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The Art of Disappearing

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When I got to the Hummingbird Festival, I was given a packet of directions to the various functions (banquet, hummingbird garden breakfast, hummingbird banding demonstration). There was an address on each sheet, but I didn't see any other identification. 
On my last free morning in Sedona, I got up early to go to a hummingbird breakfast in a spectacular private garden. I had missed my garden date the day before; I was still working on my hummingbird talk. I wanted it to be the best it could be, and it came out well, but only because I gave it the days of work it needed to be good. 

I followed the directions on the sheet and headed out, watching amazed as hot air balloons began rising against the rocks. I was charmed by this until a more Sedona-wise friend kind of snorted and said something like, "Damn balloons, cluttering up the view." It had never occurred to me that hot air balloons might be anything other than magical. I laughed with delight at our differing perspectives. I suppose if you've seen enough of them, hot air balloons could be seen as clutter. Yeah, I get it.

It took me awhile to find the place, but when I did, this was the view from their yard:

Holy smokes. Imagine seeing that in every light and weather condition, every day!

I saw a sign in the street pointing toward the backyard that said, "Hummingbird Banding Demonstration." But there was not a soul stirring. Whoops. I'd followed the directions all right, but I'd come an hour and a half too early, to the wrong place! This wasn't a hummingbird garden breakfast. This was the 8:30 banding demo. At 7 AM.

Now what? 
Well, I didn't want to wake anyone up, but I'd come all this way and I had a notion there must be something pretty wonderful in that backyard.

 So I disappeared.

I put on my Cloak of Invisibility, turned on my sonar, tuned in, and melted into the background. 
Emboldened by the signage, I made my way silently into the backyard and took in the scene: a multitude of the heavenly host, buzzing around many sparkling clean large-capacity feeders.

I was looking right into the sun, though. To get any kind of shots, I'd have to have the sun at my back. I'd have to walk right across their backyard. And the back of the house was all window and patio. 
So I swung wide, out into the scrub, and moved quietly across the back of the property. Then I swung back toward the house and melded myself with a chain link fence and some shrubbery. 

And magic began to happen.

A pair of Gambel's quail stepped lightly across the path at my feet. 
Oh good morning, Handsome!

All the hummingbirds that had been wary of me at first completely ignored me. This immature Anna's hummingbird was intent on guarding his feeder.

His half-finished pink gorget was like a brooch at his throat.

When he turned his head the right way, I could catch a glimpse of the glittering cerise helmet he'd wear as an adult.

An immature black-chinned hummingbird was identifiable because it looked to me like a rubythroat, with a slightly longer, decurved bill. Both are genus Archilochus. 

An adorable rufous hummingbird flitted against red yucca flowers.
(Thanks Luisa dahlink!)

What a treat to see these birds at their ease! I don't like photographing hummingbirds at feeders; I like natural vegetation. I was in hog heaven here.

I watched a young rufous hummingbird feeding at crape myrtle. It made me miss my crape myrtle at home. It died in the Big Freeze two winters ago, but is putting up root shoots now!!! Squee!!

With enough light, even I can get a decent hummingbird photo. See how the wings are frozen? You can do that in the brilliant sunlight of early morning.

Suddenly I heard a door open, and a clatter. The homeowner came out to check and refill some feeders. Ack ack ack. Here I was in plain sight leaning against his back fence, still 40 minutes early to the event. How embarrassing! I melted away even more, hoping not to be discovered. Truthfully, I was thoroughly enjoying my solitude, my audience with fairies. 

Inwardly I was squirming, because the last thing I wanted to do was announce myself and scare the bejabbers out of this innocent man. So I stayed mute, and visualized myself as part of the vegetation. 

He looked right at me, squinting into the sun, looked to the side, checked a feeder, filled another, checked a trap, looked at me again. To my utter amazement, he looked right at me several times, but he never saw me.
Perhaps it was the sun's angle. Or perhaps I had truly succeeded in becoming invisible. 
All those years of wearing dung-colored clothing and trying to be unobtrusive had paid off!

