A few days ago, I posted a photograph of this Anna’s Hummingbird on a perch in the Xylosmas. At the time, I thought it was a juvenile male but now I’m thinking it’s probably a mature female. Whichever it is, this part of the shrub makes the perfect watch tower as well as a napping post. I walked around this bird to see if I could get a better view and to see if the gorget would reflect color but I struck out on both accounts. Most of the time I watched, though, the hummer seemed to be napping. It was a warm afternoon, perfect for a summertime snooze.
The male Anna’s Hummingbirds seem always to start their day with a bath. I’ve photographed this male Anna’s at the urn fountain several times in recent weeks early in the morning but this is the first time any color was reflected on his gorget. How the light strikes the hummingbird’s feathers determines whether the gorget has color or not. The changing angles of the bird’s head alters the color that is reflected back so the gorget seems to change from one shade of red to another in an iridescent display. Sometimes with the turn of the head, the colors completely disappear and the gorget looks black. Only a slight shift can create a dazzling display and the hummer appears to have a pink neon helmet. The placement of the lip of the fountain dictates where the hummingbirds bathe and because of that, there is seldom much light reflected onto the bird’s gorget in the early morning hours. I was thrilled to see a little bit of color the other morning for this shot.
When the flowers are in full sun, I usually don’t even try to photograph the hummingbirds. When I saw this young female Black-chinned Hummingbird at the California Fuchsia in full sun, for some reason I grabbed my camera and opened the patio door. She stayed for the longest time with her back to me feeding on the fuchsia blossoms hanging over the side of the cobalt blue pot. Then, she turned and hovered at the purple salvia right next to it. It seemed like the perfect shot and I like the results. I’m really getting spoiled by my backdoor photo blind.
Bella is my brother’s English Cream Golden Retriever. Bella spent four years as a breeder and produced four litters before retiring and going to live with my brother Art. Unfortunately she had some difficulty acclimating to her new life in a house instead of a kennel. Part of the problem was that Art travels so much and Bella had become extremely attached to him so she acted up when he was gone. After a few months, he decided that Bella needed a more stable living arrangement so my other brother John agreed to take Bella. John doesn’t travel so it has been easier for Bella to adjust to her environment and her anxieties have diminished significantly. She dotes on John and is as attached to him as she was to Art. While this adoring look might make you think it was an indicator of undying love, John was holding a treat when I took the photograph.
In the last couple of days, there is slightly more hummingbird traffic in my garden now than in recent weeks. By that I mean maybe five but since I usually have just one, that’s a big difference. With the increased traffic, the feeders are emptying faster than in recent weeks. The hummers are usually not at the feeders or the flowers at the same time because one of the dominant hummers keeps an eye out and chases interlopers away. Lately, sometimes that’s a female and now there’s a male. I have identified an adult female Black-chinned Hummingbird, a juvenile female Black-chinned, a male Anna’s Hummingbird, a female Anna’s, and this, a juvenile male Anna’s. I think he is establishing territory and has found a good spot from which to survey the feeding stations. He’s chosen a lush Xylosma shrub which is more like a tree, full, dense, and about 25 feet tall. He stayed for quite a while the other afternoon and I captured a half dozen blinking sequences which I always find fascinating. It was as if he wanted to take a nap but had stay awake to keep watch.
Hummingbirds are amazing creatures that can hover in place while they sip nectar from a blossom. It was a bit breezy when I took these photographs and the California Fuchsia stalk swayed slightly but the eye of this hummingbird (I believe it is a juvenile female Black-chinned Hummingbird), her head, and the blossom into which her beak is inserted barely moved while the stalk swayed.
