The first Rufous Hummingbird I saw in Chapel Hill this winter was visiting a hummingbird feeder tucked under an eave at a private home. The sort of place you expect to find such a bird, and one that requires the eager birder to observe the standard protocol for visiting a bird on private property. The odd introduction through a third party. The awkward message left on an answering machine. The backyard sneak upon arrival on the off chance the neighbors are going to call the cops on you. All this is enough to make a birder throw his hands up and let that bird go. In fact, had I not been doing a Triangle Big Year, and had the bird not been practically in my backyard, I likely would not have chased it, but this bird? This is something different.
The second Rufous Hummingbird I saw in Chapel Hill this winter was in the arboretum on the campus of the University of North Carolina. A public place. Scratch that, a very public place. It was not coming to a feeder, which was something of a novelty with vagrant hummingbirds. It was attending a massive stand of winter honeysuckle, also called Sweet Breath of Spring, an exotic shrub that often signals the very beginning of the warm months. This particular stand was in full bloom and very fragrant. No prior plans needed to be made. The bird was there if you wanted it.
Assuming the weather cooperates, of course. When I visited the bush on Saturday the wind was so strong that even an hour of waiting failed to produce the bird, which was almost certainly tucked into the center next to a clump of flowers waiting the weather out. Yesterday morning, however, it took all of 30 seconds before I heard the tell-tale sputtering trill of a hummingbird, and in a flash, the ruddy bird of my desire was doing its thing amongst the tiny flowers.
Selasphorus, the genus of smallish, fiesty, hummingbirds in which the Rufous is ensconced, comes form the Greek Selas-, meaning flame, and –phoros, to carry. There is scarcely a bird on the planet more suited for this name than this little glowing ember. The first Rufous I’d seen was a young male, too recently out of the nest to show the orange cast that gives them their species name, rufus. This one, though, was still not quite adult, but still every bit its namesake minus the scarlet gorget of the fully mature male bird.
The mid-morning light was almost perfect, and I ramped up the shutter speed in an attempt to freeze the bird. When it came down to eye-level, within about 8 feet of me, I managed to get a series of photos of which I’m pretty proud.
And not a feeder in sight. Not bad, eh?