Tag Archive | Mount Vernon Washington

Hummingbirds!

May 19, 2020

If You Fill It, They Will Come

hummingbird 2011 003

Anna’s Hummingbird is a year round resident of Western Washington. The author took this photo in her backyard in 2011.

As one drives through the suburbs this time of year, it is hard to not notice the red topped and bottomed glass or plastic bottles hanging from eaves and hooks.

With apologies to the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’ those of us who hang these bottles know, “If you fill it, they will come.”

Beginning in the middle of March, one sure sign that spring is here is the arrival of hummingbirds.

These tiny birds – the smallest of any bird species – are born entertainers. When they find a food source they will defend it with vigor, putting on a show of swoops and dives, as they zoom to and from the feeder. If one sits quietly nearby, the birds may hover and look at you, or will be observed pausing mid-air before flying off in a burst of speed.

They are truly amazing creatures. There are 338 known species, the majority of which are found in South America. In fact there are as many as 140 different species which co-exist with each other in the Andes range. It is likely the species originated on that continent and have spread from there to North America.

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Calliope Hummingbird photo from the internet

black chinned hummer

Black Chinned Hummingbird photo from the internet

Only a few hummingbird types are usually found in Washington State: Anna’s, Rufous, Black-Chinned, and Calliope. A couple other species have been spotted, but their visits are considered accidental.

There are a number of things which make the birds unique.  One is the enlarged brain region responsible for vision. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The enlargement of this region responsible for visual processing indicates an enhanced ability for perception and processing of fast-moving visual stimuli which hummingbirds encounter during rapid forward flight, insect foraging, competitive interactions, and high-speed courtship.”

Additionally, hummingbirds have developed in such a way that they can adapt – in flight – to environmental factors such as wind. Wikipedia continues:

“While hovering, the visual system of a hummingbird is able to separate apparent motion caused by the movement of the hummingbird itself from motions caused by external sources, such as an approaching predator. In natural settings full of highly complex background motion, hummingbirds are able to precisely hover in place by rapid coordination of vision with body position.”

The article does go way down into the weeds with technical terms and scientific explanation; worth the longer read to learn more about these tiny acrobats. One of the most interesting aspects of hummingbirds, I think, is their ability to slow their metabolism enough to go into a state of hibernation.

“The metabolism of hummingbirds can slow at night or at any time when food is not readily available: the birds enter a hibernatory, deep-sleep state (known as torpor) to prevent energy reserves from falling to a critical level. During nighttime torpor, body temperature falls from 40 to 18 °C, with heart and breathing rates both slowed dramatically (heart rate to roughly 50 to 180 beats per minute from its daytime rate of higher than 1000).

During torpor, to prevent dehydration, the GFR ceases, preserving needed compounds such as glucose, water, and nutrients. Further, body mass declines throughout nocturnal torpor at a rate of 0.04 g per hour, amounting to about 10% of weight loss each night. The circulating hormone, corticosterone, is one signal that arouses a hummingbird from torpor.

Use and duration of torpor vary among hummingbird species and are affected by whether a dominant bird defends territory, with nonterritorial subordinate birds having longer periods of torpor.”

Just outside my window there are at least four or five of my favorite birds providing me with inspiration.  Occasionally one will zip past my open window, a barely recognizable streak. On beyond – in the tree next to our house I watch as they perch at the top of slender branches. The Anna’s hummingbirds are also known for their vocal chirps, some of which sound like the warning beep of a smoke detector whose battery has worn out.

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Anna’s hummingbird at our feeder in winter

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Our cat Purr watching the show from inside the warm house

I first started feeding them in the 1980’s, putting up the feeders in early spring and retiring them in late August. For years I had understood the birds to be seasonal visitors. Then – some ten years ago – I noticed they were still outside my window in the fall. So I kept refilling their food source. And the birds stayed all winter.

In my reading I learned that only the Anna’s variety will remain year round in the mostly temperate climate of Western Washington.

When we moved to Mount Vernon two years ago, of course I put out the feeder in hopes of attracting a few birds. It worked. This year – without the need to be in Yakima half the time – I upped the stakes. For Mother’s Day my son gave me two additional feeders of a design which I had recently purchased and found it encouraged more birds to participate. With three active feeders, I am now cooking nectar about once a day!

I do believe we have three of the four species here: Anna’s, Rufous, and Black-Chinned. It’s possible the other is here also, but further observation is required.

Occasionally I will have a hummingbird hover just outside the window of my second story office. This occurred once last week and its message was clear: our feeder is empty. When I arrived downstairs and checked, the bird was correct. It was time to carry out my part of the bargain… fill it and they will stay.