The unrelenting heatwave continues to decimate what remains of my lawn (I have long since stopped watering my front lawn due to the severity of the drought here). My Rube Goldberg version of a drip sprinkler system that provides hydration to the plants in baskets and pots on my patio allows a few survivors that provide sustenous to the Hummingbirds and various species of Bees. Sadly, though, I have lost several of the flowering plants in hanging baskets because of my faulty drip installations in some of the baskets so when I returned from a few days away in the midst of the 100° plus temperatures at home, I was happy to see that there were some survivors. The California Fuchsia, the current favorite of the hummers, is in full bloom with its silvery foliage and bright orange trumpets. The colorful Lantana, a carryover from last year, continues to flower. And one of my many varieties of Purple Salvia is also in full bloom and attracts both hummers and bees. I’m torn about when to replace the dead plants with predictions for the coming couple of weeks at 100°+ for much of the time. At least I can enjoy the color that does remain in the yard and for now there is still enough to satisfy the birds and the bees so I think I’ll put it off until the high temperatures start coming down.
Sunflower seeds that spill from the feeders usually are consumed by the squirrels or larger foraging birds but this year for some reason several have sprouted in pots on the patio. I didn’t realize that even though they are shelled, they are still viable and this one is now in full bloom, small as it is, protruding from the middle of a basket of million bell petunias.
My brother baked me a Gravenstein Apple pie for my birthday. His flaky delicate crust, a combination of butter and lard, filled with the absolute best pie apple, the increasingly hard-to-find Gravenstein, was the best birthday present he could have given me. John’s Gravenstein Apples came from his own apple tree but Sonoma County’s delicious heirloom apples are in danger of disappearing. It is grown almost exclusively in Sonoma County, California (and in Nova Scotia). But it is very delicate and perishable so it does not travel well and its growing season is very short. It is in danger of becoming extinct because of the conversion of many apple orchards to vineyards. As a result, its production is now at historic lows with only a handful of commercial growers remaining. I haven’t found Gravenstein apples in my local market for quite a while and I live only 100 miles from Sonoma County.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no apple that comes close to the flavor of a Gravenstein for pies and apple sauce, and it is a delicious eating apple as well, tart and sweet and crisp. Even Sonoma County’s beloved world famous horticulturalist, Luther Burbank, who developed, among many things, the Russet Burbank potato (think McDonald’s French fries), a hearty, blight resistant potato to help with the devastation in Ireland following the great potato famine, was quoted as saying, “It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.” I took this photograph in my brother’s backyard. Most of the Gravensteins had been harvested and this is a pair of apples on a volunteer apple tree, a sport of the Gravenstein.
A female Black-chinned Hummingbird sips nectar from the tubular flowers on a Cigar Plant, Cuphea Ignea, also known as the firecracker plant, or Mexican cigar plant. There are several in hanging baskets in my garden and the hummingbirds enjoy feeding from them. I placed the baskets so that I can photograph hummingbirds at eye level.
I am always delighted when I discover that something in my garden is a California native whether it’s flora or fauna. In this case, it’s both flora and fauna. Purple sage is native to California and the Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa Varipuncta, is the largest of California’s three species of carpenter bee, measuring an inch or more long. This female (females are all black) looked larger than an inch to me. I think the tinge of gold on the bee’s fuzzy head is actually pollen probably from this sage blossom. Carpenter Bees are great pollinators although some do consider them pests. As their name implies, they construct their nests in wood, usually rotting wood. I think their pollinating ability far outweighs any destruction they might do.
We were heading back to camp one evening about 9PM on Kodiak Island after an unsuccessful foray to find Mama Kodiak Brown Bear and her three cubs along the Uganik River. I was in the lead boat with Eric, Javier, and Hiram our guide. We had our cameras in our laps when Hiram said, “We’ll see a bear around the next bend.” And, we did. Right there as we rounded the bend. I put my eye to the viewfinder and got a few shots as it clamored up the bank to the top of the berm and stopped to look back at us. Then we were past it. Suddenly another bear came crashing through the brush behind this bear and leaped into the river just as the second boat approached. This bear followed the first bear across the river and both disappeared into the thick brush on the other bank. The entire encounter from when we first saw this bear on the bank to watching him disappear across the river took under a minute and a half.