He went back into the house, and I relaxed again. Soon the official event would start and I could just be part of the crowd. 
I settled back into my solitude.

But wait. Who's this?

Isn't that a Costa's hummingbird? I'd heard that one had shown up at one of the festival event sites. I wondered how many people would have given their eyeteeth to be standing where I was at this moment. I certainly would have!

Yes, that was a different little bird. That steep forehead, that strange half-circle around the eye, the compact dumpy shape. Had to be the Costa's. And here he was all tee'd up, just for me!

Look at your little V-shaped violet gorget!

Exit, Stage Left!

If you want to see what this bird will look like next year, by all means click this link. Warning: Real Hummingbird Photography by Alan Murphy Ahead. Swoon!! 

What an amazing morning I'd had. What a gift, to have gotten my days and addresses all backerds. It brought me to this oasis, to beautiful hummingbirds, sitting at their ease. 
And I had successfully disappeared. That was the best part of all. 


Been thoroughly enjoying seeing the outskirts of Sedona, the hummingbirds at work and rest, and reading your wonderful words. I now have very "itchy feet." So beautiful. The vortex experience was fascinating. I'm intrigued. Thank you for continuing this wonderful blog. Kim in PA

Posted by Anonymous August 23, 2015 at 5:40 AM

Wonderful stealth mode post.
No need for neon yellow there.

Definitely one of your best posts. I'm always amazed at how easy it is to "hide" in plain sight. And the birds and other wildlife quickly adapt to low key visitors. Thanks for finding that Costa's hummer and showing him to us.

Gorgeous photos and hilarious commentary. Thank you for sharing this story and photos. I'm reading on my morning commute to work by bus, and this just made my morning!

I struggle with this post. One of the things fellow birders always try to impress upon each other is to respect people's property, respect their privacy. Somehow, sneaking around like this onto someone's property, without permission, before they are even awake .... it feels wrong to me. We try so hard to encourage people to share their bird sightings, and then encourage birders to behave well in order to not upset the folks who shared that bird X is at their feeder. So how does entering someone's yard without their approval fit in with this? Ack! I love reading Julie's work and love her rehab, but ... but ... ack! How to feel good about this? I guess I just have to not, and act how I would act. Which would mean I wouldn't have seen these birds, but I wouldn't have had to worry about being caught, either.

Posted by Anonymous August 25, 2015 at 1:38 PM

Hello, Anonymous. First, there's absolutely no requirement that everyone who reads my blog feel good about everything they read here. Quite the contrary. Everyone's free to judge me, what I do, what I say, what I believe, and that's part and parcel of putting out a product, free, for public consumption. It goes with the territory.

Maybe a little background is in order. The homeowners are part of the festival committee; they opened their beautiful property to festival participants for the duration of the event. I'd been working with the wife of the man who didn't see me since I'd arrived in Sedona. And within an hour of my silent and unannounced arrival in her backyard, cars started lining the street, and people poured in to see the hummingbird banding demonstration. What I was trying to do was watch the birds without waking anyone up or disturbing anyone (or the birds). I had only two hours to play with, then I had to race back to give my talk. I didn't want to bang on the door of a quiet house at 6:45 in the morning, but I also thought it would be OK if I looked at the birds in their yard and took some photos. I think that's a reasonable assumption, don't you? That same morning, when I gave my keynote address to a large group of festival participants and organizers (including the wife of the man who'd not noticed me in their backyard), I referenced what had happened a few hours earlier, and she about split herself laughing. Had to cover her mouth so as not to LOL. So "being caught" and run out of town on a rail or thrown in the hoosegow wasn't exactly what was in store for me, as a known quantity and festival keynote speaker, should I have been discovered as I stood in the corner of their backyard before everyone else arrived. Hope that helps with your concerns.

That might have all been good info to have had in the original post. ;) And I comment as Anon because somehow my google sign in is broken and ugh, who wants to spend time on fixing that while one could be birding?!

Posted by Anonymous August 26, 2015 at 11:11 AM
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