22-31 July 2004
Installment #232---Visitor #

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

In 2004, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations are scheduled for Aug-Sep in North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia & Kentucky/Tennessee.
Next up: Land Between The Lakes on 6-8 August
(Click on the logo at left for details.)
If your group would like to host Hummingbird Mornings anywhere in the U.S. or Canada in 2004 or later, contact
Bill Hilton Jr.


Although we don't much like to leave Hilton Pond Center for extended periods mid-July through Labor Day--our prime time for hummingbird banding in the Carolina Piedmont--there are sometimes good reasons to travel. Such was the case this week, when we were in Boulder, Colorado for the 8th annual conference of The GLOBE Program (logo at right). GLOBE, an international initiative that involves students, teachers, and other interested adults in scientific collection of data about atmosphere, climate, soils, hydrology, land cover, and phenological events, has been around since 1994 and adopted Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project as its first animal behavior protocol in 2002. Through GLOBE, Operation RubyThroat recruits participants in all ten North and Central American countries where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds breed or overwinter, thus empowering students and adults to collect and report data that may help science understand better the daily lives of ruby-throats. The GLOBE conference in Colorado was attended by delegations from around the world--including countries and continents that never play host to hummers. It was our pleasure to introduce these international GLOBE collaborators to the joys of watching hummingbirds--a bird family that occurs only in the Western Hemisphere.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

One day during our week of indoor meetings and presentations, two bus loads of GLOBE practitioners took off for thousand-acre Cal-Wood, a non-profit nature center atop the front range of the Rocky Mountains that tower over Boulder. There we practiced several GLOBE protocols and gathered on the porch of Cal-Wood's dining hall (below) to talk about what we had learned--and to admire the views from our 7,800' elevation. As a little bonus, the Cal-Wood caretaker maintains two sugar water feeders on the front porch of his log cabin and attracts scores of hummingbirds. Imagine the pleasure experienced by folks from far-away lands such as Thailand, Great Britain, India, Germany, and Egypt when they peered through our spotting scope and saw their very first hummingbirds. To their delight, as many as a dozen tiny nectar-eaters were hovering, dining, and chasing each other around the feeders. The most plentiful hummers were Broad-taileds (whose males have red gorgets like the ruby-throat) and Black-chinneds (the ruby-throat's western counterpart). There were even a few male or juvenile female Rufous Hummingbirds buzzing about.

While in Colorado, we experienced some joy ourselves when we walked Cal-Wood's Rocky Mountain trails for a look at local plants and wildlife. Although we didn't get any hummingbird photos, we thought we'd share some snapshots we took at Cal-Wood and on the plains below. We might have taken more photos, save for the arrival of a magnificent mountain electrical storm that brought wind, rain, and a hair-raising display of horizontal lightning.

When hummingbird weren't lapping up sugar water from artificial feeders at the Cal-Wood caretaker's cabin, they were dining on nectar from native plants--including the Wild Bergamot or Horsemint, Monarda fistulosa, (above and at top). A close relative of our scarlet-colored eastern Beebalm, M. didyma, this lavender flower is drought tolerant and plentiful at lower elevations throughout the Rockies.

Other than grasses, perhaps the most common summer flower at Cal-Wood was Subalpine Gumweed, a yellow composite that grows prolifically in grassy meadows bordered by Quaking Aspens (Populus tremuloides), Engelmann Spruces (Picea engelmannii), and Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa). Gumweed, Grindelia subalpina, takes its common name from a sticky white sap that forms on its flower heads as seeds are forming--undoubtedly another variation on the plant strategy of turning seeds into hitchhikers. Like all members of the Asteraceae (Sunflower or Composite Family), Gumweed's flower head actually consists of two types of flowers, the central cluster of fertile disk flowers, and the outer circle of sterile ray flowers that can be mistaken for petals.

Another less-common yellow composite at Cal-Wood was the three-inch Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata (above), a highly variable blossom whose red-orange central color sometimes extends nearly to the tips of the outer ring of ray flowers. If pollinated, each of the tiny central flowers will produce a seed. This species is common in cultivation and, unfortunately, is frequently planted as a "native wildflower" in highway medians in the eastern U.S. where it most certainly is NOT native.

