No matter how vast and dark the world might seem, there’s always a tiny glimmer of hope. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder, that’s all. And believe in the magic you can’t quite see.
Hummingbirds lay two eggs, on average, and incubate them for about 15-18 days. Mama’s been sitting on her nest for about 20 days now. So if I’ve done the math correctly, she’s probably keeping two hatchlings warm, or will be very soon.
Two, featherless symbols of hope. You can’t see them, cradled as they are in the condo nest that’s situated in a high, dark corner of our tile roof overhang. But you trust and believe, anyway, because when the sun peeks that shadowy space, her iridescent feathers catch fire, igniting your imagination and setting your heart aglow.
There’s an abandoned hummingbird nest in the giant fuchsia out front. Cupped inside, a pearlescent egg that never hatched.
I swallow hard whenever I see it, remind myself, “It’s nature’s way.” But for a brief moment yesterday, I thought about pruning the branch that holds it in place. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. But I thought it might clear the space for possibilities.
But then again, our Thanksgiving guests might enjoy seeing this architectural wonder, equal parts spider silk and cottony magic. No longer camouflaged by leaves and flowers, It bears silent witness to the hatchlings it once housed, and to the fledglings who took to the skies during last year’s nesting season.
Left to the elements, the nest will eventually disintegrate. More likely, the fluff ‘n stuff will be recycled by mama hummingbirds-to-be. Like this one, who was sipping nectar in our backyard at sunrise.
Nesting season is almost upon us again–maybe as soon as next week, if we’re lucky!
Well now. Looks like mama hummingbird’s granting us another bird’s-eye view of her nursery!
I don’t know when she laid her eggs, but I suspect it was shortly after she put the final touches on this nest–very likely, a few days ago. Hummingbird incubations typically last about 14-16 days, but since we’re having a cooler weather (low to mid-60s), the hatchlings might wait a while longer to poke their beaks through their shells.
We’ve lived at Chez Shore for almost four years now, and in that time, we’ve watched lots of hummingbird mamas build their walnut-sized nests in this sheltered alcove, right outside our front door. Their instincts must tell them it’s a safe place to be. Tucked into the furthest reaches of this “Thalia” Fuchsia, their nests are well-camouflaged. The tile roof is a barrier against winter storms.
Look closely: Can you spot her nest in this leafy nursery?
A quick note of reassurance: I took these photos at a safe distance–at least 10 feet from the fuchsia. The nest is about 10 feet above ground.
As long as the hummingbirds had not abandoned the land, somewhere there were still flowers, and they could all go on. -Leslie Marmon Silko
Welcome to the world, little hummingbird hatchlings!
Aren’t they cute? Well, okay, they’re in that awkward state…bumbling and naked and temporarily blind. But if you close your eyes and think hummingbird, can you visualize the possibilities?
Given their wrinkled, raisin-y state, I suspect the first egg hatched on Friday and the second hatchling followed suit on Saturday. Just think: As these tiny creatures performed their quiet bit of magic, the Women’s March was unfolding on a very grand scale!
If my math calculations are correct, and the magic holds, these hatchlings will become iridescent-feathered, gossamer-winged fledglings by Valentine’s Day.
Speaking of which: I’ve named them after my dear friend Carl and his wife Mary– lovebirds who were married for 58 wonderful years before she passed. Hummingbird images appear in several cultural traditions–symbols of devotion and joy, the stitching together of heaven and earth–so this seems to me a wonderful way to commemorate their enduring relationship and eternal love.
P.S. Rest assured, I use my zoom lens to gather these snapshots. I would never touch the hummingbirds or their nest! I observe and record them from a respectful distance…
Treat yourself, why don’t you, to our hummingbird hatchlings’ pre-fledge antics. Watch as Rain helicopters above the nest, hovers mid-flight, and manages a graceful landing on a twig beside the nest. Beau’s feathers get ruffled, but he looks on with rapt attention. Aryana chirps in the distance, as if to say, “Come into the garden, kids–let’s play!”
Not long after I filmed their playtime, Rain zipped off to join Aryana in the flowerbeds. Beau surfed the ocean breezes, hanging ten on the rim of the roomier nest.
See the shadowy “beard” on Beau’s chin? That’s a simple way to differentiate a juvenile hummingbird male from its female counterparts. Rain has white-tipped tail feathers, instead.
I revisited the nest before dinnertime, and voilà!
The nest is empty now, but my heart is full. I’m grateful for Aryana’s mothering instincts; thankful, too, for the fuchsia that camouflaged and provided shelter for three successful broods.
I also appreciate everyone who gathered around Aryana’s nest with me, watching her tiny eggs crack open, revealing featherless hatchlings that grew overnight, it seemed, eventually sprouted gossamer wings and needle-shaped beaks.
And yes, I’m glad for this schoolbus-yellow ladder. I’ve climbed it again and again with my camera, over the past several months…
…receiving firsthand the gifts that come of observing up close those tiny jewels of the sky.
