Just as meeting the Red-headed Woodpecker was so significant, my first acquaintance with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird was momentous, if not more. As I had been living in Seattle for two and a half years, I had seen the Anna's hummingbird once or twice there. However, I never got interested in these brilliant small creatures, which seems regrettable now. For those not keenly aware of hummingbirds in flight, these diminutive, winged wonders are almost invisible. In fact, I did not notice any of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flying around when I first moved here in 2008.
But one day, April 15th as I fondly recall, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed into our backyard. Vaguely aware of his presence at first, I gradually grew mesmerized by his lightning flight and effulgent green feathers, a bright gem propelled by tireless wings. It was much, much smaller than I expected. I had a hard time photographing our backyard visitors for several months. By the time my eyes, along with my lens, adjusted to their sudden and often unpredictable movements, the whole of them disappeared as quickly as they had seemed to come, visiting their southern homes till next spring.
Now our second spring here is coming soon. This year, I am going to put flowers that they like after the last frost. I feel confident that many of the same migrants will visit my flowers and feeder, and I know I'm ready to catch them in the camera's finder even better than last year.
Red-headed Woodpecker, April 2009, NC
My move to NC in 2008 came with some big life changes. As I acclimated to my new life in the South East, a sensation apart from societal or cultural phenomena (though Southern accents did take some getting used to) emerged—a strong attraction for nature. Before in my life, I had not paid much attention to the wildlife around me, and much of my adult life was spent in cities. Yet now, surrounded by rustic splendor, I felt new stirrings in my heart for the woods and fields and I became curious about the creatures that lived there. This is not to say that where we live now is out in the country, but we are close, close enough that you can smell it in the air. Compelled by these forces, I longed to explore the paths and trails that were but a short distance from home, and the more I explored, the more I became entranced and enraptured.
Since I had shown a special partiality for birds, one day my husband handed me a book, a guide to birds of the Carolinas. I simply adored the photos, and because of my fervor, I quickly memorized most of the birds in its pages. One in particular attracted my eyes, the Red-headed Woodpecker. I really wanted to see this bird so bad. So every weekend that we could, we’d laced up our hiking boots (figuratively speaking, for we only had shoes), strap on our packs, and go walking through the woods and fields with our field guide at hand, near or far from home, with increasingly fleeting hopes to spot our elusive prey. But my hopes were not extinguished.
When the eventful meeting finally took place, it actually happened uneventfully. There was no hint of him around, no call in the air which we’d heard from a distance then skillfully tracked to its caller. Actually, the way it happened was quite a surprise, to both of us, but especially me, as you’ll soon see. We were walking along a trail circumnavigating a marsh, enjoying the sights and sounds, for many birds must have called the marsh “home,” and it was a pleasant sort of place. My surprise came when my husband, who rarely spots any bird before I do, called out from behind his binoculars, “Hey, it’s a Red-Headed Woodpecker!” I had no time to blush from embarrassment (after all, I had imagined myself spotting my bird), for I was much too excited that after months of searching one was flying before my eyes.
From that fateful day, when my husband first spotted the prize that makes my heart a-flutter, I journeyed often to the same spot, though sometimes further down the path to the marsh’s end to photograph and simply gaze and smile. I would see more and more Red-headed Woodpeckers as the weeks flew by, while spring gave way to summer, till finally the marsh residents (plus its most frequent visitor) were oppressed by its sticky heat. Soon my friends would fly away, but not before I had captured many of them in the photos I hope you enjoy as much as I did taking them, that spring when I first set eyes, and film, on the Red-headed Woodpecker.
I saw this bird at the same pond where I saw the Great Blue Heron the other day. Though usually spotted in pairs or in a family-sized flock, this handsome fellow was swimming solo. I wondered to myself whether he gave up mating this season or is simply playing hard to get.
I tried hand feeding there. This was a really neat experience to me. I wanted to do the same thing with Ruby-throats, but felt that they were rather nervous around me. I noticed that each Ruby-throat stayed in our backyard only for 3-4 months, which was too short a time, for a beginner birder like me who did not understand their behavioral pattern well, to hand feed. Also, I was not patient.
Now I am ready for this year's hummingbird. We'll see ....
Costa's Hummingbird in Phoenix, AZ.
My husband and I went to his parents' house in AZ last December. There we met this beautiful hummingbird in front of their house. It was such a great gift for me to see other kinds of hummingbird than Ruby-throated.