Hummingbirds, Haeckel_Trochilidae

Back in the day or whenever, when we used to read real newspapers and magazines, there always seemed to be articles titled ” The Gardener’s Notebook” or whatever, it seems to me that we should continue that concept, the Spill needs a gardeners column. So here’s what occurred to me as I sat in my garden enjoying the late afternoon sun this evening.

There’s dozens, at least lots, of hummingbirds all constantly hitting on all the flowers in bloom. I love hummingbirds,1920px-Hummingbird_Aerodynamics_of_flight I’ve had several situations where one has hovered within a few inches of my face staring directly into my eyes. That’s scary. a 2″ sharply pointed beak hovering directly in front of your nose, that takes nerve to sustain, but it’s happened several times, they’re very curious and seemingly friendly. I’ve never had an experience anything like that with any other type of bird, hummers seem to want to be friendly. Whenever this has happened I’ve tried slowly raising my finger in front of me in hopes that one would alight, but alas, no luck yet. Another common occurrence is when I’m watering the flowerbeds and I have the hose on a mist, the hummingbirds will come and frolic right in front of me in the spray, I’m creating an aerial birdbath, they seem to love it. Jamaica has two species of hummingbirds that are unique to the island, Jamaicans call ’em ‘doctor birds’ because of the long tail feathers, the western end of the island has black tailed hummers and in the east they’re red tailed.
But the ultimate hummingbird experience is what I’ve discovered is a mating ritual and I’ve seen it several times. We used to live in Southern California in a second floor apartment with a deck that opened out from the living room, I had dozens of flowering potted plants on that deck. One day a hummingbird buzzed around my head and then shot up to at at least a hundred feet and he hovered there. Suddenly he went into a vertical dive and plummeted down towards me, at the last instant he swerved over my shoulder flying within inches of my ear, I can still recall the sound of his wings buzzing at a thousand rpm. Talk about scary. I thought he was attacking me until some years later I read that this was a common mating ritual and then I noticed another bird with much drabber foliage sitting on a nearby branch. Since we’ve moved to northern California I’ve had that same experience several times though never as close as that first time.
I used to work at a university and one day a friend who worked in the student union called me to say that there was a hummingbird building a nest in a tree right outside the main entrance. I went to look and sure enough there was a nest on a thin branch about 8ft up. It was about as big as a hens egg and created from all sorts fluffy material held together with hummingbird saliva; there were several eggs in it. I gathered my equipment and set up a tripod about 15ft away, on it I installed a fairly powerful strobe pointing directly at the nest with a 30ft sync cord hanging from it, all I needed to do to shoot was to connect my Nikon to the sync cord and I could shoot from anywhere around the nest with guaranteed exposure. Over several weeks I went daily and from a stepladder and a telephoto lens I photographed the mother bird flying in and out and feeding her chicks, as they grew I’d see their heads poking over the side of the nest awaiting their mother. One day I got a call from my friend, that morning when she’d come to work she saw the mother bird lying dead on the concrete, we released that she’d flown directly into the huge plate glass windows adjacent to the door and had broken her neck! I didn’t know what to do about the chicks except to call the local Audubon society, I did so but I felt awful about it, totally useless, I’m not sure that they were able to save the chicks.
Hummingbirds are very hard to photograph, at least they used to be, this is because their wings beat so fast [100+ beats per second] that you need a shutter speed of over 1/500th second to capture them, or else use a strobe which has a flash duration of over a thousandth of a second
As I sat watching the hummingbirds today there was also a flock of California Quail with a new brood of chicks who’ve taken up residence in my garden, I’ll tell you about them next time.


  1. Well, i’m no gardener, i only shoot the plants. Love birds, love all critters. And this is lovely. Love the botanical art and the photos, are they your shots? Dunno if you’re on Facebook, but the RR folks on there have quite the collection of flower and garden shots (not me though), maybe they can be talked into contributing on here too.

    My meditation is dragonfly shooting, haven’t done that in awhile but i’m hoping to in July. I have to find the right pond for it, i have one in mind down in Cambridge, supposedly a lily pond, but i haven’t yet checked it out, not quite hot and humid enough yet. (I need some sort of consolation, i hate hot and humid weather.)

