Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Calliope Hummingbird

Late visitor at the feeder - Greg Swick
Greg Swick sent a story of an uncommon visitor to warm your heart on a cold day.  This played out on his Facebook page during the cold snap around November 16th.  The main character in this drama is a calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope), the first report of this species in Christian County.  The first photographs are by Greg who apparently developed the trust of his subject who we will name Cal.

Cal posing head on - Greg Swick

Little Cal rests by leaf buds - Lisa Owens 
So what is a hummingbird doing, hanging around in the cold?  Aren't they supposed to be south by now?  Greg posted a good discussion on this which I will steal word for word.
"First of all, birds don't migrate because of cold weather. They migrate in search of food, open water, or appropriate habitat for breeding. In the case of southward migration this time of year, they are in search for adequate food and water. 
Calliope hummingbirds are a very hardy, temperate species that nest as far north as the British Columbia Rockies at altitudes from 4 to 11,000 feet. They are commonly exposed to the elements, so the cold temperatures do not bother them. They have evolved and adapted in cold/cool climates and torpor is frequently used to survive overnight or even during the day in extended cold, precipitous weather events. 
We have long suspected that many NW hummingbird species migrate through Missouri regularly. In Christian County alone, we have had Anna's, rufous, and now calliope in the late fall/winter months.
It is important to note that calliopes are increasingly wintering along the Gulf coast, so it is highly likely that this bird is simply on course and, actually, not even aberrant in timing. We just don't know much about it.  It might even be following a migration route that many others of its species have followed from the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico. That's why it's so important to document these species, and contribute the data to the global avian database."
Wikipedia has more in depth information about calliopes.  Although we tend to think of hummingbirds as nectar feeders, they also consume insects and tree sap when available as well as Greg's sugar water.  Seeing an uncommon migrant is a real treat and it was fortunate to have visited Greg where it would be recognized as uncommon.

Final approach - Greg Swick
Calliope was the daughter of Zeus like many of the characters in Greek mythology.  At last count he had 43 divine offspring as well as many semi-devine and human progeny.  He was so busy fathering that he barely had time to run things, which may be the reason there was so much conflict and wars.  Among his offspring were the nine muses of the arts, including Calliope, the Greek muse of poetry.  Her name is pronounced Kal-yo-pee, although our hummingbird is pronounced like the familiar circus musical instrument. 

Doug Hommert takes a shot - Greg Swick
I suspect that Calliope was also the muse of photography.  Greg invited birders to come by his house to see the bird, even when he was gone.  Soon they were coming from all over the state.

This bird's rarity quotient brought in birders far from our region.  Now the guest register is over 100, and most recent guests were from Austin, Texas, Indianapolis, and a visitor from NYC.  Calliope must be the most photographed single hummingbird in Christian County history.

Unlike hunting rabbits and deer, with birders there seems to be an inverse relationship between the bird size and lens length.  Whether it is a camera or a magnifier or microscope, the smaller the "game," the bigger the lens or microscope.

Photo by Peter Kondrashov 
Many naturalists enjoy the thrill of the hunt and bagging an image.  Whether we are birders, bug people, or those who are foraying for mushrooms, we have a need to capture our own picture even though the "hunter" next to us probably has a better photograph.  In this case we can blame Cal, the Missouri muse of the camera.

Thanks to Greg and the other birders, from KC (Lisa) and St Louis (Doug) and Kirksville (Peter)  for the photographs.
Note:  Article amended to add new information of the wide range of birders coming to view Cal,
Greater Ozarks Audubon Society supports GLADE.

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