Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Warriors of Winter

Since I was writing about hummingbirds in my previous post, it seems appropriate to continue.

Zeke is weatherproof.
It's been wintery in Seattle this week.  Grey wet weather and cold temperatures have moved in.  We had to close the house up for the first time -- although my dog Zeke insists on having the door open as much as possible, in spite of the weather.  In fact, Zeke, with his St. Bernard ancestry, is thriving.  The cooler it gets, the happier and more energetic he becomes.

The sense of winter may have been as much internal as external though.  I've been tired lately, feeling my age.  And I've been in the midst of what is most likely a hopeless infatuation.  At least it seems that way on long gray days when I'm home with the dogs working alone.  When she's around me, I can convince myself that anything is possible.

Webs decorated by winter (photo by Dan)
But seasons are slippery things.  They resist our attempts to turn them into metaphor.  Last year, as winter turned into spring, I got excited about the possibilities for bird watching around my home.  I already had twenty-plus species on my yard list and I was expecting that to burgeon.  The list did grow, but not dramatically.  And I did see some excitement with fledglings, but overall there actually seemed to be a drop off in bird activity during the spring and summer.  Perhaps because of the unusually cool weather -- we never really got a sustained summer going -- the ripening of fruit on the cherry tree didn't draw nearly as much activity as it had the year before.  So -- because of that and other, unrelated things -- I was feeling kind of down.

But seasons -- as I said -- are slippery things.

Male Anna's (photo by Dan)
This past week, as storm clouds move in and winds pick up, the hummingbirds have returned in force.  Most people think of hummingbirds as tropical birds, summer friends.  But in my yard they are creatures of the snow and rain.  I already had two female Anna's visiting me regularly -- one looks young and the other is more mature.  But this week the males arrived.  Not just one, but two.  And the yard became a battleground.

The male keeps his lonely vigil.

I've written before about fierce these little guys are.  How the Aztecs considered hummingbirds to be warrior symbols, and wore their feathers into battle. 

Over and over he stood off attacks.
Well, this week they proved it.  I stood out on the deck and watched a male Anna's sitting at the very top of the cherry tree, loudly asserting his position.  Then the second male began to buzz him, swooping by again and again at full speed, each time making with a piercing chirp as he passed, almost like a high-pitched sonic boom.  The first hummingbird stood his ground for a long time though before abandoning his perch.  I wasn't able to get any photos of  them together, but I did get some shots of the first male holding his perch, and a shot of what I assume was the attacker pulling up out of one of his attack dives. 

I believe this is the attacker, pulling out of his dive.
Twice, afterwards, I saw them "dance" with each other around the feeder.  The would fly straight at each other and then spin around a common center, cursing all the while.

None of this drama seems to bother the females, who continue to come regularly.

 It might look like winter, but around here every gray day has a scarlet and emerald lining.

If you like Birdland West, you might also want to check out our sister blog Books and Beasts, which focuses on reviews of books about animals and related topics.
I have also begun writing regular Sunday morning posts for SoDo Mojo, a Seattle Mariner's blog.  Check out my most recent post, Change of Season.

 Many of the original photographs featured on Birdland West are available for sale as art quality prints.  You can check out all of our offerings at  If you see an image here that does not show up on our Imagekind site please contact me directly and I'll let you know about availability.)

1 comment:

  1. Love the silhouette on the cherry tree (in perfect northwest grey). I've watched humming birds take on much larger birds mid-air, and I've also seen them do a wild soar-and-dive dance... I think I may have heard that humming-sonic-boom you've mentioned.