Posts Tagged ‘hummingbirds’

Banding the Tiniest of Tiny

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male © Josh Haas

Banding the Tiniest of Tiny – Hummingbirds by Josh Haas

When it comes to banding birds, there are lots of certified banders across the United States licensed to band birds ranging from large Raptors all the way down to passerine song birds but what about our beloved minuscule Hummingbirds?  There are even banders for those little buggers, however, there are far less licensed to do so.

When it comes to Hummingbirds, it takes a steady hand and a lot of patience for banding.  The band itself is so small; they have to be hand cut and shaped by the bander.  Handling the little hummers is also a special art.  Because of these things, very few individuals are even allowed to band hummingbirds.  So few in fact, in Michigan there are only two Hummingbird banders licensed to do so; both of which, are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable in the field.  One of Michigan’s licensed banders happens to be a great friend of ours and recently we hosted her and her husband for dinner and banding!

Our family is lucky enough to live on a property where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flourish.  We are not a site with hundreds and hundreds but we have a good amount of birds consistently each year.  As the bander arrived and set up the cages surrounding the feeders, it was just a matter of time before the first two hummers entered and were caught.  This happened within a matter of minutes which gave us great hope.  All the while, many more hummers were flying and fighting through the air showing that good numbers were around.  Once the bander begins to inspect the bird, she determines things like sex, age, and takes note of other data which will later be entered in the Bird Banding Laboratory database.

Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male © Josh Haas

This was a great evening with friends.  It also proved to be fun for our 6-month old, Lillian.  Our Lily Bean already enjoys watching the Hummers at our feeder outside the living room window, although she does go back to playing in her exersaucer often!   While we had good hopes of banding several hummingbirds that evening, we think increasing winds made the birds more apprehensive of the cages and we only ended up banding the two first birds.  Here’s to next year and who knows, maybe we’ll see our two banded buggers at the feeder for another couple months!

To learn more about Hummingbird banding

Throw Back Thursday: I Thought We Knew Hummingbirds

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Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Throw Back Thursday: I thought we knew Hummingbirds by Tom Wood

Fork-tailed Woodnymph © Tom Wood

I thought we knew hummingbirds. Living in the self-proclaimed ‘hummingbird capital of America”, authoring numerous articles and a couple of books on hummingbirds and more than twenty years of research on these little jewels in Arizona had us pretty comfortable with hummingbirds. We love introducing others to these small wonders and watching the looks on birders’ faces as they watch a feeder with six or eight species visiting. For someone from the eastern U.S. where often the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only option or, better yet, foreign visitors that had never seen these New World birds it can be a jaw-dropping experience. Recently we had an opportunity to have our own jaw-dropping experience at feeders in the real hummingbird capital, Ecuador.

You don’t need to look in the field guide (a huge tome), to know these are some amazing birds – just look at their names: Tourmaline Sunangel, Booted Racket-tail, Glittering Emerald, Shining Sunbeam, Golden-tailed Sapphire. I could go on and on. Over 140 species of hummingbirds are found in a country the size of Colorado. Some, like the improbable Sword-billed Hummingbird or Wire-crested Thorntail, look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss. Our North American hummingbirds, with a few exceptions, only hint at the extravagance the iridescence of hummingbirds can achieve.

Booted Racket-tail © Tom Wood

Hummingbirds are tropical creatures and, in Ecuador on the slopes of the Andes, they reach their pinnacle. We marvel at the migrations of “our” hummingbirds but these tropical hummingbirds have no need to make a long migration. Everything they need: flowers, insects and shelter, are available year-around. We visited several lodges at a variety of elevations and drainages and each valley or mountain ridge seems to have its own mix of species. Watching the feeders at one of the mountain lodges was almost a religious experience for the hummingbird aficionado.

This has been a banner year for hummingbirds in southeastern Arizona. Or perhaps I should say this has been a good year for hummingbird watchers. Fires and drought have impacted the wildflowers and insects that hummers depend, on causing birds migrating to Mexico to frequent new areas and feeders in record numbers. They are resourceful migrants and, by next year when they return, hopefully conditions will have improved. As we watch them go and begin the winter task of compiling and analyzing data from our banding study, forgive me if my mind wanders to Ecuador.

