Monday, October 7, 2013

A "ramble"about departing hummingbirds in Oakland County Michigan

Yes, I know I have been absent from my blog for awhile! I have also been absent from the Michigan Birder's listserv. Other things in life demand attention, and while my wife Judy and I have been out and about birding, and have hundreds of pics to process and stories to tell, time and energy are more finite than intentions and desires. Indeed, I have SO much to say!

I copy here a note I sent tonight in response to one of my birding "heroes" Allen Chartier. On the listserv, Allen asked his annual fall question about reporting the last date of sighting a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in our area. I always love to report to Allen my first and last hummer sightings every year because he always thanks me and I know my data are being used! I have never had either the first or last sightings, but I know he really appreciates the county data! Obviously I gave him more than the desired response tonight , but Allen and the Michigan Birders listserv will understand for I am prone to ramble. I found my exercise tonight very rewarding. It was one of the first times I actually played with my eBird data rather than just entering it! WOW! What a powerful tool! I hope you like.

Begin copy:

Allen –

I saw my last hummer (aka “Kid Hummer”,  i.e., (s)he rocked!) on 9/25/2013.

This is all you needed from me. But, I just wanted to tell a story tonight, so I continue…

I still have feeders up and hope for something special as always. Gotta keep your “line in the water” to catch a fish … or a bird!!! Someday I want THE last county record, or even better, a new hummer for my life list!

It really did seem to me to be a very slow year for hummers. I remember seeing on the Michigan birders listserv that others had thought the same thing this summer. Where are the hummers? So that gives me license to explore my mind and ramble a bit (as if I needed it …)

Maybe I was too expectant. Like, I DO have out a feeder (actually this year I added another and that increased my expectancy …). I clean the feeders regularly. Hey, if I clean it, they will come! So where were they? Do they like my neighbors better than me? Must be something I was doing wrong? Worry, worry! Fret, fret! But keep on cleaning and hoping …   Gotta keep my “line in the water”. OK, I really do not take it personally, but this IS a ramble …

So tonight I entered my most recent month of data into eBird. Yes, I am always behind. I record daily in my journal, but there are so many things to do before entering eBird data. But I really wanted to answer my personal question of whether this really was a slow year at my place for hummers. So having done that, I now can go into eBird and ask questions based on my data. I still need to enter data for 2012, but I was great about data entry in 2011, so offer comparisons for that year to 2013.

I chose to look at the number of days per month in which I saw a hummer to see if they were really missing this year. Actually I had to do a small bit of mental manipulation since sometimes I record more than once/day, and I filled in from my journal for a couple of months where I have not yet recorded my data in eBird, but it was not too hard. Here are results from my deck.

Month vs.           numbers of days with at least one sighting

April                       0
May                       7
June                      15
July                        5
August                  26
Sept                       19

First sightings:  May 10 male; May 26 female
Last sighting: Sept 25

Month vs.           numbers of days with at least one sighting

April                       2
May                       11
June                      8
July                        7
Aug                        22
September         13

First sightings: April 27 male
Last sighting Sept 15

So what did I learn? At least for MY yard, they came about a week and a half earlier in 2011 and left about a week and a half earlier. Now it would be interesting to check the weather patterns and many other factors for these years…  If I add May and June together for both years, I get 22 days (2013) vs. 19 days (2011). July is a very slow month (5 vs. 7) in both years! I suspect that is when folks on the listserv missed their presence. I sure did. Probably they were busy doing the nesting thing. Then I saw a bunch of hungry hummers – mostly kids – in August and September in both years. Gotta bulk up! (I will never comprehend how such a dinky bird beating its wings too fast to even to be able to see it  - or barely even photograph it at less than super high speed - can migrate so many miles!!!)

Even without a massive sample, I judge the data from both years to be much the same! Interesting! I took my best pics in 2011 and thought it was the best year ever! It is just what we remember or imagine …

I really DID feel 2013 was a “bad year” for hummers. Too expectant? But the numbers now tell me it was about average. I guess I just never noticed patterns before! Fascinating! They are probably starving when they arrive and love my feeders. After a while, they locate local food sources (bugs?) to fill their hunger and then go off to do hummer things. Then later the kids certainly need energy for the migration.

A really cool thing is that these numbers are from my OWN data! Data speaks louder than preconceptions! If you really want to know something, you need good data! That is what the scientific approach is all about – even on a personal level!

This is why we should all enter our data  into eBird! It became personal for me to answer my own question tonight, but just imagine hundreds or thousands of reports from the same geographical area! Just imagine this being done on a global scale! So cool!!!

Gotta really think about what our local birding champion and my hero Allen Chartier does for us in southeast Michigan!!! Sometimes I tend to take it for granted. Just imagine what we would be missing without his reports! And, all his reports are upwardly compiled for a global picture of hummingbirds! That is how birders really put together a comprehensive picture! WOW!

And, gotta thank Cornell University and eBird staff for such a great tool for the rest of us! I use it for my “life list”, but really take much pride in knowing that I am contributing to a much larger cause! (Now I just gotta get the rest of my data entered …)

I record all sightings of hummers in my journal. This includes how many sightings I have during my recording time of visits to the feeders. I use tic marks to record multiple visits. I only report to eBird the highest number of identifiable birds I saw during the period. So if I saw multiple visits by an immature hummer (or many different individuals?!) during the hour or so when I was watching, I record one bird! In August, I often recorded maybe 8-10 visits during my observation time! Very busy bird(s)! I still recorded one bird on eBird! If I knew they were different birds, I would count them differently, but all kids look alike to me.

So, how would I relay the multiple visits to the community? Or should I record each one as unique?

It was a long story – I gave Allen what he needed on the first line – but just had to tell a story (“ramble”). I feel more satisfied and hope others enjoyed. Bottom line, it was an average year here for hummers.

---  “Dr. Bob” Setzer”.

Teach a man to fish, and without a boat, he might grab binoculars and a camera and become a birder who can “fish” everywhere …