Butterflies and Hummingbirds – Flying Flowers

As is his wont, fellow homey Dick Ambrose (above the fold, of course) has handed you one of the great gifts of the season: places to lose yourself in the scents and colors of wild flowers. This, it has been suggested, may be a wild flower spring to behold – the result of our past few months of somewhat offbeat weather. It is said that when a flower lives through difficult seasons, yet manages somehow to achieve its perfect bloom, the entire world changes. Go and enjoy. Look and listen, also, among those earthbound blooms, for the “flying flowers” which depend on them.

Many of our hummingbirds and butterflies have already returned to the foothills of Paradise. Many more are on their way, anticipating the nourishment which awaits them among the brilliant colors of spring. As they gather that nourishment, they will bring their own flashes of color.

Thus, I recommend that, as you prepare for your walking exploration of one or more of Dick’s wild flower patches, you prepare yourself as well for those creatures which see those flowers through different lenses. It is easy; today there are almost unlimited resources available for learning about hummers and butterflies or moths.

For hummingbirds, start at Lanny Chambers’ site, www.hummingbirds.net. Here you will find terrific migration maps, cool videos, great photos, new science and information about hummer festivals all over the country. At www.hummingbirds.net/states.html you will find info by state and province across North America. More locally, find DFW’s tips for attracting and maintaining hummingbirds in backyards around the state at wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/backyard/humming-facts.htm. Virtually all nature guides will have sections on hummers, and they are available in our libraries and bookstores.

We generally see three different hummingbirds here in Paradise. The two‑and‑a‑half‑inch calliope (Stellula calliope) is the smallest of U.S. birds, and the male is the only hummer whose throat is streaked, with red-colored feathers against white. The black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri) is the only North American hummer with a truly black throat. Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) is named after the male’s solid rust‑colored back. These tiny birds have traveled thousands of miles, from wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The males arrive first, with females later.

Whether it is among wild flowers or at your feeder, hummer time is circus time. Hummers go through nectar like jet fuel, and a flower can mean life itself. A rufous male may dive-bomb some kid standing too close to “his” feeder or flower, making a life-long memory. A hummer dances up to a flower and a trail lunch becomes a celebration. A young bird, startled off its food, somersaults into a rolling escape maneuver and the awe of that moment becomes family legend. Really, what is more cool than the zippy up, down, back, forth or “stop!” of these tiny aerialists?

With butterflies (and moths, as well, actually), I always start thinking about life risks. If the little flying flower does not drown, break a wing in the wind or a rough landing, or get eaten by a predator, it may end up on the wrong end of some homeowner=s fervent desire, or command, to “Get it off the screen!” By the way, our butterflies have antennae with bulbs, or “clubs” at the ends, while moth antennae may be simple or feathery, but without a clubbed tip.

Begin your field prep with a good nature guide, such as the “Audubon Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest.” After that, get into serious fun with one of Robert Michael Pyle’s remarkable butterfly books. Check out “The Butterflies of Cascadia,” and try to find the out-of-print classic “Watching Washington Butterflies.” The latter is rare, but worth almost any price if you can find it. (If you find it and don’t want to buy it, let me know.)

Robert would remind you to move beyond the wild flowers and check out woodlands, meadows and muddy areas, wander streams and rivers, or south facing snow-free areas in the high country. And he would ask that you observe these amazing creatures slowly and cautiously.

In addition to Homey Dick’s wild flower walks, consider taking your gang on one of the field trips hosted by the Washington butterfly Association. Join the association, if you like, and get in on classes, conferences and newsletter links. Monthly meetings happen at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. Find everything you need to know at www.naba.org/chapters/nabws.

At www.thebutterflysite.com/washington-butterflies.shtml you will find a comprehensive list of butterflies of Washington State, with links.

Do your homework. Review the books and the web. Take those you care about to see some of the miracles of spring. Get photos. Make a memory now to carry you through our next inevitable winter.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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