I shot this video clip last night. Walked out on our front step and this bird flew right at me, intent on warning me off! The video is a little choppy because it was within inches of my face, coming at me with its beak… the sound you hear is it ‘popping’ it’s tail feathers to make that clicking noise. 

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hummingbird_species

https://www.beautyofbirds.com/hummingbirdswashingtonstate.html

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

A Visual Feast each April

April 9, 2019

This annual event has come to define Mount Vernon and the surrounding area. Begun in April 1984, the Skagit Valley Tulip festival cemented Mount Vernon and the surrounding area’s identity as the tulip capital of the nation.

1984 Tulip Festival poster

The first tulip bulbs were brought to the Skagit Valley from Holland in 1906 by Mary Brown Stewart. Soon she had a mail-order bulb business, selling them to garden clubs in New England.  Her son, Sam, joined the operation 20 years later which coincided with a ban by the Federal government on bulbs imported from Holland.

This event triggered many of the bulb growers to send family members to the United States to establish farms. Through trial, error, and success, the bulb growers discovered that the Skagit Valley was a prime bulb growing region, eclipsing Bellingham and Lynden, Washington, where colder winters were not ideal for the plants.

In the late 1940’s, the embargo was lifted and, once again, the Skagit Valley bulb growers were impacted with many of the smaller farmers forced out of business.

Relative late comers William and Helen Roozen, Dutch immigrants, purchased the Washington Bulb Company in 1955.

The Infallible Wikipedia gives a short summation:

“In 1946, William Roozen arrived to the United States, leaving behind a successful bulb-growing business spanning six generations in Holland. After working on several different farms, Roozen started his own in Skagit County in 1950, and in 1955 purchased the Washington Bulb Company, making him the leader among the four flower-growing families in the area, and the Washington Bulb Company the leading grower of tulip, daffodil, and iris bulbs in North America. The farm operates a public display garden and gift shop called Roozengaarde, which, alongside the DeGoede family’s Tulip Town, is a major attraction during the Tulip Festival.

Local tulip growers showcased their bulbs through display gardens for decades prior to the formation of an official festival. The Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce established the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival as a 3-day event in 1984 to add festivities during the bloom month. The event has since grown to a month-long event and coincides with street fairs, art shows and sporting events.”

31114207_10211536746427457_5992052137578725376_o.jpgNow in its 36th year, the Tulip Festival, has become one of the most popular events in the state. Weekends in April produce traffic jams in Mount Vernon which rival a bad morning commute in Seattle. The festival organizers estimate that nearly a million people will trek to see the tulips during April. A look at their website, tulipfestival.org, provides a list of hundreds of events throughout Skagit County, helpful ‘bloom’ maps, and lists of where to eat and stay.

The Hubby and I visited the tulip festival offices a couple days ago (I was researching for this article) and the steady stream of people coming in to obtain information was amazing. We were talking with one of the volunteers – a friend we know through a different organization – and he said that there are times when the crowds spill out on the sidewalk.

We left after purchasing three prints of previous years Tulip Festival posters and then headed out on what has become one of the things the Hubby and I ‘do’ together which is drive around the valley.

It was, once again, another magical day. We found a flock of well over a thousand snow geese (they will be gone by mid-May) in a field on Fir Island and were treated to an aerial display which took my breath away. From there we drove up a hill to the west of the flower fields and could see the ribbons of red, yellow, purple, and white cut across the expansive landscape.

We visited a daffodil field which, two weeks ago, had been a cheery harbinger of spring but now the flowers were mostly faded. From there we ventured to ground zero, noting that although there were crowds, they were not yet of the epic proportion expected the next two weekends. The red and yellow tulips were approaching full bloom but the purple, white, pink, and variegated ones were still a week or two away.

Selfie in tulips 2018

The author with tulips in 2018

Daffodil Barb 2019

The author, at the same field, but now daffodils, 2019

Last year we, having just moved in, didn’t visit Roozengaarde or the other large player, Tulip Town. But this year we plan to be ‘tourists’ for a day and visit one or both to get the entire Skagit experience. But not on a weekend. We’re not THAT crazy.

 

For those who want to come see the tulip fields in bloom, visit the official tulip festival website:

https://tulipfestival.org/

For more information on Washington Bulb company and the Roozen family:

https://www.tulips.com/

A Seattle Times article:

https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/events/skagit-valley-tulip-festival-is-starting-to-show-its-flower-power/

And the Infallible Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skagit_Valley_Tulip_Festival

 

 

 

Mass Ascension…

… Mount Vernon Style

January 15, 2019

Although this particular population group is less than 1 percent of the species, the spectacle they create each winter in the Skagit Valley is breathtaking.

snow geese mass ascension

The geese depart in mass ascension, wings flapping and outstretched.

