By Bryan Stevens
A voiceover for a promotional trailer for an upcoming movie in the Jurassic Park franchise asks the question “Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” and answers it with the sentence “The first time you see them, it’s like a miracle!”
Obviously, dinosaurs aren’t walking the earth — except in this highly successful movie franchise — although experts maintain that dinosaurian descendants (birds) still roam the world.
Dinosaurs, of course, have impressed humans with immense size ever since their enormous fossils began to be uncovered. Hummingbirds also impress with size, or rather the lack of it. It’s that tiny size that has prompted people to describe them as “miracles” from the time the first European explorers sailed to the New World in the late 1400s. When Spanish explorers first encountered them, they had no equivalent birds in Europe to use as a reference. They referred to hummingbirds as “joyas voladoras,” or flying jewels.
So, how many remember their first sighting of a hummingbird? These tiny birds, still accurately and often described as flying gems, are worthy of the word “miracle” being used to define them. When we see the ruby-throated hummingbirds return to the region every spring, our belief in miracles is strengthened.
I still have readers sharing reports of their first hummingbird sightings this spring.
• Marty Huber and Jo Ann Detta in Abingdon, Virginia, sent me an email about their first spring hummingbird sighting.
They reported that they got their first look at a spring hummingbird on April 18 at 5:04 p.m. “We were excited and have been looking since the beginning of the month,” they wrote. “Last year we didn’t see our first until April 23.”
• Ed and Rebecca Feaster of Piney Flats, Tennessee, put out their feeders after reading one of my columns earlier in April.
“We are happy to report that we saw a little female ruby-throated hummer on the morning of April 20,” they wrote in their email. “We were thankful to offer her nectar as she seemed very, very hungry!”
The Feasters noted that they have been in the Tri-Cities area for three years.
They had previously lived more than 20 years in the Roanoke Valley. “Birders in that area said to look for the hummers to arrive when the azaleas bloom,” they wrote. “The same seems to hold true here as the ones around our home began to blossom just a couple days ago.”
• Jane Arnold, a resident of Bristol, Virginia, sent me an email about her first hummer sighting.
“Just wanted to let you know that my first hummer of the year arrived at 10:20 a.m. Saturday, April 21,” she wrote. “I was so excited to see him! I had taken my feeder out to hang (it was sitting on a table) and [the hummingbird] flew to it.”
• Don and Donna Morrell emailed me with their first hummingbird sighting of spring. “My wife Donna and I saw our first hummingbirds on April 22,” Don wrote.
The Morrell saw both a male and female hummingbird. “We are located behind South Holston Dam,” Don added. “We are glad our friends are back. Also on that same day we saw an eagle and white crane.”
Most likely the white crane was a great egret, which is also migrating through the region right now. Although often called cranes, egrets are part of the family of wading birds that includes herons. North America’s true cranes are the endangered whooping crane and the sandhill crane.
• Facebook friend Sherry Thacker reported a first sighting of a ruby-throated hummingbird on April 22.
“It came looking at the thistle seed feeder that is red,” she reported. “I had not put up the sugar water feeder, but I did today.”
Sherry reported seeing some beautiful hummingbirds last year.
Of course, we are in the midst of spring migration, which means hummingbirds are hardly the only new arrivals.
• Helen Whited in Abingdon, Virginia, has seen two very brightly-colored species of birds pass through her yard this spring. On April 17, her feeders were visited by male rose-breasted grosbeaks. “I am so excited to see my first grosbeaks,” she shared in an email that also contained a photo featuring two of the visiting grosbeaks. On April 21, Helen sent me another email with a photo of a male Baltimore oriole visiting a specially designed feeder made to hold orange slices to attract fruit-loving orioles. Grosbeaks and orioles are two migrant species of birds that deliver splashes of tropical color to the region each year.
Helen had prepared for the visit by the Baltimore oriole. In an email from last year, she had told me that her husband had promised her an oriole feeder for her birthday. I’m glad she’s been able to report success in bringing one of these bright orange and black birds to her yard.
• Anita Huffman of Rugby, Virginia, saw a male rose-breasted grosbeak on April 22. She reported her sighting on Bristol-Birds, a network for sharing postings about bird observations in the region.
• John Harty, a resident of Bristol, Tennessee, sought my help with identifying a new bird in his yard. Based on his description of the bird — the shape of a robin, reddish-brown coloration and a taste for suet cakes at John’s feeder — I suggested that his bird was probably a brown thrasher.
Brown thrashers returned to my home in late March and almost immediately sought out my suet feeders. Other recent arrivals have included several warblers — hooded, black-throated green and black-and-white — as well as tree swallows, which immediately got down to the business of selecting a nesting box. All of these birds nest in the gardens and woods around my home.
Some birds, however, announce their arrival not with bright colors but with beautiful songs. On April 23, I listened as a wood thrush sang its flute-like song from the edge of the woods just outside my bedroom window. The sweet song of this thrush is one of my favorite sounds of spring.
Every bird is a miracle, whether you’re seeing or hearing them for the first time or welcoming them back for another spring and summer season.
To get outdoors and look for some feathered miracles, consider attending an upcoming bird walk that will be conducted by myself and other members of the Elizabethton Bird Club. Meet other birders and naturalists at Sycamore Shoals Historic State Park for a morning of birding during the migratory season. The walk will begin at 8 a.m. from the parking lot at the Visitors Center. Bring binoculars to increase your viewing opportunities. The walk is free and open to all interested members of the public.
If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email email@example.com.