Photo Essay: Banding Hummingbirds

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Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Photo Essay: Banding Hummingbirds by Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Violet-crowned Hummingbird in hand © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

Most of what we know about the lives and travels of hummingbirds comes from hands-on research. As with other birds, banding (a.k.a. ringing) is the most important tool for understanding hummingbird populations, longevity, reproduction, and migration. In the U.S., banding of wild birds is conducted under the authority of the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL), a federal agency. The BBL issues permits and bands and manages the data collected on millions of banded birds, from Calliope Hummingbirds to California Condors.

hummingbird

Trapping team members bag a captured hummingbird © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) has been banding hummingbirds on the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area since 1996. To capture these intelligent and suspicious birds, we bait a custom-made trap with a sugar-water feeder. When hummingbirds come to feed, the trapping team trips a switch that drops a soft curtain around both feeder and birds. Incredibly, some birds will escape by ducking out under the falling curtain. The trapping team gently removes captured birds from the trap and places them in soft holding cages (actually repurposed lingerie washing bags) for transport to the banding table a few yards away.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Selecting a band for a female Black-chinned Hummingbird © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

At the table, the bander removes the bird from the bag and checks for a band. If the bird is already wearing one, the number is recorded. The oldest hummingbird in SABO’s study, a female Black-chinned, wore her band for at least nine years. For “new” (unbanded) birds, the species and sex will determine what size band is likely to be the best fit. The bander closes the tiny, uniquely numbered band around the leg using special pliers and checks the fit. The bands arrive from the BBL as thin sheets of flexible aluminum printed with a unique series of numbers and guidelines for cutting. It’s up to the bander to cut strips of bands out of the sheet, smooth the edges, cut each band to the appropriate length for the final diameter, and form it into a tiny ring.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Measuring the bill of a female Black-chinned © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

The lengths of bill, wing, and tail provide basic information about the individual and help to confirm the identification. Each bird is also examined for plumage condition, fat (essential fuel for migration), and color and location of pollen (clues to important natural nectar sources). Possible breeding females are given a quick “obstetric exam” to check for the presence of a developing egg, which will be visible through the wall of the abdomen as a pale bulge.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds wait in holding cages while the scribe records data © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

The team’s scribe records each bird’s “vital statistics” on a data sheet while birds in holding cages wait their turn on a carousel made from repurposed music stands.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Weighing an Anna’s Hummingbird © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

The bird is then wrapped in a piece of translucent netting and weighed on a spring scale. A lean male Black-chinned Hummingbird weighs just under 3 grams, slightly more than a penny, while the average male Anna’s weighs over 4 grams, a little less than a nickel. During migration, their weight can increase by more than 50% as they store fat to fuel their epic journeys.

Broad-billed hummingbird

A female Broad-billed on her “launch pad” © Sheri Williamson & Tom Wood

Once all the documentation is complete, each bird is offered a drink of sugar water and placed in a waiting hand for release. With luck, it will return many times to tell us more about its life, its species, and the environments we share.

SABO’s hummingbird banding sessions are open to visitors. Banding season is over for this year, but next year’s schedule will be posted on the online calendar of events.  

 

Did You Know: Elegant in Appearance, Aggressive by Nature – Hummingbirds

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Monday, September 10th, 2012

Elegant in Appearance, Aggressive by Nature: Hummingbirds

With a rainbow of iridescent feathers that shimmer in the light, hummingbirds are a beauty to watch, not only because of their appearance, but also because of their rapidly flapping wings, mating dives, and feeding. Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from southeastern Alaska to southern Chile, although most reside in tropical climates. There are approximately 320 species of hummingbirds, only 22 of which make an appearance in the summer in North America.

Migration:

  • Who is The Champion Hummingbird Migrant?

The Rufous.  Some individuals may fly a round-trip migration of 12,000 miles from Central America to Alaska and back.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird, adult male © Laure W. Neish/VIREO

  • What takes 3,600,000 wing-beats?

