GETTING OUT FOR A CLOSER VIEW – Bob Hamblin has been shouldering his spotting scope at the Skagit Game Range and many other locales in the region and around the world for decades. He writes about his observations in the La Conner Weekly News. – Photo by Jacob Carver
T’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD –A red-winged blackbird claims its spot for the afternoon in the Skagit Game Range . – Photos by Jacob Carver
Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds
By Bob Hamblin I’ve talked about hummingbirds before but not in depth. This column offers details. First, there are four hummingbird species in our state. The Rufous and the Anna’s are mainly west of the Cascade mountains. The Anna’s is a resident, while the Rufous winters in Mexico with a few in Gulf coast states. Black-chinned and Calliope are most common east of the mountains. They like warmer areas with mostly coniferous trees and they take more insects as food. Calliope even feed at sap holes drilled by woodpeckers. Our Rufous like nectar and also sugar water at feeders. They take a few insects for protein. Males set up a territory in early March if the weather is warm enough for salmonberry, wild current, and native plants to bloom. Males fight and display so much they burn extra calories in cold or wet and windy weather. They may go into a very deep sleep mode known as torpor. They are very vulnerable at this point and may be captured by predators. This deep sleep reduces their heartbeat to as low as 45 beats per minute and their body temperature drops but they conserve calories and can fight another day. Their courtship dives can reach 40 mph. The rapid speed at the bottom of the dive affecting the tail feathers creates a whining sound. Females lay two eggs in the nest sometimes as early as mid-March if the weather permits. If the weather is wet and cold newly hatched nestlings may take up to three weeks to fledge and leave the nest. If it continues wet and cold the mother may feed them for another three weeks. She regurgitates a mixture of insects and nectar from her crop. First year male Rufous born in the spring often stay on their territory until October to learn their boundaries. They become very defensive of the area. I heard some strange tales about hummingbird migration while at Williams Lake, British Columbia. Did you hear that hummingbirds migrate on the backs of bald eagles? I didn’t know that! The Anna’s hummingbird is now a permanent resident. In the late 1970s a very cold spell in this area lasted over two weeks. Bellingham went to below zero. Anna’s had moved as far north as Vancouver. They were wintering on the western Washington University campus. They stayed on and in the English Ivy growing on the building known as Old Main. The plant covered most of the north wall, 200 feet long and two stories high. An evergreen, it provides flower nectar and insects all year long. It also acted as a thermal barrier retaining building heat. This was not enough to protect the hummer or to provide sufficient food. The entire population of Anna’s disappeared that winter all the way south to Seattle, where a few birds survived. These birds have again moved north and have again reached Vancouver. If you have Anna’s at your place, keep the sugar water feeders thawed out, especially in the morning. Birds can only go a day or so without nectar or sugar water in cold weather. Also increase the sugar ratio from four or five to one to three to one. Unlike Rufous males, Anna’s males are not so aggressive and they do not go into torpor. Instead they sleep at night and burn fewer calories during the day because they have a defined permanent territory. The most aggressive male Rufous I’ve seen attacked a bald eagle in flight, some 200 feet off the ground. The chase continued for several hundred feet. The eagle had no defense and was somewhat upset. Next: black-chinned and Calliope hummingbirds and where to look for them.
The Skagit Wildlife Area is home to many different types of birds, but also to a man who has studied them most of his life. Bob Hamblin, 80, has been officially birding for 37 years but recalls his first identifications at the age of seven. Now, Hamblin spends his time between his landscaping work during the week and birding on the weekends. Hamblin started professionally birding and photographing birds in 1982. The same year, he remade a three-person camera into one that he could carry and operate in the field by himself. The camera he carried in his backpack weighed 95 pounds. Over the span of his birding career, he has taken pictures of 662 species. That is 5,000 hours of birding. Hamblin was one of the first to capture birds on video for the American Birding Association. He has sold 250 of his tapes nationally. In addition to working for the ABA, Hamblin was an interpreter for Autobahn for 15 years. He counts himself as one of 150 interpreters in Washington state. Hamblin has driven over 350,000 miles from Florida to Delaware and now again in the northwest in his quest for bird sightings. And while birding took him throughout the country, living in the Skagit Valley has increased his interest. His family moved onto Penn road when he was five years old, he recalls. He was looking at the dike one day when his mother told him to not go out there. Eventually, as most curious types do, Hamblin went out anyway. He found a plethora of wildlife that led him to his first identification. Now, Hamblin shares as much information as he can with people he encounters in the Skagit Wildlife Area. Many are amateur birders appreciative of the knowledge that Hamblin has. Asked about a certain species of bird that were scheduled to arrive in the area soon, Hamblin said, “When these guys come in, you never know where they’re gonna be.” Hamblin has been publishing articles in the La Conner Weekly News for over a year. He crafts each to focus on a particular species that will be present around the time it is published. His urge to inform readers about the natural world close by prompts Hamblin to share his knowledge. “It takes someone from the inside to look out the window and see what’s going on,” Hamblin said. You can learn more from Bob in his class “Skagit’s Birds and Pollinators” at Christianson’s Nursery on Saturday, June 15. The class is $8 and starts at 11 a.m.