Craig Johnson photo — A male rufous hummingbird perches on a branch in photographer Craig Johnson’s backyard.

WHIDBEY BIRDING | Spring is near, listen for hummingbirds

  • Saturday, February 25, 2017 6:00am
  • Life

By FRANCES WOOD

Which of these spring migrant species will arrive first: rufous hummingbirds or “Possession Sound” gray whales?

Both are expected around the last week of February or the first week of March. Both species leave Mexico and migrate up the West Coast.

At my house, rufous hummingbirds announce their arrival with great fanfair, buzzing around the feeders, chasing off the Anna’s hummers, which have been here all winter, and divebombing my husband and me when we step out on the deck.

The gray whales arrive more quietly. And even though we scan the waters of Possession Sound several times a day, I usually receive that first report of a whale sighting in our waters via the Orca Network email.

These two species span the spectrum of size. The rufous hummer is the smallest migrant that regularly returns to the Puget Sound region, and weighs in at about one-tenth of 1 ounce. A gray whale tops the scales at over 30 tons.

They lead the way for thousands of other migrating birds that flock into our gardens and parks. Soon we’ll notice swallows swooping over our meadows and hear songbirds as they dance through our forests. Black-headed grosbeaks will appear at our feeders and Western tanagers will shine from the tops of trees. Some of these visitors will stay and others will migrate further north.

This spring, however, no migrating bird species is attracting more anticipation than the white pelicans. Two hundred of those large white birds surprised the neighbors around Deer Lagoon as they began arriving last June. Bird watchers dashed over to see for themselves since this species was designated a mere “Accidental” on the Whidbey Audubon bird list, seen less than five times since bird records began.

There was no need to rush. The pelicans claimed the marshy waters to the west of Deer Lagoon as their summer home. The flock departed in the fall around the time this species typically migrates south. Some ornithologists suggested they were refugees from wetland areas of eastern Oregon where drought has diminished habitat.

I’m remembering a short decade ago when hunters used the Deer Lagoon wetland for their sport. The National Audubon Society had designated the area as an Important Bird Area after local residents, bird watchers and concerned citizens stepped forward and asked the county commissioners to stop the hunting. The commissioners agreed, and I believe the decision was a clear statement that providing a year-round refuge for birds and people was of higher importance than hunting waterfowl.

Where did the pelicans come from? Will they return? Will they begin breeding here? Two upcoming events will focus on these birds.

Dr. Dennis Paulson will attempt to answer these questions when he speaks at the Whidbey Audubon Society meeting on March 9 at the Unitarian Church, just north of Freeland. Check the Whidbey Audubon Society website for more details.

Also in March (tooting my own horn) the Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank will feature my watercolor paintings of seascapes and birds. One section of the exhibition will focus on the pelicans of Deer Lagoon.

As we anticipate and note the arrival of our amazing migrating birds we can be proud of our commitment to provide a welcoming habitat, such as the Deer Lagoon marshes.

Our bird migrants journey between Mexico and the United States and Canada, free of restrictions, visas or walls. And people throughout our country are enriched and blessed by their presence. We rejoice when a swallow pair sets up housekeeping in our birdhouse and a brilliant yellow warbler nests in our garden.

Our natural world is greatly enhanced by this diversity of species.

Craig Johnson photo — A female rufous hummingbird enjoys a bath, also in photographer Craig Johnson’s backyard.

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