Rainbows, flights of fancy, shimmery magic, and Mother Nature’s sensibilities: I’m grateful for this embroidered tapestry, stitched on my heart by a charm of hummingbirds. You, too?
Aryana, a non-migrating Allen’s hummingbird, built her nest in the fuchsia that grows along my front walkway, way back in December. And here we are, celebrating her fourth brood of the 2015-16 mating season.
Such a good mama: she camouflaged her nest among the foliage, and protected it from predators by sheltering it under a tiled roof overhang.
We named this pair of hatchlings Rain and Beau, in honor of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, “because love is love is love is love…” And you already know how much I adore these tiny harbingers of hope.
Rain hatched 23 days ago, and Beau broke free of his shell the day after.
At the time, they looked like tiny raisins with stubby orange beaks.
But they quickly grew pinfeathers, and their beaks grew long and dark.
Mama Aryana fed them slurry mixtures of nectar and insects, and before long, they were fighting for space inside their cushy-soft nest.
While Aryana was off foraging, I climbed a very tall ladder to observe these wee little miracles and the architectural wonder that they inhabit. I never interfered with Aryana’s nesting habits, never touched her cottony treasurebox or the tiny jewels it protected.
I used a zoom lens and my camera settings to get close-ups, which make the hummingbird babies seem much larger than they really are. They also make this tape measure appear closer to the nest than it actually is. Mama hummingbird trusted me with her babies–a privilege and an honor that I’d never violate.
I snapped this photo just shy of three weeks post-hatch. Notice their their needle-sharp beaks and shimmery wings? They’re looking more like adult hummingbirds every day.
And at 23 days post-hatch, Rain and Beau are perched on the nest rim, flapping their wings and pointing their beaks toward parts unknown.
I’m snapping photos from my front porch now–stretching my camera to its limits, but I don’t startle them into fledging early.
As my friend Priscilla Sharp said, “It looks like they are sitting in a classroom, paying close attention, absorbing all the lessons from unseen teachers to prepare to go out into the world.”
An occasional ocean breeze wafts into the sheltered alcove, ruffling their iridescent wings. Teased forward by Mother Nature’s nudging, they seem ready for lift-off. But for now at least, they’re holding tight to the nest with tiny talons. Won’t be long, though, until whoosh! Off they’ll go.
Whether or not they supported the counter-protest (or read my takeaways from that event), a handful of people expressed real concerns about my having attended the KKK rally in Anaheim. Some talked to me privately; still others confronted me outright. What on earth were you thinking? It seems so out of character, they said.
I disagreed. It’s all of a piece, I said, and I invited them to look a little deeper. I’ll answer those questions here (as often as you’d like…), if you’ll permit me to come at them sideways.
We are multi-faceted beings, every one of us. I’m captivated by Mother Nature’s most exquisite creations, but–and–I also have within my heart an innate desire to cradle “the least of them,” within and beyond my own garden gates.
I watch hummingbirds out my kitchen window every morning, see them wage fierce battles mid-air, iridescent wings shimmering in the afternoon sun as they chase away intruders. Inspired by their courage, I run outside, flailing my arms as I shout, “Shoo! Go away!” to the murder of crows on the neighboring hillside.
I’m swept away by a robin’s song, and I carry within my heart an anthem: Cheer cheer, cheerily, cheer up…change is gonna come.
I twist the lens until the mourning dove comes into focus, and use Lightroom to scrub the poop plops on the fence. It’s more pleasant that way, don’t you think?
When the water shortage deepened, we replaced our backyard sod with drought-friendly flowers, all of which attract butterflies, honeybees, and songbirds. It’s a small space, and our switchover to drip irrigation isn’t going to refill the aquifers. But it helps prevent runoff from polluting our ocean, and it’s more than enough to fill the birdbaths again every morning.
Between the lavender and penstemon, we’ve planted this sign. It’s an honor to be designated as a Monarch Waystation, in recognition of the work we’re doing to help support the earth and her inhabitants. Bare minimum, it’s a conversation piece. Each one, teach one. We learn from each other.
Exactly one week after the KKK rally, I plant milkweed seeds with my little friend Sara. It’s in short supply now, due to overzealous pesticide applications and misguided/misinformed land management practices. The consequences are devastating: Since milkweed’s the sole food source for monarch caterpillars, and the only plant on which monarch butterflies lays its egg, the monarch population has plummeted. We’re doing our part to help save these winged beauties from the threat of extinction.
I know from experience (and the parable of the sower) that the things we sow don’t always take root and grow. Even so, as we tuck tiny seeds into peat pockets, I say a silent benediction: Let hope be renewed, and peace be restored, within our own hearts and the habitats we share. And I remember, then as always, the African proverb: “When you pray, move your feet.”
Long answer made short?
This is how it feels to work together on behalf of something bigger than ourselves–something that has potentially positive effects, on our own lives and that of future generations.
So much has changed since we last talked about Aryana’s hummingbird hatchlings on this blog. In brief: Within the span of 24 days, Wendy and Peter broke free of their eggshells, sprouted feathers and needle-sharp beaks, and took to the skies on iridescent wings.
