On the afternoon of 25th, we had just refilled our newest hummingbird feeder when while cooking dinner a little whirr appeared at the window. He made several trips around the garden, alternately sipping sweetened sugar water at the feeders and nectar from the Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’ Like clockwork, for the past several years the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have arrived to our garden in April, while the quince is in bloom.
Hummingbird feeder recipe: To one cup warm water add 1/4 cup pure cane sugar (4 parts to1 part). Dissolve thoroughly. Please don’t put up feeders if you don’t have the time to change the water frequently, and even more frequently in warmer weather.
Over the past few days there has been a burst of Hummingbird sightings coming from around the state. Hang your feeders if you haven’t already done so and remember to change the sugar water often, every few days. Hummingbird feeders are a terrible idea if you are not willing to provide fresh water frequently. Hummingbirds get a fatal fungal infection on their tongue, called hummers candidiasis when folks don’t change the water, or when honey, or any sweetener other than pure white cane sugar is used. And never add red food coloring. The bird’s tongue becomes terribly swollen, they can’t retract it, and without medical attention will starve to death.
Japanese flowering quince ‘Toyo-nishiki.’
I love this newest feeder and purchased it with Charlotte in mind. It’s positioned at her eye level and suction cupped to the window she likes to stand at to look into the garden. The small feeder was modestly priced and bought at Smiths Hardware in Rockport.
Hummingbird feeders serve the purpose of providing sustenance especially during the time of year when there is a lull in blooms however, the very best gift you can give hummers is to provide their favorite plants, and there are many, including trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals.
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s diet is comprised of nectar and insects. In early spring there isn’t much to offer in the way of flowering sustenance or insects. Around the first of April, we take our feeders out of storage, give them a good wash with vinegar, soap, and water, fill with a sugar/water mixture, and hang them throughout the garden.
Sugar water recipe: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Never add red dye or replace the sugar with honey. Provide fresh sugar/water every 4 – 5 days. The water will need to be changed more frequently in hot humid weather. Discard water that has black mold and clean feeders throughly.
You can keep hummingbirds coming to your garden throughout the growing season by providing nectar-rich tubular-shaped flora in shades of primarily red, orange, and yellow (although I see them drinking nectar from a rainbow of hues), along with flowers comprised of small florets that attract small insects (the florets at the center of a zinnia plant, for example).
If I could only grow one plant to attract the Ruby-throats, it would be honeysuckle. Not the wonderfully fragrant, but highly invasive Japanese honeysuckle, but our beautiful native Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) that flowers in an array of warm-hued shades of Spanish orange (‘John Clayton’), deep ruby red (‘Major Wheeler’), and my very favorite, the two-toned orange and red ‘Dropmore Scarlet.’
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Dropmore Scarlet’
Trumpet Honeysuckle has myriad uses in the landscape. Cultivate to create vertical layers, in a small garden especially. Plant Lonicera sempervirens to cover an arbor, alongside a porch pillar or to weave through trelliage. Allow it to clamber over an eyesore or down an embankment. Plant at least one near the primary paths of the garden so that you can enjoy the hummingbirds that are drawn to the nectar-rich blossoms. We practically bump into our hummingbirds as they are making their daily rounds through the garden flora.
Did you know Ruby-throated Hummingbirds make a funny squeaky sound? I began to take notice of their presence in our garden, when at my office desk one afternoon in late summer, with windows open wide, I heard very faint, mouse-like squeaks. Glancing up from my work, fully expecting to see a mouse, and was instead delighted to discover a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird outside my office window, nectaring at the vines. Trumpet Honeysuckle not only provides nectar for the hummingbirds, it also offers shelter and succulent berries for a host of birds.
The following are several posts written over the years to help readers attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to their homes and gardens.
Harbingers of spring, flowering Quince, both the vivid ‘Texas Scarlet’ and less common Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ are wonderfully attractive to hummingbirds.
A question written awhile back from my friend Kate:
Where do you place the feeders? Are they okay out in the open and, if so, do the hummingbirds become too nervous to feed if they can be seen by birds of prey?
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer feeding at a station where they perch and observe the landscape, and then zoom in. Hang feeders on the lower limbs of trees and on shepherd’s hooks close to shrubs and above perennial wildflowers, about five to six feet off the ground. I haven’t read or heard too much about birds of prey in regard to hummingbirds; they move too fast, however, bluejays are said to attack nestlings. House cats and praying mantis pose a more serious threat to hummingbirds.