    Thanks, GF!

  2. Your garden must be a magical place. Currently we have no plants in ours, but I will be remedying that once we are back from our summer holidays. We moved home last year, and the garden was always going to be something to sort out.

    Therefore, it is my project for this year, especially as I am going to have a lot of time on my hands soon, due to taking voluntary redundancy and leaving work at the end of this month.

    I have some men building a new patio as I write, and they are doing a proper path too, so I will be energised to get some decent plants and shrubs in as soon as I can.

  3. Lovely little creatures, I didn’t realise that they existed in California until we visited Disneyland. It was a little bit weird as they almost seemed to be part of the “show”.

    • They’re pretty common over here, i think. Put out some red plants in the summer and they’ll usually appear at some point.

  4. Beautiful photographs. I remember seeing photos of your garden before – fruit trees, I think. Very beautiful. I have lots of garden photos on Facebook because I don’t know what else to do with them; my enthusiasm is better than the results! Here’s Seals and Crofts for you, a blast from the past:

  5. Ali: Thanks for the song, a perfect fit and I’d never heard of it. I loved the image of the hummingbirds on the hands [3 min 20] That’s my fantasy, to hold one. I’ve avoided Facebook right from the start, I have no idea how it works or what’s on there, the Spill is enough exposure for me. Carole, is ‘voluntary redundancy’ like retirement? If so congrats and have a wonderful time, I know it will all be put to creative use. Planning and creating a garden will be right up your street.
    Amy: I wish I could remember how to post photos in comments, one of my favorite Africa pics is a macro of a bright red dragonfly that I shot along the banks of the Zambesi.

    • I have no idea how to post photos in comments, did we ever know how to do that? Maybe you can try using the url of the uploaded photo to WP?

      I don’t post photos on FB, most of those are iphone type photos and i shoot RAW with a DSLR. big files, need lots of processing and lots of time to process, and that’s even before i slice and dice them up to make an image. Hoping to get an iPhone 6 in the fall to shoot a project so posting may get easier.

      Aside from dragonflies, we have a tropical butterfly conservatory / garden here in Mass that’s within an hour or two away but i’m not sure if i can get there on public transit.

      dond to Ali for Seals and Crofts, forgot all about that song and i do love it.

  6. GF – yes, it is a kind of retirement. I’ve got a payoff that should see me through the next 18 months until I can take my pension from the company scheme. I might find another job, or I might just do some consulting work with a former colleague who is going freelance. We shall see.

    Personally, I’d prefer to just enjoy my life. I’ve worked without a break since I left full-time education in 1977.

    • Good luck, Carole. I was forced into early retirement due to my son’s health, but having worked 37 years I’m not sure I could go back to it, now. There are downsides of course, but I have a kind of freedom to be myself and not to care what people make of me. If you can afford it, do it!

  7. I’m afraid that my attempt at a gardener’s diary would currently be an expletive-filled rant about badgers, as they have destroyed my entire crop of parsnips – the first time I’ve ever managed to grow more than one parsnip – and started on the celeriac, as well as causing a lot of collateral damage. I love gardening, especially growing veg, but sometimes wonder why I bother….

  8. Aba: My condolences, I know your pain, except I’ve never seen a badger and I’d love to see one. Our equivalent is the gopher, an American version of the mole: The mole is carnivorous, worms, bugs and small rodents whilst the gopher is a vegetarian, he chews the roots off anything you put in the ground. We have hundreds of clumps of randomly growing California poppies, the bright orange ones, they’re ‘weeds’ actually with a root that looks just like a carrot. Many a time I’ve been sitting outside and noticed a slight unusual movement, a clump of poppies waves slightly against the breeze for example. Suddenly it disappears straight down and if you check it you’ll see a 2″ hole where the plant was ‘sucked’ down. They’re primarily interested in rare expensive nursery purchases, or at least were until I found the solution. Raised beds with an 1/2″ galvanized wire screen totally covering the bottom. We have 10 -18″ raised vegetable beds, each 10ft by 4ft and about 250 – 300ft of screened flower beds, not cheap and fairly labor intensive installing ’em but they work. We have hundreds of gophers, I shoot ’em and introduce gopher snakes into their tunnels whenever possible. An ongoing state of war exists.

