The Rufous Hummers are Back!

A male, showing the typical rufous coloring and the white eyespot of both sexes.

    Hank and I were sipping coffee on our deck the other morning when my heart jolted into my throat. A miniature buzz bomb whizzed past my ear, reversed course, and zipped back to an evergreen shrub near the steps. Had a smaller buzz registered a split second earlier? Yes, it had.

Female Rufous, with rufous sides, green back, and speckled throat.

    The maker of the outsize noise hovered next to the bush, vibrating wings a blur. The copper-colored body glowed orange as a firebrand in the sunlight. Its iridescent throat flashed red; its fan of black and green tail feathers and its head curved together in a backward C. The display must have been irresistible to the little female perched in the bush. She dropped to the ground, her green back and white belly glistening, her long black bill tilted upward. She gazed adoringly as any teenager while her magnificent suitor swung, pendulum-like, above her.

    It was one of God’s jewel-moments and it lasted only a few seconds. When I made a slight movement, both birds flashed away.

    The rufous hummingbirds had returned to the Pacific Northwest. These medium-sized, feisty hummers are noted for their lengthy migration route. Our visitors had probably spent the winter in Mexico or the southern U.S., but their breeding grounds are to the west of the Rockies, from Oregon to southern Alaska. In the fall, they migrate through the Rockies and back to their wintering grounds. They play an important part in pollinating plants year-round throughout this vast habitat.

    Like all hummingbirds, the Rufous feed on nectar and tiny insects which they either catch in flight or steal from spider webs. They breed as far north as Alaska, more northerly than any other hummingbird. The female constructs her thimble-sized nest of soft plant materials held together with strands of spider web. She adds a layer of moss and decorates it with camoflaging flakes of lichen. She feeds her young by placing her long bill into their throats and regurgitating a mixture of nectar and insects.

    A rufous hummingbird weighs only about as much as a penny and a half but it’s among the most pugnacious of hummers. It will chase away other hummingbirds, even those that weigh twice as much, from any feeder or patch of flowers it considers its territory.

    Rufous hummingbirds are a fascinating example of the adaptability and variety of the creatures with whom we share the world. And because of the huge territory they cover during the year, they need our help in protecting places where they can feed and nest.

Photos courtesy of Photobucket

Never Too Late for Romance

    It’s never too late for romance. Though young people may find this idea incredible, we never get over the longing for someone special in our lives, no matter our age.

    I don’t know how old Nellie Johansen is, but her face still reflects the blond, blue-eyed Nordic beauty of her youth. She’s tall, slender, and impeccably dressed. She walks her accustomed mile each day, rain or shine, even though she now depends on a walker to keep her balance. Recently she began a program of water aerobics to build her strength. She does everything with a positive, smiling attitude that draws others in.

    Our senior community is a happy place to live, although nearly every month there are memorial services for members who have finished their earthly journey. Many people here carry a burden of loss. Nellie herself recently said goodbye to her husband of many years. She moved into a smaller unit in the community but continues to be a part of as many activities as she can.

    One evening in April she came to the dining room alone and asked if she could join us at our table. We were soon engaged in cheerful small talk, but Nellie had something on her mind. “Did you know Orville James?” she asked.

    We’d seen him, a distinguished looking man who always seemed alert and ready with a quip. “He passed away Sunday,” Nellie said. “He was 99 years old.” Obviously Nellie needed to talk about him. “I had a date with him for Tuesday, last night.”

    A date? I had to know more.

    “He had invited me to go with him to the Sweetheart Breakfast on Valentine’s Day,” she said. “It was almost a year since I lost my husband and I guess Orville remembered that. The invitation really lifted my spirits.”

    They’d arrived at the breakfast early and took seats at a table for eight. They conversed for a while, although Orville had had throat surgery that left him barely able to speak above a whisper. He communicated mostly by writing notes. “But I could understand him,” Nellie said proudly.

    Then six ladies walked in, looked around, and sat down at their table. Orville wrote a note that Nellie passed around. “I’ll be the escort and helper for all of the ladies at the table.” A flutter of pleasure greeted the reading of the note, and true to his word, Orville saw to it that each lady had what she needed.

    Nellie teased him about having all those dates. “But I was the one whose breakfast he paid for,” she said.

    Shortly afterward nominations were being taken for “Volunteer of the Year.” Nellie planned to nominate Orville for the way he’d taken care of his “harem” at the Sweetheart Breakfast, but she arrived late to the meeting and nominations were closed.

    She sat quietly a moment, then told us that at church the previous Sunday someone had announced that Orville was in the hospital. She tried to call when she got home and spoke to his son, telling him who she was. The son regretfully informed her that Orville had passed away only fifteen minutes earlier.

    Nellie spoke of her friend with a smile. Of the almost century of his life, she’d shared only a few weeks. But she’d had someone special in her life once again, and it was good.

photo credit: Goa India Beach Sunset via photopin (license)

*The names in this story have been changed.