Eye-catching Red Riding Hood tulips, although not a good source of nectar, will attract by the sheer brilliance of their color, are a wonderful species tulip that reliably returns year after year, and multiplies. We plant Red Riding Hood tulips beneath the boughs of flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs, in hopes, that they too will lure the hummingbirds to our garden during their northward migration. And then, again with high hopes, that the hummingbirds will nest in our garden. For the past nine years, it has been our great good fortune to host throughout the nesting season female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and then later in the summer, their fledglings!
Mallows provide nectar in later summer and Red Riding Hood tulips attracts by their color. Both are perennial.
The later blooming annual vine, Cardinal Climber, provides nectar for southward migrating RT Hummingbirds.
A chance encounter with the brilliant emerald green feathered female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, drinking nectar from the Wild Sweet William growing in the sand at the base of the Welcome Good Harbor Beach sign.
She is drinking nectar from the wildflower Saponaria officinalis. The plant’s many common names include Soapwort, Bouncing-bet, and Wild Sweet William. The name Soapwort stems from its old fashioned use in soap making. The leaves contain saponin, which was used to make a mild liquid soap, gentle enough for washing fine textiles.
Saponaria blooms during the summertime. Although introduced from Eurasia, you can find this wildflower growing in every state of the continental US.
The hummingbird in the clip is a female. She lacks the brilliant red-feathered throat patch, or gorget, of the male. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are all around us, you just have to know what to plant to bring them to your garden. Mostly they eat tiny insects but if you plant their favorite nectar-providing plants, they will come!
Cape Ann provides welcome habitat for a menagerie of creatures beautiful, from the tiniest winged wonder to our region’s top predator, the Eastern Coyote. Last year I posted a Cape Ann Wildlife Year in Pictures 2016 and I hope you will find the wildlife stories of 2017 equally as beautiful. Click on the image to find the name of each species.
Winter: Only partially frozen ponds allowed for dabblers and divers such as Mallards, Mergansers, and Buffleheads to forage at the freshwater. Mr. Swan had his usual entourage of quwackers and daily heads to the other side of the pond to get away for his morning stretches. Sightings of Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors abounded. Although photographed in Newburyport, the owl photos are included, well, just because I like them. An Eastern Screech Owl (red-morph) was seen daily perched above a playground and Barred Owl sightings too were reported throughout the winter. Raptors live on Cape Ann all year round but are much easier to see in winter when the trees are bare of foliage.
The beautiful green eyes of the juvenile Double-crested Cormorants were seen wintering at both Niles Pond and Rockport Harbor. And during a warm February day on a snowless marsh a turkey bromance shindig commenced.
In early spring, a male and female American Wigeon arrived on the scene making local ponds their home for several weeks. In the right light the male’s electric green feathers at the top of his head shine brightly and both the male and female have baby blue bills.
Meadow and marsh, dune and treetop were graced with the heralding harbingers of spring with photos of a Red-winged Blackbird, a pair of Cedar Waxwings, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Kingbird, Tree Swallow, and Grackle included here.
The Great Swan Escape story made the news in Boston as Mr. Swan eluded captors for hours. He had re-injured his foot and someone took it upon themselves to call the animal rescuers, which would have surely meant death for our beloved 27-year old swan if he had been wrangled into captivity.
M is clearly for Migration through Massachusetts and the month-long arrivals and departures did not abate. Short-billed Dowitchers, winsome Willets, Yellow Legs, and Ruddy Turnstones are just some of the migrating shorebirds spied on Cape Ann beaches and marshes. The best news in May was the return of the Piping Plovers. Of the five or six that camped at Good Harbor Beach to investigate potential nesting sites, one pair bonded and built their nest mere yards from the nesting pair of last year. Could it be the same pair? The nesting Piping Plover story took up much of the spring and by early summer four little Piping Plover chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend. Hundreds of photos and hours of film footage are in the process of being organized with a children’s book and documentary in progress.
Piping Plover Courtship Dance
Piping Plover Nest
The survival of one Piping Plover chick was made possible by a wholesale community effort, with volunteers covering all hours of daylight, along with Mayor Sefatia and her team, Ken Whittaker from the conservation office, Chief McCarthy, and animal control officer Diane Corliss all lending a hand.
Sadly, several Northern Gannets came ashore to die on our Cape Ann beaches, struck by the same mysterious and deadly disease that is afflicting Northern Gannets in other regions. During the summer season they are typically at their North American breeding grounds, which are six well-established colonies, three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Newfoundland.
An orphaned swan was introduced to Niles Pond, much to the dismay of Mr. Swan. Eastern Point residents Skip and Lyn kept watch over the two while they reluctantly became acquainted.