I’ve already posted countless pictures on Facebook and Instagram, because…#bragbook. But from the online album my friend Carol Meadows so graciously curated, I’ve culled a few of my favorites. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you all about it…
When they first hatched, a Facebook friend suggested they looked like plump raisins with candycorn beaks. They were roughly an inch long, and were less than 1/3 the heft of a U.S. dime. But look how much they grew and developed, in just 2 weeks!
Even when their peepers hadn’t fully open, they sensed their mother’s approach.
Aryana was a whirring blur of motion. No surprise, given that she had two mouths to feed, and a nest to defend against fluff-snatching rivals. I actually saw a female hummingbird snatch a wad of cotton from Aryana’s nest; but before she made her way clear of the fuchsia, Aryana was in hot pursuit, scolding and dive-bombing her like a fighter jet.
On very rare occasions, she cozied up to her brood in the nest. Even then, she was watchful.
In that shaded alcove, Aryana’s babies were relatively safe. They were shielded from the elements and well-camouflaged. But when the afternoon sun brightened that dark corner, she used her body to shield them from eagle-eyed predators.
Wendy and Peter grew bigger by the hour, it seemed, and looked more like their mama every day.
As their bodies expanded, their walnut-sized home seemed to shrink. But the nest held fast, thanks to the magical properties of spider silk, one of the building materials Aryana instinctively knew to use.
While their mama was away, the hatchling flapped their wings (wingercizing, some called it), and watched the skies for her return.
Aryana seemed unfazed by my presence, mainly because I was quiet and unobtrusive. Once they were moving around more, she even allowed me to record a short video.
In the blink of an eye, it seemed, Aryana’s babies were ready to make their way into the world. Wendy flew away first, leaving her younger brother more room in which to spread his wings.
It wasn’t long before Peter got the urge to follow her. Here’s what that final push looked like.
“Never say goodbye,” said Peter Pan, “because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
I saw both hatchlings take to the sky. Sheer magic, like few people ever get to see in their lifetimes! And just so you know how rare and wonderful this really is: researchers estimate that only 17-59% of a nest’s inhabitants actually make it from hatching to full feathering and fledging.
We’ve hosted several hummingbird families at Chez Shore now. Blessings though they may be, they sometimes revealed to us the darker, seemingly cruel aspects of nature. But on the whole, their stories had happily-ever-after endings, same as Wendy and Peter’s.
They’ve flown the coop, but they haven’t gone far. Aryana’s watching over them in our garden, showing them the best food sources (including but not limited to “her” window feeder), and teaching them how to find/defend their new territory.
A couple of days ago, I was trimming the sweet potato vine in our side yard. A hummingbird whirred past my ear and landed on a nearby branch. It watched me work for a long while, tilting its head and cheeping. Most likely, it was Aryana or one of her fledglings. Heartwarming epilogue, am I right? But lemme also tell you about the task I’ve been avoiding. To wit: those teensy birds spattered a huge (yuuuuge!) mess o’ poop on the stucco walls that surrounded their tiny nest. The Crap They Leave Behind: let’s include that chapter title in a book for Empty Nesters.
Welcome, everybody, to this week’s art challenge. In honor of Valentine’s Day, our theme is–you guessed it–LOVE.
Meet Wendy and Peter, affectionately named for two of our most beloved storybook characters. They’re nesting in a fuchsia, alongside our front walkway. At 19 and 20 days old, they’re still too young to fly; but within a week, they’ll take to the skies on shimmery wings, as hummingbirds are wont to do. Love, ongoing and everlasting.
Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” That quotation goes to the heart of who I am: a child of God who views the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonderment. It also speaks to the joy that comes of taking field trips with my camera.
Once upon a time, a consortium of artisans (poets, musicians, artists, and the like) tried to translate this complex emotion into words. But as someone wise once said, the language of love has many dialects.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, our Art Challenge theme o’ the week is (cue the harp music) LOVE. And lucky me, I get to host it.
Here, an opportunity to translate your own thoughts into images, using your favorite art form(s) and media. I enjoy photography, so I’ll be working with my camera. But Art Challenges are for all-comers. Painting, sewing, drawing, cooking…express your creativity any way you like, so long as you share your finished work in pictures.
Let your imagination run free! Picture yourself and your beloved, for instance, doing something that sparks your inner passions. (Hint: It doesn’t have to be romantic.)
LOVE isn’t all chocolate and roses, although it could be. It can be sweet as these hummingbird hatchlings, in a cottony-soft nest…
Or as absurd as this peacock, oblivious to its surroundings.
LOVE can be dangerous at times, and prickly.
Clingy or trusting? Reveal to us your vantage point, in literal or figurative ways.
There are countless approaches you might take, when it comes to this theme o’ the week. No rules; limitless boundaries. But may I offer you one suggestion? Leave no stone unturned in your quest for LOVE!
One last thing: Be sure to link your project to the blog entry I post this Friday.
Note: This Art Challenge is not a contest, and you most certainly don’t need to be a pro to participate. This is art for its own sake, no judgment or restrictions. So c’mon, share the love.