Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Wednesday I spent a couple of hours in a yard near Hudson, Wis., just across the river. An unidentified hummingbird had/has been coming to a feeder there. It's possible the bird was a stray from the west, possibly a Wisconsin first record for the species. Photos were wanted for study. I'm lousy when it comes to ID on female and juvenile hummers, which this bird probably was. That’s a science of its own. But, I do enjoy taking photos. So, I drove over, a simple 40-mile drive, simple considering the clotted traffic we have come to regard as normal.
I found a beautiful yard setup for birds, one of the best, maybe THE best I've seen. Many feeders of different types offering a variety of seeds, peanuts, and suet. Best and most important was the water feature -- a self-circulating stream of about 20 feet, with a five-foot drop, the water gurgling done the rocky streambed, flashing in the sun. The contours of the yard made this possible. It's not something all of us could do, although with a few yards of dirt dumped in the middle of our backyard I could give it a try. Unlikely.
There was a constant steam of birds coming to streamside. I was to watch the hummingbird feeder for what I was told were very short visits by the mystery bird. Hard to do, though, with the constant activity of the other birds as seen from the corner of my eye. There was a flock of Cedar Waxwings, two Tufted Titmice, a dozen robins, Purple and House finches, chickadees, nuthatches, three woodpecker species, Blue Jays, and a Mourning Dove. This was ample evidence of the impact water can have on bird attraction. Moving water is best, but any source of water is good, particularly in a dry season.
My hostess provided a very comfortable cushioned patio chair for me to sit in while keeping vigil. For the last hour of my visit I had the company of a pretty and charming fellow-birder. She also was looking for the hummer. We visited quietly in the afternoon sun, pillows behind our backs, birds everywhere, all the while doing something of substance, with a goal. You even could call it an important goal, first-state record on the line. I recommend birding, acknowledging that my lack of an honest job (retired) makes much of my inactive activity possible. Fishing comes close to birding if you want quiet contemplative pleasure. Bobber fishing only, though, no casting or trolling. Sitting and watching, I'm very good at that.
We never did see the hummingbird. It moved on, most likely, doomed to death very soon because it needs a constant source of food. Plus, it doesn't know where it is pertaining to where it should be at this time of year. If it did know it will/would not find enough food between here and there to survive the trip. It came here because of faulty wiring, so will be removed from the gene pool, a positive for its species. Bad wiring should not be passed along to following generations.
The titmice were interesting. Here they were, two miles from Minnesota, a place where they are rarely reported. Perhaps there are feeders east of St. Paul graced with these charming birds but not mentioned in birding-circle communications. Whatever, I wish titmice would spread widely at least in the metro area, as far west as our yard. They’re a treat to see. Here is my non-hummer photo of the day -- a titmouse.
And the drive home, west on 94 and 394 around 5 p.m.? My sympathy to all who do it daily.
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