The Snow Goose, scientific name Anser caerulescens, is a bird which breeds in the Arctic during summer but migrates south each winter. In the state of Washington flocks of the birds can be found in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties as well as on the Oregon border in Clark County.

I went scrambling to find out more information about the Snow Goose after witnessing them last week near Mount Vernon. First the facts about the birds from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The snow goose has two color plumage morphs, white (snow) or gray/blue (blue), thus the common description as ‘snows’ and ‘blues’. White-morph birds are white except for black wing tips, but blue-morph geese have bluish-grey plumage replacing the white except on the head, neck and tail tip. The immature blue phase is drab or slate-gray with little to no white on the head, neck, or belly. Both snow and blue phases have rose-red feet and legs, and pink bills with black tomia (‘cutting edges’), giving them a black ‘grin patch’. The colors are not as bright on the feet, legs, and bill of immature birds. The head can be stained rusty-brown from minerals in the soil where they feed. They are very vocal and can often be heard from more than a mile away.”

The Infallible Wikipedia also informed me that there are approximately 5 MILLION birds of breeding age which migrate from the Arctic to some 15 distinct areas of the United States each winter.

In the Skagit Valley, according to the Audubon Society, there are upwards of 55,000 snow geese which spend the winter (Mid-October to early May)  feeding on the decaying plants and roots left in the fertile fields. Additionally, approximately 8,000 Trumpeter and 2,000 Tundra Swans are also found near Mount Vernon.

The hubby and I ventured out last Thursday to see if we could find one of the flocks of the snow geese. In less than 10 miles from our home, we encountered a large group gathered just west of I-5 near to Conway. First, a word of caution, DO NOT under any circumstance stop along the Interstate to view the birds, as tempting as it may be. We were along a secondary road but saw a Washington State Patrolman stop to give a freeway bird gawker a bit of friendly advice.

We parked our car but even before we opened one of the doors we heard them: squawking and honking in their unique language. The noise overwhelms and defines the experience.  I had no idea how mesmerizing it would be to watch the birds. From a distance, the geese seemed stationary. As we observed from up close, however, the flock seemed to be marching north, as they pecked at bits of leftover plant materials in the fallow ground. Then, as if by command, they turned and marched south, the strong wind ruffling their feathers and making it difficult to walk.

When, a short distance to the west, a train rumbled by and it’s loud horn sounded, the collective was disturbed and suddenly hundreds of birds fluttered into the air, ascending in a group and spiraling up and off to the west. It was, my hubby claimed as he compared it to the famous Albuquerque Balloon Festival, “Mass Ascension, Mount Vernon style.” The first group was followed by another which was followed by third and yet a fourth after that. Soon, only a small portion of the birds remained. And still we watched.

“Look, over there,” my hubby said some ten minutes later and pointed to the southwest.

Sure enough a dark blotch in the sky grew bigger and then we could make out hundreds of individuals all headed our way. Their arrival was quieter than their departure. Each bird, as it landed among the others, seemed like a graceful ballerina, wings spread to form an umbrella on either side, feet and legs outstretched, as each animal floated to earth.

return of the geese

Like airborne ballerinas they stretch their wings wide to land.

The geese descended in flocks numbering in the hundreds. Wave after wave of the snow geese landed among the group already on the ground with each bird somehow finding a bare plot which they could occupy only to resume their marching up and down the fields.

It was with great reluctance that we departed that afternoon. But the experience only whetted my appetite for more. I have my sights set on next visiting the main area where the Tundra and Trumpeter swans gather at a spot called DeBay Slough just to the northeast of Mount Vernon. After that it may be in search of Eagles whose presence is felt among the geese as the former cull the flocks of the sick and weak. Up the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) at Rockport is the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, open on weekends for people to learn and to view.

After the Snow Goose encounter I came away with one very clear thought. I now live in a magical place. From the tulip fields in the spring, to the ever changing and interesting Skagit River, to the thousands of birds in the winter, there is no shortage of things to see and do here in Mount Vernon.

I was unable to get my own video’s uploaded but found this one on the internet and, as far as I can tell, this is the same spot where we watched the birds last Thursday.

A bunch of links for those who want to visit and see the birds:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_goose

http://www.mountvernonchamber.com/visitor-news/bird-watchers-paradise-peak-season-right-now-for-eagles-snow-geese-swans-in-mount-vernon/

https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/skagit/

http://www.seattleaudubon.org/Birdweb/bird/tundra_swan?tab=3

http://skagiteagle.org/viewing-sites/