A Ruby-throated hummingbird’s flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  Some Ruby-throated hummingbirds in the spring jump of from the Yucatan peninsula and make for the Texas coast.  While a plane flight across the Gulf of Mexico would take under an hour, it takes the Ruby-throated hummingbird 20 hours on this non-stop, 500-mile journey.  (That’s about 720,000 heart beats for the trip.)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Adaptations to Habitat:

  • Hummingbirds live in a variety of habitats, ranging from river-bottom forests, where the Ruby-throated of the east can be found, to open uplands, where the Black-chinned can be found, and high mountains, home to the Broad-tailed.
  • These birds adapt easily to different climates and environments including: deserts, shady forests, coastal chaparral, and alpine meadows.
  • Although hungry hummingbirds are often helped by gardens full of flowers and sugar water feeders, these habitats can be harmful if the birds are exposed to pesticides, pollution, or free-roaming cats.
Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird, adult male © Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO

Metabolism & Feeding:

  • The hummingbird has the highest metabolism of any animal on earth.
  • The flowers that hummingbirds feed on provide rich sugars that maintain their high metabolic rate.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to bright red flowers that have a long tubular shape; they will visit flowers of other colors as well.
  • Hummingbirds remember flowers they have visited and how long it will take the flower to refill it’s nectar supply.
  • Because hummingbirds have a poor sense of smell, they often feed on odorless flowers.
  • While humans often struggle to lose weight, hummingbirds purposely double their weight before a migration in order to stock up for the long journey.
  • The hummingbird has the capability to conserve energy by decreasing their heart rate and body temperature, also known as torpor.
Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird, adult male © Dr. Joseph Turner/VIREO

A Not So Social Bird:

  • Hummingbirds are not social creatures.  Because the competition is so stiff for finding a food source, a hummingbird will defend a flower or feeder and won’t give up their food without a fight; dominant species are known to fight other hummingbirds for flower patches they need in order to meet their daily energy demands.
  • Several hummingbirds have been known to mob larger predators, including hawks, owls, cats, jays and snakes.

The Hummingbirds Song… or Call:

  • While no hummingbird song is considered sweet to the ear, many consider North America’s Anna’s hummingbird to be the most pleasant.
  • Hummingbird calls are meant to communicate information about the bird’s species, sex, age or emotional state, while songs are used to find a mate and to scare off competitors.
  • Hummingbirds often use the sound of their wings (humming, buzzing and whining) to make a statement, instead of calls or songs.
Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird, adult male © Hugh P. Smith, Jr. & Susan C. Smith/VIREO

Nesting:

  • Female hummingbirds are responsible for nest building, incubation, and caring for their young, while males are responsible for mating with as many partners as possible.
  • When the females’ nest is nearly complete, she will seek a male, who will display to her usually during a courtship dive, or he may seek her out at her nest.
  • Babies hatch between 16 -18 days after eggs are laid.  They weigh only .062 grams, which is less than 1/3 of a US dime.
  • The mother will feed the young a mixture of nectar and bugs (needed for protein) as often as every 20 minutes.
  • Hummingbirds fledge about four weeks after hatching, and the mother will continue to feed them for several days after leaving the nest.  She will also show them where to find food on their own.  Then she is gone and they are on their own.
Allen's Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird, adult female and nestlings © Joe Fuhrman/VIREO

Mating:

  • It has been proven that female hummingbirds find the iridescent throat feathers of a male attractive. Males flash their gorget when trying to find a mate and hide them when they are trying to avoid a predator.
  • To attract females and to scare off any rivals, male birds fly up to 60 feet in the air then dive downwards at up to 50 miles per hour in what is called a “courtship dive.”