    • Are gophers the same as groundhogs? I’ve been broadcasting my pain and fury over on Twitter, and received condolences from some US people who’ve had problems with groundhogs destroying their crops. I am also threatened with appearing in a book on Middle-Class Problems, after using the phrase “And now the sodding badgers have started on the celeriac…”

      More positively, despite being away for a couple of days, I still have some potatoes standing, and have managed to harvest the gooseberries and broad beans before the badgers got to them. We’re off on holiday at the end of next week, and I fear we’ll return to find general devastation – but with a bit of luck they won’t be able to break into the greenhouse, so my cucumbers, aubergines and chillis will be okay.

      If you’re ever in Somerset, we can show you badgers by the dozen; they have very little fear (probably because they outnumber us), and happily jog up and down out property from twilight onwards.

      • Aba: Groundhogs are huge compared to gophers, gophers are about the same size as moles, we have both. A big one, several years old, might be 8-10″ long and weigh a couple of pounds, typically they’re about the size of mature rat. My dogs catch ’em though they rarely emerge from their tunnels in daylight. They dig enormous tunnel systems covering huge areas and a real problem is having the ground collapse beneath your feet. Earlier this year we had a decent rainfall, I went outside in my wellingtons and suddenly I was trapped in mud up to the tops of my wellies, couldn’t move, couldn’t get out. A tunnel had filled with water/mud and I’d crashed through the roof’. They’re a real pain, I’ve contemplated introducing oxygen/acetylene into their tunnels and then igniting it; hopefully a shock wave would travel throughout the tunnels and do ’em all in! Just a fantasy right now.

    • How much meat is there on a gopher? One of our cats does sterling work in keeping down the rabbit and squirrel population, but he’s not interested in anything too small. Used to have a cat who caught moles; always thought we ought to be able to make a decent income by hiring her out.

  9. I’m a somewhat reluctant gardener, but am slowly coming round. Have got carrots, parsnips (bought seeds last time I was back in blighty – can’t get parsnips in Japan), tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, squash, edamame, rakyo (don’t know the English name, but they are small onions) and a nice bit of rhubarb growing at the moment. Have just pulled out the garlic and it’s going down very nicely!

    Built a composter a couple of months ago out of leftover wood and have been amazed at the reduction of rubbish and the speed at which the scraps and peelings just disappear!

    The main problem we have is the mossies, it’s difficult to even go out in the garden in the summer because the mosquitoes just swarm around you – if anyone has any tips for getting rid of those…?

  10. Panther: Sounds like you’re off to a great start. If I might make a couple of comments, work on that ‘reluctant’ and switch to ‘enthusiastic’. If you want to start from seeds consider starting them in 6 packs indoors early, Jan/Feb ideally so that the seedlings are a decent size by April or May whenever it’s warm enough to transplant them. I rarely plant seeds anymore except for rarities and some flowers but all those start indoors. I prefer to buy 6 packs of plants at the nursery once the soils warmed up.
    Compost: one of mother natures miracles, always use compost for starting seeds, I have 3 separate piles, probably between 1 and 2 tons! I just can’t use it fast enough but I definitely need to deplete those piles.
    Mosquitos, they breed rapidly in standing water, if you have anything in the garden that collects water, turn it over, other than that call the mosquito abatement dept if there is one. Here they’ll come and spray.

    • That all sounds like pretty good advice – thanks GF!

      We did start a few things off in a cold frame this year and is seems to have done the trick, and the tomatoes etc are all from plants, but the carrots, parsnips and edamame are all from seed and seem to be fine so far, they just took a while to get going.

      No standing water, but we are one of the only proper gardens around the neighbourhood, so maybe they are all gathering here! didn’t know you could spray against mosquitos, will have a look into it – cheers!

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