Hummingbirds are quite incredible little fliers. While some birds, like raptors, can remain stationary briefly in flight, hummingbirds are capable of hovering in place for long periods, as well as flying straight up, straight down, and flying backward. This Broad-billed Hummingbird demonstrates a backward flight posture.
One day in Kachemak Bay in June, we had a lengthy opportunity to photograph a lone Northern Sea Otter that floated near the barge as he snoozed on his back, watched us, snoozed some more. As the barge drifted, we got closer and the otter seemed unconcerned with our presence. It was a fascinating encounter that went on for quite a while. Otters have the densest fur of any mammal and aside from their nose, the only part of their body that is not covered in fur is their paw pads. They hold their paws out of the water to keep them warm. He looks as if he’s pondering something while he floated by, paws together as if in thought.
Bushtits have become my favorite garden bird. Not that there are many different species in my garden to choose from but these little ones are so endearing, I can’t get enough of them. They always bring a smile to my face. The male (Him) is on the left, the female (Her) is on the right.
The Bushtits descended en masse on the fountain early Saturday morning. They rocketed into the shrubs behind the fountain and I could tell where they were by the shaking of the leaves. One by one they dropped down to the fountain and there were probably 15 or more crowded on. When I walked out with my camera, only a few were still bathing and they, too disappeared. I settled down and waited. Only three stalwarts returned, two females and a lone, innocent looking male. The females don’t look as angry as they often do but the little male looks a bit troubled to be surrounded by the two females.
Northern Sea Otters were so much fun to watch in Kachemak Bay in Alaska in June. There were so many mothers with pups and the pups, especially, were curious about us and seemed not to be able to take their eyes off as we drifted by them. Captain Jim did an excellent job of both keeping us near the otters and making sure we didn’t encroach on them. The youngsters spend months on their mother’s bellies, or floating near her until they develop the skills and the right fur density to enable them to begin to dive to feed themselves.
One of the Sea Otter photographs I wanted to get in Alaska was of an otter on its back munching on a sea urchin. I was told that I was more likely to get that shot in Monterey Bay in California. Fortunately for me, Sea Otters also eat lots of mollusks which are abundant in Kachemak Bay in Alaska. This Northern Sea Otter scraped out the last bits of scallop before releasing the shell. It is fascinating to watch otters when they’re eating. They carry a rock with them, sometimes tucked under their arm when they dive, to crack open the mollusks they find. They use the rock as a tool to smash the mollusk placed on their stomachs as they float on their backs.
Every kid growing up in Santa Rosa, California in the 1950’s toured Luther Burbank Gardens while in grammar school and learned about this pioneering horticulturist who, in 1875 declared of Santa Rosa, “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned.” Burbank developed countless botanical innovations that even today have a profound impact on agriculture and our daily lives. McDonald’s French fries (Burbank Russet Potato), a gardens filled with flowers (Shasta Daisy), and Freestone Peaches were a few of Burbank’s efforts. The one that has stood out in my mind for more than 60 years, though, is the spineless cactus developed for grazing cattle. I remember staring in awe at the huge, spineless pads of the Burbank Opuntia although I don’t think I’d ever seen a spiny cactus in real life at the time. I’d probably only seen them in cartoons and on Walt Disney’s Painted Desert but the ouch-factor of cactus spines was duly impressed on me so for some reason, I was impressed with his developing a spineless variety. Fast forward many decades and my neighbor planted a cactus between our homes. I never really looked at it until this summer when it started to bloom and grow fruit. On close inspection, I realized it is one of the spineless varieties of prickly pear and all my Luther Burbank memories flooded back. And, while it is a spineless variety, the prickly pears themselves are still covered with tiny sharp needles. I don’t think anyone will be stealing the fruit.
Broad-billed Hummingbirds are my precious gems. They show off their glistening emerald and sapphire feathers as they dart from perch to flower to feeder. They are tiny flying jewels, and to me, more vibrant and more appealing than any gem-studded bracelet or earring.
This is a subadult male Broad-billed Hummingbird. His jewel-like adult plumage is just beginning to appear on his head and neck. He’ll eventually look like a brilliant blue-green gem as he tussles for position at the feeders. For now, he only has partial iridescence and color but he comes with the ability to hold his own at the feeders. Here he’s preparing to dive down to the feeders below.