Some beauty to offset a distressing week

This past week in the USA has been rather distressing as far as health and politics are concerned. The COVID epidemic is wreaking havoc and then humans wrought havoc during a procedure intended to be part of a peaceful transition of governmental power. So we can all use a bit of distraction to remind us there is also still beauty in the world and I’ll end my last trio of posts with one more view of hummingbirds – this time featuring the one species that visits my home every year, the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

Fortunately, my yard now has several types of plants that offer the hummers natural nectars to complement their primarily insectivorous diet.

The rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) flowers are a popular feeding site.

They are also fond of the blue-black sage (Salvia guaranitica). My original plants were a gift from birding friend, Gail; now they are growing in four areas of the yard. Sometimes a hummer doesn’t want to hover but uses a nearby prop to offer some less strenuous feeding. And then the bird can close its eyes to thoroughly enjoy the sweet sap.

Hot lips sage shrubs (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips‘), which I got at a garden center, have proved to be popular feeding sites. This is quite a hardy plant.

The hummers also like going to the lantanas (Lantana) and the yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), which kindly came to my yard on its own.

 

Another popular plant is the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).  Many recommend against planting this bloomer because it can be invasive. However, some garden centers have developed varieties that scarcely seed and that must be what I luckily got as it has never appeared anywhere else in the yard in more than a decade.

It also attracts butterflies, bees, syrphid flies and hummingbird moths, so I’m quite happy with my butterfly bush.

The ruby-throats also do like their nectar, however. After visiting various flowers, they often take a seat near or on the nectar feeder so they can sip at their leisure.

 

They will also do their best to keep other hummers away from the nectar feeder — even when I have as many as three or four feeders available.

They keep an eye out for intruders.

When a rival appears, it can lead to confrontations. Mostly these involve aggressive displays and chasing one another; only very rarely have I seen them actually physically engage.

This past summer, a few laid-back moments occurred when they tolerated one another.

It’s not only the males who are aggressive; female hummers can also be quite protective of feeding grounds. This past year, it seemed that I had mostly males visiting. While a female hummer can have one or two red spots under her chin, usually that is the beginning of a young male developing his ruby-throat.

It can be fun to watch as more spots appear with passing days.

 

Eventually, the males get their fully developed gorget, which can be quite stunning.

The red hue is very dependent on how the light hits their feathers. In some cases, the red feathers almost look black.

  

The hummers take care to groom their feathers.

They take advantage of the rain to have a shower.

There are times when they look a bit scruffy, however. That is when they molt. This process of replacing old feathers with new ones usually takes place on their wintering grounds. This past summer, the hummers seemed to have lingered longer than usual and began molting before their trips further south.

White feathers appear more and more as molting proceeds. And feathers come loose before falling away.

They can look a bit scruffy during this time.

Eventually, they get back to their pretty selves. It always stays fun to watch them flying — at least for me. That is when you can see their tiny feet better.

And you get an idea of how rapidly their small wings move as they hover and soar.

They can beat their wings up to 70 times per second!

It doesn’t seem to me that I’ll ever tire of watching these tiny fliers; they always are entertaining. I hope seeing some photos of them in action have provided you with a brief respite from the worries of the world, too.

It’s a bird! No, it’s not! It’s an insect??!!

Clearwing moth first photo©Maria de BruynSeveral years ago, as I was beginning to photograph wildlife more seriously, I became quite excited at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Buzzing around some profusely blooming flowers was what I thought might be the smallest hummingbird I had ever seen. I was not used to taking shots of something that was in almost constant motion, but I persisted until I got photos that made it at least a little recognizable. I lost the original photo when both my computer and my back-up hard drive crashed at almost the same time, but I “rescued” one of those first photos from a Word document.

Hummingbird clearwing moth brown IMG_2701 M de Bruyn resizedI soon learned that what I had seen was actually an insect – a hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) to be precise. This is likely one of the first insects that I ever got enthusiastic about.

I have seen a second, similar, species called the snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), seen below.

 

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_8436dddd nr MdBSnowberry Clearwing moth IMG_8492

So, how do you tell the species apart? The snowberry clearwing has a dark band running from its eye down its throat and thorax and its legs are black, while the hummingbird clearwing lacks the thick dark band and has yellowish or paler legs.

snowberry and hummingbird clearwing moths IMG_7461©Maria de BruynresSome people identify these moths as bumblebee mimics, which also makes sense since they are similar in size to bumblebees. Here you see a hummingbird clearwing moth next to a silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus, one of the smaller butterflies).

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_8252dnr MdBAnd here you see a snowberry clearwing next to a large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). The adult moths are about 1.25-2 inches (3.18-5 cm) long.

Large milkweed bug and snowberry clearwing moth IMG_6290©Maria de Bruynres

The clearwings have an upper body color that ranges from tan to green. They are quite “furry” and have cute little tufts at their posteriors. Underneath they are pale, whitish or yellowish.

Hummingbird clearwing moth brown IMG_1822 MdBHummingbird clearwing moth green IMG_2200 MdB

Both species have dark abdomens. The juvenile moths have dark wings but scales fall away as they mature leaving clear, transparent, panels in their wings. They would make good subjects for a stained glass artist!

Hummingbird clearwing moth IMG_0027 MdB

Like butterflies, these moths have a long proboscis (tongue) that they can curl up when resting or during flight. The adult moths sip nectar from a variety of plants including Japanese honeysuckle, beebalm, red clover, lilacs, phlox and thistles. In my yard, they are especially fond of the butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii), which I just discovered can be an invasive plant (so I have to keep them trimmed and make sure to lop off the dried flowers before seeds spread).

Hummingbird clearwing moth IMG_9982 MdBHummingbird clearwing moth green IMG_1955 MdB

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_4435©Maria de Bruyn resTheir caterpillars are called hornworms as they have a horn at the rear; I have not seen one yet but they must be around somewhere. They pupate in leaf litter and on the ground; since I leave the fallen leaves around, I’ve been providing them with a childhood and adolescent home! And that’s good as I really look forward now to welcoming them to my yard each year!