 (Photo A.Shock) >>
After a bit of searching I spotted this little dude alternately feeding and roosting in creosote at the very back of the property. Capturing him on his natural twig perch instead of the feeder felt like a real triumph — his flaring purple mustaches aren’t overshadowed by bright red plastic.
Dinky dude big sky. The setting sun stained this first-year male Costa’s Hummingbird like a winged berry. Really, I missed the shot — a tiny bird preening on the very tip top of the spindly sumac’s crown — but by missing it, got a better one with his dramatic pre-launch wing-spread: his wings had begun to whir even before he let the branch go.
Posting in WordPress seems to have had a peculiar effect on the image’s resolution — it looks oddly noise-reduced, giving his body a digitally brushed look that the original jpeg doesn’t show. Still, you can see his incipient Yosemite Sam moustaches and his bronze-green vest, and the spread flight feathers so thin they look dark only where they overlap. It gives me great joy to have these little guys in the yard.
We had a very hard freeze this past winter, and it took its toll in the garden, killing some plants back to the ground, and seriously nipping others. Spring clean-up is long past, but for some reason (maybe it’s the uncompromised-by-cold thorns on its branches!) we never got around to cutting back the partly-killed bougainvillea that clings to the back porch latilla, despite the disorderly brown leaves and gray stem.
Now it’s too late! This little charmer, a first-year male Costa’s Hummingbird, is holding the withered vine and nearby nectar feeder as his own, and I don’t have the heart to prune his perch. Gaze upon his Adolescentness — he’s just growing in his soon-to-be-glorious purple Yosemite Sam moustachios! He’s fairly fearless, and sat on a twig singing just feet from me, as I was taking macro shots of a poor sun-spider I’d fished moribund out of the pool. When I say “singing” I mean emitting a high, thin “sssseeeee” and spraying the sound all around by holding his bill slightly upward, while moving his head gently back and forth like an electric fan. It’s hardly audible to human ears, but clearly does the trick for the species, as he was recently an egg himself.
First-year male Costa’s Hummingbird (Photo A.Shock)
Time to play Spot the Bird! Here you go: clearly, there’s a bird nearby, large — or rather, small — as life, casting its shadow. Look closely, though, and the dinky girl throwing shade is in the shot, warming her tiny bones in the winter sun, whose heat radiates off of our lovely pink block wall (never mind the awful hue, the quail and foxes who use it as a thoroughfare above the gaping jaws of neighbors’ dogs and the occasional coyote don’t care what color it is).
(female Costa’s Hummingbird perched on a creosote twig, photo A.Shock)
…so I walked up to it and took its picture.
It’s an immature Costa’s hummingbird sitting on a thorny throne below the deep dark of our Texas Ebony’s canopy. Imperfectly sharp as it is, it was a lucky shot in the shade — with no flash, trying to hold the telephoto lens still. There are thirty other perfectly un-sharp images to prove it.
Costa’s hummingbird (photo A.Shock) >>
It did not care in the least that I was stealing its soul with my camera — probably a soul would just weigh a hummer down anyway, and this one had gnats to nab and intruders to chase. I was happy to catch it in its late afternoon moment of calm.
Anna’s hummers are capable of setting clutches just about year round in warm climate states like Arizona and California. The little males have been doing their combo territorial and courtship dives — which culminate in a loud, popping “CHEEP” sound — since December, at least in our neighborhood. This little Hen in Tucson has gotten a bit of an early start to her reproductive year: here’s a digiscoped shot (acceptable if not perfectly sharp) of her on her fresh nest >>
I was visiting Kate‘s house in Tucson on my way back from Wings Over Willcox, when the motion of the tiny busy hen happened to catch my eye as she flew up into her nest with a beakful of some sort of light-colored fibers to add to the construction. Mature Aleppo pines seem to be a favored nidification tree for Anna’s, where nests are often built on top of the smallish pinecones, as in this case. I wish her luck, and I hope there’s not too much more winter weather for her to sit tight through!
This isn’t a short-billed hummer, it’s just that the resolution on a zoom photo wasn’t up to capturing the thin bill against the rough-textured block wall. Still, pretty good for a phone camera. (photo by A.Shock)
They don’t all make it. E found a dead fledgling hummingbird in the path across the wash, under the palo verde tree. It was dried, mummified, an inoffensive inanimate thing, not even worth the ants picking over. We buried it under a nearby chuparosa, a favored food of hummers. (Photos E.Shock)
Top: detail of foot, with primary feathers behind.
Middle: detail of rump feathers and tail feathers, showing juvenile buffy-edged plumage with a hint of metallic green. The green deck feathers (middle tail feathers) are just growing in.
Bottom: whole little corpse, with partly-grown baby-beak.
We’ve been watching a hummingbird Hen — we think she’s an Anna’s (Calypte anna) — on a nest since the middle of February. Lots of people have passed close to her chosen spot, which was fairly low in a crooked Aleppo pine in our backyard, right over a gravel path through the side of the garden. There was a big wind storm, and chilly late-winter temperatures.
>> Hummingbird nestling (photo A.Shock; click to embiggen)
But the Hen kept sitting, and we finally saw the results of her diligence: one slightly fluffy, fairly well-grown chick peering out over the edge of the small cup-like nest (see photo above). There’s going to be one more influx of people in the next couple of days to try its courage. But at least the weather is warm now, and many more flowers are blooming, including some recovered chuparosa flowers, so when the new little bird fledges, there should be lots of nectar and gnats to learn on.
And, for those who follow this blog regularly, I believe I forgot to mention here the last appearance of the unusual (for Phoenix) male Broad-billed hummingbird in our yard last month. He stuck around until the 16th of February, and we haven’t seen him since.
In other hummingbird news around the yard, yesterday, March 14, we saw our first-of-season Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) at one of the feeders.
<< Black-chinned hummingbird magnet (Three Star Owl/A.Shock)
Or rather, saw and heard: the males’ wings produce a whirring zizzz in flight: usually we hear them in the yard before we see them. These hummers are slender, and the males have a black head which shows a purple swash at the bottom edge along their neck, but only if the light is just right.