The curved twig that this female Bushtit perches on reminds me of a rope or something that a member of a Cirque du Soleil troupe might perform on. I almost expected her to start spinning. Female Bushtits have yellow irises that gives their eyes an “angry bird” look, unlike the black eyes of the male Bushtits that makes them look adorable. Her intense stare is not anger but is really concentration on the millstone fountain beneath her, waiting her turn to hop down and bathe.
This little male Bushtit seems to be looking straight at me and thinking, “Not you again!” He would be right. I spend an inordinate amount of time watching and photographing the birds in my garden. I’ve gotten to the point where I place my Nikon Z9 and my Nikkor Z800mm f/6.3 lens, on the tripod with the Z1.4X teleconverter attached, focused through the open doorway so that it is the exact minimum focusing distance from the California Fuchsia. I do that first thing in the morning after I come downstairs, even before I feed my parrot or have my coffee. The most bird activity happens early in the morning and the light is best on my patio at this time of year before 8AM. I have my other Z9 attached to the Nikkor Z400mmf/4.5 with the Z2X teleconverter and it is setting next to me on the kitchen table. Any movement I perceive outside gets my attention and depending on where the activity is, I have a camera at the ready. The hummingbirds, of course, always get my attention. I’m still working on getting the male Anna’s Hummingbird with his gorget aglow at the fuchsia. He only appeared a couple of weeks ago. Before that, I saw only females. I would love to see a male Black-chinned but so far only females have stopped by. The Bushtits often take priority over the hummers with their delightful antics at the millstone fountain every morning. This was one of those days. Because I was ready, I was able to slowly approach the Bushtits to within 8 feet of the fountain without frightening them off.
The Bushtit Brigade arrives every morning to bathe in the millstone fountain. Some days, they hide in the Photinea before hopping down onto the flat surface. I hear them tittering before I see them. Then they give themselves away when the leaves start to vibrate as they hop from twig to twig deciding when is the best time to jump in. Yesterday morning, the sky was heavy with clouds, an unusual occurrence in summer here but a welcome respite from the unrelenting 100+ temperatures we’ve suffered through the past two weeks and that are predicted for the upcoming two weeks. I am hopeful that the clouds and moisture will give firefighters here in California a break to gain control and containment of some of the wildfires currently burning here. But, back to the Bushtits. The little brigade allowed me to walk out onto the patio and sit down in front of the fountain without flying off. They assembled in the shrubs and hopped hither and thither. This little male Bushtit is all fluffed up in anticipation of hopping down to the fountain for a proper bath. A couple of seconds after I took this shot, he was in the fountain and drenched.
A Carpenter Bee is hard at work on an open blossom on a Salvia stalk.
A hummingbird’s diet is more than just nectar. Insects make up a significant part of their diets, adding some protein to their carb-rich diet. This female Black-chinned Hummingbird seeks out tiny invertebrates from the bug-infested Crape Myrtle in my garden.
This is a Northern Gannet. It is the largest seabird in the Atlantic, a pelagic seabird with a wingspan of 6 feet. As a pelagic species, it rarely goes to land, spending most of its life over open water. It comes to land to nest in huge colonies. In 2019, we visited Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland to observe the nesting colony of thirty thousand birds on Bird Rock at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. The Pandemic has precluded a return visit for three subsequent years as each planned visit had to be deferred. I am hoping to return one day. As my friend Connie might say, this is a “target rich environment” and there is only a single target but there are more than 30,000 of them!
Please bear with me as I post yet another photograph of a Kodiak Brown Bear. This is the last Kodiak Brown Bear that we photographed on our visit to Kodiak Island this past May. It was such a memorable trip and on our last evening there we stopped along the Uganik River to photograph the bear we called Barnacle Bear. While we watched Barnacle Bear, this young bear approached uneasily from behind us, scurried by, then proceeded to graze on the barnacle covered gravel as the sun began to sink just a bit. It was just after 9PM and seeing and photographing this bear was a delightful conclusion to our two weeks on the island.
This pair of House Finches posed briefly in the morning sun before my nemesis, the Eastern Fox Squirrel, blocked my view as it perched atop the pergola and tried to figure out how to outsmart the squirrel proof bird feeders hanging below.