Under the Open Sky: Nature’s Strange Bedfellows Share Gifts

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle
The election hoopla is over and we can all look forward to watching television or browsing Facebook without being bombarded by the eager and often nasty views of opposing forces.
I have my own views and my own favorites, but I’m as likely to want to argue over them as I am likely to enjoy standing on the river bank debating one corky and yarn color’s effectiveness over another with a cranky fellow angler. I’d just rather shut up, get in the water, and fish.

Politics makes strange bedfellows (no pun intended), as the saying goes. I hope that we can all come together — even if we don’t like each other — and get the work done that we need to do for the betterment of our communities.
I have had several interesting opportunities in the last few days to watch the wildlife in my own neighborhood work together in harmony. I say if the birds can do it, so can we.

Hummingbirds and Sapsuckers
Anna’s Hummingbirds will sometimes choose to stay through our relatively mild western Washington winters instead of moving south with the Rufous Hummingbirds. I spoke to a handful of Chronicle readers last year that had hummingbirds at their feeders even during times of snow.
I have kept my nectar feeder up, filled and faithfully clean this year, long past the time when my regular Rufous customers had already left for warmer climes. Monday morning I was thrilled to see a young male Anna’s Hummingbird at my nectar feeder.
Later that afternoon, as I watched a Red-breasted Sapsucker tap, tap, taping my walnut tree trunk, I heard a familiar buzzing hum. I watched as my Anna’s Hummingbird hovered around the sapsucker, occasionally lighting on a nearby branch, keeping a close watch on the sapsucker.

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. Monday afternoon young male Anna's Hummingbird pauses from nectar feeding to gaze at a buzzing wasp, also drawn by the smell of sugar water. Anna's Hummingbirds are sometimes known to winter over in western Washington.

As the sapsucker moved on to a new hole, the hummingbird swooped in to feed from the freshly opened sapwell.
I can’t make see how this particular arrangement is beneficial to the sapsucker, but I have watched the sapsuckers play with young swallows and have read reports detailing their inter-species play. I may be guilty of portraying an erroneous anthropocentric view, but I’d like to think the young sapsucker doesn’t mind sharing his bounty with the hummingbird.

Cackling and Snow Geese
Tuesday afternoon I drove by a flock of Cackling Geese grazing on a hillside in Silver Creek and noticed that one of those birds was not like the other — it was an immature Snow Goose.
There is no way of knowing why the Snow Goose was hanging out with the Cackling Geese (the young Snow Goose declined to comment). Perhaps this young fellow got lost on his way south, couldn’t find his family and so he picked another like-minded bunch of birds to help him find his way.

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. Tuesday afternoon a flock of Cackling Geese and one immature Snow Goose feed in a field near Silver Creek. The Snow Goose declined to comment on his choice of friends or how he met them.

Who knows.
One thing we do know, however, is that this young goose finds safety in numbers.
As I watched the geese graze, there was quite a bit of squabbling going on between the Cackling Geese, but not one of the birds argued with the young Snow Goose. The Snow Goose was quite a bit larger than the Cackling Geese, so that may have been their reason for polite behavior. Or they may have decided that if danger approached from the air by way of a raptor, the white guy would be the first to go and they could make their escape while he met his doom.
Again, who knows.

Flickers and Others
I have often seen Northern Flickers join flocks of European Starlings or American Robins as they browse through the grasses hunting bugs. Starlings and Robins are, in my opinion, two of the best birds for posting sentries and raising the alarm in case of danger.
Whenever I see a flicker in a mixed flock, I figure the flickers enjoy feeding without the worry of looking out for danger by themselves.
On Wednesday afternoon I had the delightful opportunity to watch a Northern Flicker give a bit back to his helpful friends, the Robins, when he opened up a fresh apple for a meal, digging deep into the fruity flesh. The Robins stood by, watching and waiting. When the Flicker had his fill and flew away, the Robins moved in for bite — and then a House Finch after that.

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. A Northern Flicker enjoys a late fall apple while other smaller, less big-beaked birds wait patiently for their turn for a nibble.

I would imagine that a Robin is perfectly capable of piercing an apple’s skin with his own beak. But isn’t it nice that his friend the Flicker was there to do the hard work for him so he could enjoy the sweet flesh inside?

The Month of Thanks
November is the traditional month of thanks giving, a time to remember the gifts we have been given and to share them with others.
Let’s all take a page from the bird book of behavior and do something nice for someone else today — feed them, watch over them, save them from danger, share a treat.

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and photojournalist. Visit her website at almostdailynews.com, find her on Facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle), call 269-5017 or email kim@almostdailynews.com.