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Sunday Showcase: Female Rufous Hummingbird

Photos taken by Rob English near Highwood House, SW of Calgary, in June 2012.

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Here are a couple of shots of a male Rufous Hummingbird taken at the same time, to show the difference.  For more of Rob’s photos of a male Rufous, see this post.

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Where to Find the Hummingbirds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Many readers of Matthew’s recent post about the Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead would like to know where to find these birds.  There are two species that breed there, and they are reliably in the same two areas every year, from mid-May to early September.

To get to this area, park in the lot in North Glenmore at 37 Street and 66 Avenue SW, in the community of Lakeview. This is marked with a red “P” in the satellite map below.  The white x’s show where the Calliope Hummingbirds are typically found, and the yellow x’s show the location of the Rufous Hummingbirds.

Calliope Hummingbirds:  From the parking lot, go down the hill on the paved trail, and cross the big bridge over the Elbow River.  Then turn right immediately and follow the trail over a wooden bridge that spans a side channel (Eastern Phoebes nest here).  After the wooden bridge, turn left onto a new boardwalk trail that runs along the west side of that channel.  After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns away from the channel, and you soon come to a more open area with a few small trees.  Look for these tiny birds at the top of dead branches or spruce trees.  Another trail branches off and goes north along the west side of this open area, and we have seen the Calliopes here too.  The red x’s on the map below show where to look.  Please stay on the trails – there is no need to go off them to find the birds.

Rufous Hummingbirds:  From the main parking lot, take the paved trail down the hill.  There are several trails you can take to the area where the birds are on the south-facing slope along the river.  It can be quite muddy in wet conditions, and you should stay well away from the river when the water is high.  One dirt trail begins right where the paved path makes a big turn, before going down the steep hill (the uppermost red T below).  This one is difficult when it is wet since there are steep sections.  Another runs right along the river bank (the lowermost T).  This trail is unusable and dangerous when the water level is high, as it is now.  The middle T indicates a trail that begins at a wooden railing just north of the big bridge.  This is the best way in wet conditions (the trails all converge when you are about halfway there).   Follow the dirt trails through the woods, staying down low near the river, until you get to a stormwater drain into the river.  The hillsides here are covered in Caragana bushes (Siberian Peashrub).  You usually don’t have to go farther than this to find the birds (though the trails continue on for quite a distance).  The location is marked with red x’s below.  Again, look at the tops of small dead branches, or the tips of spruce trees.

To return, you can backtrack, or climb the steep hill to the boundary fence above, and follow it back.  (In dry weather you can go in this way, along the top, but it is a steep hill down to where the birds are, and very slippery.)

Good luck, and be careful!

Hummingbirds of the Weaselhead

Posted by Matthew Sim

This past Thursday, I went out for a walk in the Weaselhead with local nature expert Gus Yaki and a group of other birders. Our target species were the 2 species of hummingbird that call this park home; the Calliope Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird. Though we saw and heard many great species on our walk, for this post I will concentrate on the hummingbirds.

When we reached the area where Calliope Hummingbirds are usually seen, we scanned around with our binoculars, searching for this tiny bird. The smallest bird in North America at 8cm in length (3.25 inches), this hummingbird can sometimes be passed off as a large bee. After several minutes, somebody found this beautiful male perched at the top of a spruce tree.

Male Calliope Hummingbird

We observed this little guy (the Calliope is the smallest long-distance avian migrant in the world) as Gus told us many neat facts about the species. For example, the pink streaks on the male’s throat form a V-shaped gorget, and these streaks are rather long, so that when the male turns his head, the streaks will actually reach back over his shoulder. This was my first time seeing the species so I was particularly enthralled with the bird. After some time, we moved on, back closer to the river in search of the Rufous Hummingbird.

We had to walk through some muddy spots to get to the habitat where the male Rufous is likely to be seen but was it ever worth it! When we got there, someone soon spotted the male Rufous and we soon all had our binoculars trained on him as he displayed his gorgeous orange-red gorget.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird was moving around a lot and we got to see him at various spots; perched and in flight.

At one point, he even came to the bushes right behind us and started feeding.  Gus told us that these bushes were actually Siberian Peashrub, more commonly known as Caragana. They are an invasive species that totally dominates the environment, so that no other flowering plants live in the area ( it covers 10-12 acres on the north side of the Elbow river). Male Rufous Hummingbirds  feed on these plants because of the abundant if  only temporarily nectar, however the females, which raise their families alone without the help of the males, realise that there is not enough nectar to raise a family on and head elsewhere, to richer, more natural environments. The males are then at a biological dead-end and do not have the oppurtunity to pass on their genes. This was quite fascinating and I would not have learned this had I not been on the trip with Gus. Thanks Gus!

He showed off his colors beautifully, revealing how he got his name.

We had a great morning watching these hummingbirds and learning lots about them thanks to Gus’ vast wealth of knowledge.

My Summer Surprise

Over the many years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve managed to accumulate 105 bird species on my yard list (including those birds seen flying over the house). We have mature trees, shrubs, birdbaths and way too many bird feeders for the ones that touch down.

At least once each summer, I see a quick flash of iridescent green whiz by, generally so fast I can’t identify the individual hummingbird species. I’ve been assuming Ruby-throated, just because the odds are better.

A couple of years ago, we decided to remove a huge chunk of lawn and put in a hummingbird and bee garden. The first flowers that we put in were Scarlet Bee Balm Monarda didyma, a very showy flower that hummers love. All the plants in this garden are perennials, and just grow more glorious each year.

Last week I was sitting on my back deck, watching for any warblers or sparrows that might be passing through, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the garden.

A HUMMER! In my hummingbird garden!

I whipped up my binos to see a juvenile Ruby-throated feeding on the bee balm. As I was watching him, I remembered I had my camera on my lap so I fired off a series of pictures. They aren’t really the best but two years ago I didn’t have the garden or a digital camera so I’m happy.

I now judge my hummingbird garden a success. As for the bee portion of my garden, I have enough pictures and video for a full length movie on bees. I may have gotten just a teeny bit carried away, and now I need to find some time to edit all of my efforts. Watch this space!

Posted by Pat Bumstead