Calliope hummingbird. Photo courtesy Audubon Society

Walkin' the talk

North America's smallest bird is packing its bags and heading back into the Cascade Mountains soon, but it won't be finding the amenities on the brochure for this spring fling.

The calliope hummingbird will embark from Mexico for a mild Oregon spring four or six weeks early, and Ashland birder Harry Fuller is worried that the mountain manzanita bushes already in full bloom are foreboding a dark tale for these hummingbirds.

"We've basically had no winter, and he doesn't know what's happened to the climate here," says Fuller, president of the Ashland-based Klamath Bird Observatory. "The manzanita will be done (blooming) by the time he gets here. Unless he has a replacement plant, I don't know what he's going to do.

"It'll be fascinating this spring to watch the migrants come back and where they go," Fuller says.

These truly are exciting times for all levels of birders as the spring migrants start returning to the Rogue Valley and the encircling mountains, where they will find their normal haunts very abnormal this year.

Local birders who don't know what to look for or where can take part in a spring primer from Fuller next week that is part of KBO's new and already popular Talk and Walk workshop series.

The series, which began in January, consists of a 90-minute talk on the subject at hand on the first Wednesday of the month at KBO's Ashland headquarters, then a Saturday walk to see the subjects of the talk in action.

The "talk" generally includes a PowerPoint presentation with photographs of the birds in question, and discussions include the types of habitat they frequent, as well as a few go-to locations where these particular birds can be seen.

"It's so they know more about the birds than just their name," says Fuller, a regular lecturer, book author and field-trip leader from Ashland.

The series is a brainchild of Shannon Rio, a KBO board member looking for a new way to connect the nonprofit organization and the local community.

The inaugural workshop focused on hawks, followed by a February talk by Fuller and field trip focused on great gray owls — a topic that drew so much interest among those paying $25 to attend that KBO ended up doing two that month, Rio says.

March followed with workshops on hawks and ducks, making way for Fuller to return next week to talk about spring migrants. They are all fashioned as informational outreach to the natural community and help introduce KBO to groups of people who may not realize the name says Klamath but the address says Ashland.

"We're talking about community building," Rio says. "We want people to find out what KBO is all about."

As for the rare winter, the resident birds have already found out what it's about.

Juncos and scrub jays have been keenly aware that the dearth of mountain snow has accelerated the early budding and flowering of trees, and many answered nature's bell by nesting early this year.

Already back are many of the larger signature seasonal birds of the Rogue Valley, particularly ospreys and turkey vultures, as well as an early nesting season for great blue herons at rookeries along the Rogue River and elsewhere.

"I've been seeing crows carrying sticks for nests, and I know that's early," Fuller says.

Even the cantankerous western king birds are making themselves known.

"They aren't afraid of anything," Fuller says. "They make no attempt to hide. They attack anybody they don't like, from a crow to a turkey vulture."

But Fuller fears for the calliopes.

At just 3.25 inches long and weighing one-tenth of an ounce, you could mail 10 with a first-class stamp if you could get them in an envelope. After wintering in southern Mexico and Central American highlands, they are heading north to breed in these higher-elevation lands normally cloaked with snow.

They're due to hit the region's mountains in a few weeks, but the manzanitas are blooming without them.

These hummingbirds will either have to head to higher elevations to find manzanita blooms or switch to another food source such as late-blooming dogwoods or mountain mahogany.

Regardless, the hummingbird and the rest of the spring migrants will have to find a way to adapt to this year's very early spring.

"Not everything is as flexible as a cockroach," Fuller says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.


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