More Hummingbird Facts:

  • Early Spanish explorers were fascinated by hummingbirds and called them, “Joyas Volardores,” meaning flying jewels.
  • Hummingbirds range in size, from the Bee hummingbird of Cuba, which is the smallest of all warm-blooded animals, to the Giant hummingbird of South America, which outweighs many songbirds.
  • Hummingbirds have the largest brain-to-body weight ratio of all bird species.
  • Hummingbirds can actually see and hear better than humans, but have a poor sense of smell.
  • While flying, a hummingbird can reach up to 60 miles per hour!
  • 30% of a hummingbird’s body is made of flight muscles.
  • The hummingbird’s heart beats 1,200 times per minute.
  • The average lifespan of a North American Hummingbird is 3-5 years.
Costa's Hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbird, adult male © Brian E. Small/VIREO

What’s the Buzz on Pollinators: Hummingbirds

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Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Hummingbird Facts:

Allen’s Hummingbird, adult male © Dr. Joseph Turner/VIREO

Because hummingbirds have a poor sense of smell, they often feed on odorless flowers, but they have excellent eyesight and prefer bright colored (especially red), tubular-shaped flowers. Their slender bill and long tongue enable them to lap nectar from the bottom of flowers like the Trumpet Honeysuckle.

Anna’s Hummingbird, adult male

More Hummingbird Facts:

1.) It has been proven that Hummingbirds find iridescent feathers attractive in the opposite sex. Because their feathers are not pigmented, they are able to control their colors and make them flash when trying to mate and hide them when they are trying to avoid a predator.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, adult male © Brian E. Small/VIREO

2.) While a plane flight across the Gulf of Mexico would take under an hour, it takes the Ruby-throated Hummingbird 20 hours on this non-stop 500 mile journey.

Calliope Hummingbird, adult male © Dr. Joseph Turner/VIREO

3.) Hummingbirds are creatures of the Western Hemisphere and were unknown to early Spanish explorers who were fascinated by Hummingbirds and called them, “Joyas Volardores” meaning, “flying jewels.”

Anna’s Hummingbird, adult female © Brian E. Small/VIREO

4.) The hummingbird has the capability to torpor, which allows them to conserve energy by decreasing their heart rate and body temperature.

Costa’s Hummingbird, juvenile male © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

5.) Hummingbirds have the largest brain to body weight ratio of all bird species.

Blue-throated Hummingbird, adult male © Sid & Shirley Rucker/VIREO

6.) Male birds fly up to 60 feet in the air then dive downwards at up to 50 miles per hour in what is called a “courtship dive” to attract females and scare off any rivalry.

Broad-billed Hummingbird, juvenile male © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

I Thought We Knew Hummingbirds

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Friday, October 7th, 2011

I thought we knew hummingbirds. Living in the self-proclaimed ‘hummingbird capital of America”, authoring numerous articles and a couple of books on hummingbirds and more than twenty years of research on these little jewels in Arizona had us pretty comfortable with hummingbirds. We love introducing others to these small wonders and watching the looks on birders’ faces as they watch a feeder with six or eight species visiting. For someone from the eastern U.S. where often the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only option or, better yet, foreign visitors that had never seen these New World birds it can be a jaw-dropping experience. Recently we had an opportunity to have our own jaw-dropping experience at feeders in the real hummingbird capital, Ecuador.

You don’t need to look in the field guide (a huge tome), to know these are some amazing birds – just look at their names: Tourmaline Sunangel, Booted Racket-tail, Glittering Emerald, Shining Sunbeam, Golden-tailed Sapphire. I could go on and on. Over 140 species of hummingbirds are found in a country the size of Colorado. Some, like the improbable Sword-billed Hummingbird or Wire-crested Thorntail, look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss. Our North American hummingbirds, with a few exceptions, only hint at the extravagance the iridescence of hummingbirds can achieve.

Hummingbirds are tropical creatures and, in Ecuador on the slopes of the Andes, they reach their pinnacle. We marvel at the migrations of “our” hummingbirds but these tropical hummingbirds have no need to make a long migration. Everything they need: flowers, insects and shelter, are available year-around. We visited several lodges at a variety of elevations and drainages and each valley or mountain ridge seems to have its own mix of species. Watching the feeders at one of the mountain lodges was almost a religious experience for the hummingbird aficionado.

