Under the Open Sky: You’ve Got to Pay Attention

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

I’ve been stalking some of the largest and the smallest of the winged creatures we commonly find lurking around Lewis County this time of year.

My mother’s house has a pair of hummingbird feeders flanking a glassed-in viewing area that has kept me busily focused and clicking away for hours on end this week.

I lower a double-hung window and raise their heating costs at the same time. It’s a pretty good deal — for me, that is.

The fact that I’m “letting in the all cold air and heating the whole outdoors” is the reason why I try to hummingbird hunt with my camera only during business hours — while my dad is away at work. (I may be near a half-century old, but my daddy can still fell me like a sapling with a sideways cut of his eyes and a disapproving slant to his brow. Momma? Not so much.)

The Hummingbird Tree is actually a scraggledy alder tree, a resting place for hummingbirds and a perch for the other songbird visitors. They were going to remove the tree about 6 feet of growth ago, but it has since become too much of a fixture of the open landscaping of wildflowers and grasses for the birds to want to see it go.

They need their place to perch and we need the place to watch them. The tree stands about 10 or 12 feet from the windows, making close-ups easy from indoors.

I captured one tiny female Rufous hummingbird on video earlier this week perched on a limb, swaying in the breeze, chirping happily. She stuck out her tongue at me, scratched her head, fluffed her feathers and preened between nectar-drinking visits.

You can visit my bird blog, The Daily Bird, at http://kimbirdz.wordpress.com to see the video.

I was fascinated to discover that the hummingbird will lower its wing and reach its foot up over the wing to scratch the back of its neck. It reminds me of a tiny, feathered dog. My guess is that the tiny droplets of water running down from the hummingbird’s head to its neck caused the itching and scratching.

I have never spent so much time focused in on the hummingbirds moving in and out of the sun, watching the colors in their gorgets flash in and out — showing green to yellow, orange and deep red to a brilliant pink.

I’ve held many a hummingbird in my hands, but I was always quick to let them go once they were captured. Until the broken out window panes in my covered back porch was patched last year, I would spend a lot of time chasing down stressed-out hummingbirds that had found their way into the porch, but couldn’t find their way back out again.

Holding something so tiny, so fragile is an overwhelming responsibility. I’m glad to just watch them through a lens now.

Raptors Cruising Overhead
I spent an hour or so cruising through the local lakes and rivers around Onalaska down through Toledo Friday afternoon. It was a beautiful day for it.

Earlier that day, Karen Bensen from Onalaska had called to say she thought she spotted a pair of golden eagles near Gish Road earlier that week, and wondered if I had heard anything. Matter of fact I had. I told her I had two others who said they thought they saw them too.

Karen is a long-time birder, and my other sources are pretty reliable too, but we’d all like confirmation from other sources. If you have seen the eagles and have identified them as either golden eagles or immature bald eagles, I’d love to hear from you.

While at Carlisle Lake, I spotted one bald eagle hovering over the lake, watching a man in a boat — who perhaps was unaware that the lake is closed until the end of April. Maybe the eagle was looking to confiscate any illegally caught fish. Eagles are known fish snatchers.

I took a couple of quick camera shots at what I thought was a bald eagle jumping from the nest high above the Barrier Dam area, only to discover when I got home that it was an osprey.

It’s funny what you see when you expect one thing and get another. You’ve really got to pay attention and leave your assumptions at home when you venture out. If you don’t, you may miss a golden eagle opportunity.
•••
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in her own backyard in Cinebar. Contact her via email at kz@tds.net.