By mid-July many of us were seeing Monarchs in much greater numbers than recent years. Nearly every region within the continental United States experienced a fantastic Painted Lady irruption and butterflies of every stripe and polka dot were seen flitting about our meadows, fields, and gardens.
The tadpoles and froglets of American Bullfrogs and Green Frogs made for good eating for several families of resident otters, who are making their homes in abandoned beaver lodges. Little Blue Herons too, find plentiful frogs at our local ponds.
In early August we see the Tree Swallows begin to mass for their return migration. They find an abundance of fruits and insects in the dunes, headlands, and beaches. The Cedar Waxwings and Ruddy Trunstones were back again observed foraging on their southward journey, along with myriad species of songbird, shorebird, diver, and dabbler.
Tree Swallows Massing
The Late Great Monarch migration continued into the fall as we were treated to a wonderfully warm autumn. Waves and waves of Monarchs came ashore and more butterflies arrived on the scene including new batches of Painted Ladies, Clouded Sulphurs and Common Buckeyes (nothing common about these beauties!).
A pair of Northern Pintails called Cape Ann ponds and coves home for nearly a month while we seem to be seeing more and more raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Juvenile herons of every species that breeds on Cape Ann lingered long into the fall—Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Herons, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Green Herons.
Just as Mr. Swan and the Young Swan appeared to be warming to each other, the Young Swan, who has yet to learn to fly, became trapped in the ice at Niles Pond. He was rescued by caretakers Lyn and Dan and is now spending the winter at a cozy sanctuary built by Lyn and friends.
Thank you to all our readers for your kind comments of appreciation throughout the year for the beautiful wild creatures with which we share this gorgeous peninsula called Cape Ann. If you’d like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up
With its expansive marshes and dunes, bodies of fresh clear water, saltwater coves and inlets, and geographic location within the Atlantic Flyway, 2017 has been a banner year for Cape Ann’s wild and wonderful creatures. I can’t wait to see what awaits in 2018!
Snowy Owl “Hedwig” January 2018 Backshore Gloucester
Please join me April 6th at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library where I will be giving my Pollinator Garden program and screening several short films. This event is free and open to the public. I am looking forward to presenting this program at our wonderful Sawyer Free and hope to see you there!!
Female Ruby-throated hummingbird and zinnia – ornithophily is the pollination of flowering plants by birds. They carry off the pollen on their heads and neck to the next flower they visit.
This newly eclosed Monarch is clinging to its chrysalis case. Within moments of emerging, the two-part Monarch proboscis must zip together to form a siphoning tube. If the two parts do not join, the butterfly will not be able to drink nectar. In this photo, you can see the proboscis is not yet fully zipped.
“Following the rhythm of the seasons, celebrated landscape designer Kim Smith presents a stunning slide show and lecture demonstrating how to create a welcoming haven for bees, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Native plants and examples of organic and architectural features will be discussed based on their value to particular vertebrates and invertebrates.”
Located in Essex, conveniently only a few scenic miles off Route 128, every Saturday from 10am to 2pm the farmstand at Apple Street Farm is open for business. Stopping for fabulous and fresh organically fed free-range eggs, heirloom veggies, fruits, and herbs has become a favorite Saturday morning ritual.
Frank McClelland is the owner of Apple Street Farm. Not only that, he is also the proprietor and chef of one of Boston’s most beloved and famous restaurants, L’Espalier. Apple Street Farm is the primary source of produce, poultry, pork and eggs for L’Espalier.
Each month throughout the summer and fall Apple Street Farm celebrates seasonal harvests with special dinners held on the farm’s spacious lawn. The five-course dinner is prepared by the L’Espalier chefs and includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and wine pairings. September 5th and 6th is the Fire Pit Fiesta and October 3rd and 4th is the Essex Harvest Feast. Call L’Espalier to make a reservation at 617-262-3023.
Pick You Own Flowers
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the Zinnia Patch
American Goldfinch Eating Cosmos Seeds-A Great Reason NOT to Deadhead!
Farm and poultry shares are available from June through September. For more information about Apple Street Farm’s CSA program, visit their website here.
* * *
Photographing the Nubian goats was a delight. The little ones are very playful and affectionate and, when first let out of their pen in the morning, are super rambunctious. Apple Street Farm’s manger Phoebe explains that Nubian goats are great milking goats and wiki informs that Nubians are known for the high butterfat content of their milk.
Apples for Breakfast
The Nubians climbed upon each other to reach the fruit and seeds.