This has been a banner year for hummingbirds in southeastern Arizona. Or perhaps I should say this has been a good year for hummingbird watchers. Fires and drought have impacted the wildflowers and insects that hummers depend, on causing birds migrating to Mexico to frequent new areas and feeders in record numbers. They are resourceful migrants and, by next year when they return, hopefully conditions will have improved. As we watch them go and begin the winter task of compiling and analyzing data from our banding study, forgive me if my mind wanders to Ecuador.

Snapshots from Monteverde: from Phebe Meyers

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Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

“Where the Nectar Lies”

There are not too many opportunities to see ten species of hummingbirds buzzing in one area at once, yet Monteverde, Costa Rica is a biodiversity hotspot. There are thirty species of hummingbirds in the area. I could hear hummingbirds before I could see them as I walked up the path to the hummingbird garden at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Their squeaks and the drone of their wings moving eighty flaps per second filled the air.
In a way it was cheating going to a hummingbird garden, where the birds were lured by sugar water, and although I preferred to observe the birds in their forest and field edge habitat, a garden with multiple feeders enabled me to see many species, tiny and large, in action. Since hummingbirds suck the nectar from flowers, the sugar water imitates the naturally sweet, succulent, drink from which they draw their energy. Small insects and/or spiders account for their protein intake. A hummingbird must eat more than its weight per day. Amazingly for such small, intense birds, they live up to 12 years.
Many of the flowers that are pollinated by hummingbirds are tubular, and individual hummingbird species have adaptations to access the nectar in their favorite flowers. Flowers and hummingbirds have co-evolved to benefit each other, as the hummingbirds are significant pollinators of specific flowering plants. Species of hummingbirds that feed on short tubular flowers have short beaks. Long curved tubular flowers attract hummingbirds with long, narrow beaks. Some hummingbirds are nectar robbers, so named because they use their short sharp beaks to pierce the flower tube near its base and steal the nectar, bypassing the pollen.
There are over 330 species of hummingbirds, comprising the second largest avian family in the New World. Even though they range from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, they are most abundant in the tropics. The climate and abundance of food is more prevalent in warmer climates; however, many are neo-tropical migrants, summering in cooler climates, such as my hometown in Vermont. Mother’s Day usually marks the first appearance of a ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder on our porch, after its long migration.
The rapid wing flapping fascinates me. Hovering in one spot, the hummingbirds move each entire wing in a unique rotation at the shoulder joint, moving their wings 40-80 beats per second. They also have the ability to fly backwards.
Peaceful as it may be to watch hummingbirds, their behavior and interactions with one another, can seem fairly violent. In the hummingbird garden, they spend their time chasing each other, dive bombing, or fighting for the spot on the feeder. Even while perching on a branch, they seek opportunities to obtain food and dominate a food source.
The iridescent violet hues and white tips on the tail feathers of the Violet Sabrewing contrast with the green surroundings. This is the largest of hummingbirds found in Monteverde, reaching a height of about 6” (15cm). Other species seen included the Fiery-Throated Hummingbird, which is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, the Green Violet Ear, the Magnificent Hummingbird, the Green-Crowned Brilliant, the Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, and the Scintillant Hummingbird.
My patience and stillness in gardens and along the forest edge allowed the birds to be unfazed by my presence. The view was spectacular.

Guardian of the Forest

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Friday, September 10th, 2010

“Guardian of the Forest” or Ix-canan is the name that Mayans gave to the Firebush, Hamelia patens. But as its common name suggests this plant is on fire. Or at least it appears that way. Even in the coldest days of winter here in South Florida its embers of life are smoldering deep within its roots. The cold stopped its growth dead in its tracks during the freeze this past winter but some of the leaves hung on, changing to lighter reds and greens in hopes of catching those different wave lengths of light. Growth was slow and steady during the spring months but as soon as the heat and wet of summer hit, it exploded with green growth and blossoms.
Each blossom strikes up a flame of such intensity, that the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and ants just can’t ignore. The anoles wait patiently on the branches in hopes of catching those nectar seeking ants and once in awhile land a butterfly. As I looked closer on this plant and watched the pollinators, I observed that the ants were crawling in and out of holes just above the ovary. These holes were absent from the newly formed flowers. I then watched as a carpenter bee, too large to climb down into the tubular flower, appeared to pierce the base with its mouth parts. I thought this was clever for the bee and fortunate for the plant that the ants were distributing the pollen while they crawled around. There seemed to be more than enough nectar to go around.
Towards the end of summer and into the fall the berries attract song birds. They are not particularly sweet enough for my tastes but I can see making a jam or jelly from them. The firebush also has many medicinal uses that have been discovered by the indigenous people of Central and South America, the West Indies and Mexico. These uses are many and include treating burns, another reference to its name, to healing headaches. With its gift of abundance it’s easy to feel gratitude for this marvelous plant.

