When we moved to this ten acres nearly eight years ago, I made sure to move all my flowering perennials from our previous home. Many of these plants were native to Oklahoma and I knew they would flourish in the sandy soil and survive the hot summers and occasional brutal winter temperatures. Mostly though, I wanted these plants for a nice splash of color on the property and to attract hummingbirds and butterflies throughout the summer months. And, along with the plants I relocated from our former home, our hummingbird-loving friends, Dick and Kathy Ledbetter, brought us several Coral Honeysuckle, Yellow Honeysuckle, Turks Cap plants, and two Perky-Pet nectar feeders as a house warming gift to help us get started in our endeavor to create a hummingbird paradise.
After the transplants and new plantings that went in after we moved here, we did see a few hummingbirds each spring but, mostly, I battled wasps and bees that insisted on swarming the feeders. Then, there was the year our feeders were found mysteriously unhooked from the shepherds hooks and lying on the ground each morning. With this mystery going on, I was determined to discover what varmint was sabotaging my efforts to attract hummingbirds. One morning just before sunrise, I caught the culprit red-handed, licking the feeder and sloshing sugar water everywhere in the process! The vandal with the sweet tooth was none other than Daisy deer! So we took the shepherd’s hooks down and opted to hang the feeders off the front and back porches where we knew Daisy could not reach them.
This year, I was very close to deciding not to put the feeders out. After having such bad luck attracting wasps and bees and even ants, I was tempted to forego the feeders. But as spring storms inundated Oklahoma with record rainfall, the flowering plants flourished and soon we had a record number of hummingbirds hitting the blossoms. Upon seeing this, I quickly retrieved my nectar feeders. All summer I kept busy refilling them. I had never seen so many hungry hummingbirds in my life! Along with the daily territorial confrontations over who had dibs on the feeders, I was also fortunate to witness the male hummingbird courtship dive several times this year. They were truly a joy to observe!
With so much hummingbird activity on the property, Dick kept telling me I needed to look for hummingbird nests in the woodlands. Many times as I worked in the canyon, I could hear hummingbird chirps and calls, but they were too fast to follow back into the lush woods where they likely had their nests established. I often saw them in the trees around the house but, even in the less-dense growth near our home, I could not locate a nest. Besides, I had never seen a hummingbird nest except in photographs, so I did not really even know what to look for.
In early June, Dick announced he had spotted a nest in a hackberry tree in front of his home and he hoped I could bring my camera and zoom lens to photograph the fledglings. He explained the pair were just a few days from leaving the nest, and there would only be a small window of opportunity to manage getting some photographs of them. With my busy schedule on our little ranch, I decided it would be best to drive over early the next morning, so that I could be back home before the real heat set in. I figured I would be there an hour, maybe two. To deal with the humidity and heat forecast for the day, I donned a t-shirt and shorts, along with athletic shoes and a sun visor and headed out to Dick and Kathy’s home. I purposefully did not put on any insect repellent as, long ago, Daisy deer taught me that wildlife does not appreciate scents that humans tend to apply – like insect sprays, perfumes or colognes, scented deodorant, hair spray, or even nail polish.
When I arrived, I realized I had not really put much thought into how I would photograph the fledgling birds. Silly me, I guess I thought I would just stand there in the yard and shoot up at the nest with my zoom lens. Fortunately, Dick was a pro at photographing hummingbirds, and had a ten-foot ladder set up a distance from the tree which put me at equal height of the nest in a low limb. But, I soon realized, that would be with me standing towards the top of the ladder – and I am terribly afraid of heights. With Dick’s urging, I cautiously climbed about six-feet up, and froze. I was panicked! I was too low for the shot and not at all in a place where it was easy to maneuver my camera between the ladder’s rungs. And of course, before I could really get comfortable, the female showed up earlier than we expected! Seeing a goofy stranger clumsily perched on a metal tree near her nest, she gave me the evil eye, and flew off. Still, Dick encouraged me to stay still and wait her out. Sure enough, she returned a few minutes later and, after finally deciding I was not a threat, fed her babies quickly, and flew off again. Dick said it would be twenty to thirty minutes before she would return to feed again so, while we waited, we moved the ladder just a little closer to the nest, hoping for more detailed photographs upon her return.
About this time, Kathy brought refreshments out for us. The heat was already intense and there was only a small puff of breeze. Normally I do not partake in alcohol before lunch – or even dinner for that matter – but this day I opted for a whiskey sour, hoping it would serve as my cup of courage to get up a little higher on that ladder. As I enjoyed my drink and conversation with Dick and Kathy while taking in all sorts of information about hummingbirds, the female showed up ten minutes early and I missed my opportunity to photograph that next feeding. So, another twenty minutes went by before I took to the ladder again. I was not about to miss her arrival this time and, with a little whiskey-sour-courage flowing through my veins, I ambled right up to the top of the ladder – no problem!
But, unfortunately, we were foiled again. This time, the mother hummingbird took fifteen minutes longer to return to the nest than we predicted. Dick quietly watched for the female’s arrival with his binoculars, while I perched as motionless as I could on the ladder. With the heat of the day building, sweat was pouring off of me in no time. Pesky gnats were now hovering in a small cloud near my head. A fly kept landing on the back of my knee joint. I had this kind of experience many times in our own woodlands while walking with Daisy and photographing wildlife. At times like this, I have learned to put my focus into the mission and not think about my discomfort or frustration. So, in my mind, I telepathically focused on connecting with the fledglings. If the mother could “read me” I wanted to be sure I was calm and my energy was peaceful.
Twice more that morning, we moved the ladder closer to the nest and worked at finding the best angle to photograph the feeding process. And each time the mother approached the nest, I was given the once-over before she proceeded in nourishing her babies. Because of her always-cautious approach, I was skeptical of the quality of photos I had achieved but, as we looked over the photos later that morning, I appreciated the experience even more. The photographs had turned out much better than I expected! The detail of the perfectly camouflaged nest on a slender limb beneath tree leaves, the beautiful colors of the mother’s feathers and the tiny little nest housing two fledglings, was simply amazing! And, on top of all the wonderful photos I had managed, I was totally fascinated with the information I learned about the process of raising hatchlings to the point of fledging the nest. I had lost track of time and spent more of my day away from my chores than I intended, but the morning produced a phenomenal experience I would not soon forget.
Reflecting on the experience as I drove home, I knew that, from that moment on, I would strive to understand more about these tiny creatures, and I would definitely be making a greater effort to look for their nests in our very own woodlands. And, if I do locate a nest, I believe I will leave the ladder hanging on its rack and attempt my photos from atop the canopy of our electric buggy in order to get those up-close-and-personal shots. If anything, a platform atop the buggy might provide a safer place to perch, just in case I decide to tote a flask of refreshment along…
© 2015 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…