Cal-Wood miraculously escaped a major forest fire--the Overland Fire on nearby Fairview Peak--on 29 October 2003. The aftermath of the conflagration is clearly visible in the photo above: nearly 5,000 acres burned. The fire apparently was sparked by recently installed power lines that were knocked down by heavy winds. Even though several human homes and structures were lost on Fairview, rain and significant snowfall around Halloween restricted the fire from advancing further and spared Cal-Wood's pristine acreage.

We always emphasize in our GLOBE/Operation RubyThroat training workshops that it's okay to say "I don't know"--something that's sometimes hard for students, educators, and scientists alike. For example, when a hummingbird buzzes past the window it's often impossible to determine whether it's an adult or juvenile, male or female. Rather than report incorrect data, it's better to just say "unknown age" and/or "unknown sex." Along those lines, at the moment we don't know precisely what the bright purple flower illustrated above might be, and because of deadline pressures don't have time to research its identification. Growing on a 15" stalk, the flowers appear to be a species of Penstemon, possibly P. strictus. We include the photo because we like it and in the hope someone will send a note to INFO with the common and scientific names of this Rocky Mountain wildflower.

Not every nature artifact at Cal-Wood was as pleasing to the eye--or nose--as the extensive wildflowers, but all were interesting. Take, for example, the quartz rock that was topped with a two-piece fecal deposit laid down by a Coyote, Canis latrans. The Coyote's scat is typically about an inch in diameter with an abrupt taper at the trailing end; this taper is actually fur from the Coyote's prey--probably Golden-mantled (Spermophilus lateralis) and Richardson's Ground Squirrrels (S. richardsonii) that we saw in various locations around the property. (We also spotted a melanistic Abert's Squirrel, Sciurus aberti--an equally arboreal but larger relative of the Eastern Gray Squirrel, S. carolinensis--which had jet-black fur and tufted ears.)

After leaving Cal-Wood and returning to the plains, we were able to get some great views of a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Cynomys ludovicianus--courtesy of GLOBE graphic designer Maureen Murray. These chunky little rodents, which also happen to be ground squirrels, live in a protected area within a designated open space near the town of Lafayette CO. Once found across the Great Plains, prairie dog numbers have been reduced greatly by farming, paving, and intentional poisoning. Although this particular colony was accustomed to walkers and joggers passing by, its members frequently stood on their haunches and produced the shrill alarm bark that long ago led to their common name.

Our Colorado trip was indeed productive and fun. While in far-off Boulder we got to renew old friendships, meet new folks from all over the world, and provide training in the GLOBE/Operation RubyThroat hummingbird protocols. Even so, we're glad to be back home at Hilton Pond, checking out flora and fauna common to the Carolina Piedmont and banding our hometown hummingbirds at a near-record rate.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Click HERE for a QuickTime movie showing Colorado hummingbirds. (NOTE: It may be slow to load, depending on Web site traffic.)

Comments or questions about this week's installment?
Please send an E-mail message to INFO.

NOTE: Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, as well as some other interesting nature notes.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since February 2000. You can also use the on-line Search Engine at the bottom of this page.

For a free, non-fattening, on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond," just send us an E-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the Subject line. Please be sure to configure your spam filter to accept E-mails from

Catch the video version of "This Week" each Friday during
the 6 p.m. newscast on
CN2 cable network in Rock Hill SC.

If you enjoy This Week at Hilton Pond,
please help

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

Just CLICK on one of the logos below.

Just CLICK on one of the logos below.

Make direct donations on-line through
Network for Good:
Donate a portion of your purchase price from 500+ top on-line stores via iGive:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


22-31 July 2004

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--4
White-eyed Vireo--1
Northern Cardinal--2
House Finch--6
Summer Tanager--1
Eastern Towhee--1
Carolina Wren--1
Tufted Titmouse--2

* = New species for 2004

8 species
18 individuals

49 species
1,562 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
44,867 individuals

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
07/21/03--2nd year male

Northern Cardinal (1)
07/29/02--3rd year male (bald)

Carolina Wren (1)
09/09/03--2nd year male


--When we returned from our lengthy absence from Hilton Pond Center, we checked the rain gauge and found it was nearly overflowing with at the 5.7" level--a pretty significant accumulation for a nine-day period.

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

Up to Top of Page

Back to This Week at Hilton Pond Center

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.