Jewelweed: More than Just a Gem

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Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

At the edge of the woods in my backyard I have nurtured a large patch of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). I can sit on my deck and see the orange and red flowers hanging on the plants like jewels. The Ruby-throated hummingbirds zip from my feeder down to the flowers and back again. A single bird can visit as many as 200 flowers in just 15 minutes.

I’ve noticed that jewelweed flowers quickly vibrate back and forth as the hummingbird’s bill probes the flowers. This didn’t seem to be very remarkable to me, but to biologist Ethan Temeles and his students at Amherst College, it was a clue for further research.

Each jewelweed flower has a tiny opening that is only about four millimeters wide, which quickly narrows to only a millimeter and bends sharply downward and then back as a spur. At the far end of the spur is the hummingbird’s liquid prize, sweet nectar.

While the bird hovers, it uses its long tongue to reach down into the flower tube. As the tongue arrives at the sharp turn in the tube, the flower is gently pushed away. The tongue extends to end of the tube, and nectar flows into channels on the tongue. The bird pulls the tongue back to drink the nectar thereby releasing the pressure on the back of the flower tube and the flower moves forward.

Temeles and his students found that the flower hangs from a very thin stem with just enough tension to make the tongue’s movements spring the flower back and forth as it pulses in and out while licking nectar. Each time the flower springs back, pollen is brushed on top of the bill and forehead of the hummingbird. When the hummingbird visits the next jewelweed flower, pollen is brushed onto the new flower to complete fertilization.

On Borrowed Time

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Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Albion Basin lies at the top of a dead-end canyon, a mile or so above the town of Alta. The high peaks surrounding it are well above timber line, rugged and beautiful. During electrical storms lightning strikes these peaks repeatedly and the thunder reverberates back and forth, bouncing off the bare rocks of one to the others like water sloshing in a shallow dish. The effect is awesome, overwhelming, perhaps a bit frightening but truly sublime. Today the sky is blue and the Basin is full of people enjoying the bright August sunshine.

Spring has finally come to the basin. It is not only lush and verdant but ablaze with an innumerable host of flowers, like a green night sky utterly awash with stars of red, yellow, blue, and violet. This tardiness is partly a function of elevation. The basin lies nearly a mile above the valley floor on which Salt Lake City resides. For every thousand feet of elevation gained the temperature drops by roughly four degrees Fahrenheit. It is almost 95 degrees in town this early afternoon but it is in the mid-seventies in the basin. When the breeze blows it can feel unexpectedly cool.

But there is something else to also consider. Albion Basin receives, on average, five hundred inches of snow each year. It takes a long time for the frozen water to melt and the earth to warm sufficiently for life to blossom. The summers are very short up here. Mother Nature must work quickly. As the crowds throng around me, enjoying the day, I recall the facts of the place, learned from decades of observation. The first snow of the season will fall in the basin some time in the next four weeks. When late summer rains fall in the valley, it often snows up here. By the end of September there will be permanent snow on the ground, mostly in the shadows and the deeper cracks and fissures in the cliffs and talus slopes. Emboldened by the shorter days and cooler nights of October the snow will spread, out of the shadows. It will also begin to accumulate. Eight weeks from today the greens and the riot of color will be a memory, replaced by the browns of the dead and dying. And in twelve short weeks the earth will sleep again beneath a deep and ever deepening blanket of snow while skiers schuss above in celebration.

I watch a calliope hummingbird flit from one flower to the next with seeming nonchalance, although it feels an urgency I cannot see. We both of us know a change is coming to the basin, just as certain as the turning of the earth.