Nancy L. Newfield has been watching hummingbirds at her Louisiana home and lots of other places since 1975. Nancy lost her amateur status years ago, and now writes and lectures on hummers. She is co-author of Hummingbird Gardens, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Nancy is also a licensed hummingbird bander and a recognized authority on hummingbird distribution, behavior, and taxonomy.
Close Encounters, Chance Encounters
Seeing a hummingbird is a joy anytime. No matter how many times I see one, it is as if for the first time. Watching each movement is a new experience. That is the reason we hang and tend feeders, fill our yards with glorious nectar plants. And we expect to see the birds because we have created a haven for them.
But chancing upon a hummer when you aren't expecting it is a special thrill, watching one at point-blank range a momentous event. I've been richly blessed with memorable close encounters over the years.
I met my first love, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, in my mother's salvia garden when I was a girl, perhaps 8 or 9 or 10. It was a brief affair, but I was bedazzled. Many times, I returned to the garden, hoping for just one more glimpse, but that was not to be. It was a chance encounter.
August 1982 - The manicured lawns of George Washington's Mount Vernon home slope gently to the edge of the broad Potomac River. Neat rows of salvia stand erect along the sides of the spacious veranda. As I wonder how historically accurate the landscaping might be, a faint "tchew, tchew" draws my attention to a young female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, flitting among the blossoms. Oh well, how accurate does landscaping have to be?
May 1985 - Hiking up Panther Canyon in the rugged Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park, I stop to catch my breath amid a swath of glorious Havard pensetmon, waist-tall and at the peak of flowering. A male Lucifer Hummingbird busily gathered nectar, methodically working his way up the canyon.
He seems oblivious to my presence until he is within a couple of feet of where I stand, still as a statue. Then, he investigates every inch of my bright crimson shirt, hovers right in my face, and in the blink of an eye is gone. Ahh . . .
July 1988 - My friends and I are spending a wonderful fortnight banding hummers at the scenic Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona. Late one afternoon, as I stride across the lodge grounds, a female Broad-billed Hummingbird flies right up to me. I freeze.
As I stand motionless, she attempts to sip nectar from the red hibiscus flower painted on the front of my shirt. With the wind from her wings freshening my face, I spy a tiny aluminum ring around her left leg. Yes, she's one of mine.
March 1989 - I am leading a group along a narrow, muddy road in the fabled Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Bundled against the chill and damp, only our faces are visible. We are straining for a glimpse of one of the reclusive forest birds when a male Purple-throated Mountain-gem flies to within an inch of my eyes.
He hovers motionless before my admiring eyes, permitting an close-up inspection of every shimmering feather. Oh yes, he is mine for a lifetime!
October 1996 - The press of Ruby-throat migration is waning, though a number of the birds remain in my garden, fattening up on the nectar of turk's caps, shrimp plant, firespike. Feeders, too, are being drained regularly.
As I lift a feeder of fresh syrup into place, an immature male Rufous Hummingbird that has just arrived perches on it. Fearlessly, he remains several minutes, while finishing his snack.
August 1997 - It is early morning on the rocky trail to Comfort Spring in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona, but already the heat of the desert has risen. My companions, younger and more fit, have gone ahead. I stop to wipe sweat from my brow.
Behind me, I hear a loud buzzing - too loud, too large to be an insect. I am wearing a favorite t-shirt with the image of a Costa Rican hummer on the back. A male Blue-throated Hummingbird is attempting to drive the alien from his territory. Time and again, he accosts me from the rear. Okay, okay you win...I win, too! Another moment to remember!
Copyright © 1998
Nancy L. Newfield
The Great Louisiana BirdFest - April 17-19, 1998 - Enjoy the ambience of the piney woods north of Lake Pontchartrain. Watch hummingbird banding. Learn wildlife photography. Saturday evening, I'll present "The World of Hummingbirds", a grand tour of the glitziest of our flying jewels! Phone 1-800- 634-9443 for more information. See ya!
Previous Hummer Notes columns: July 1996 | August 1996 | September 1996 | October 1996 | November 1996 | December 1996 | January 1997 | February 1997 | March 1997 | April 1997 | May 1997 | June 1997 | July 1997 | August 1997 | September 1997 | October 1997 | November 1997 | December 1997 | January 1998 | March 1998