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Audubon Features Sierra's Flying Jewels

OAKHURST – It’s at this time of year that people who feed hummingbirds think about putting away their feeders for the winter. After all, rufous hummingbirds, those aggressive coppery dazzlers, have come and gone, and the fall migration is essentially over. So why continue to leave out your feeders?

Local resident Barbara Robinson, a USGS Master Hummingbird Bander, will shed some light on this question, along with many others, at the November program of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society (YAAS) in Oakhurst.

(Photo – This dazzling adult male Allen’s hummingbird, rare in the Sierra foothills, was one of only 20 of this species out of a total of almost 8,000 hummers banded and released at Barbara and Duane Robinson’s local ranch over the past 10 years).

Robinson will present a slide program, “The Flying Jewels of the Sierra Foothills,” an updated version of her earlier presentations, at the monthly Audubon meeting on Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Oakhurst Methodist Church on Road 426. The program will begin at 7 p.m.

Ms. Robinson was previously a hawk bander with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in the San Francisco Bay Area for 13 years before she and her husband Duane, both professional architects, moved to the foothills in 1997. The couple could not anticipate what they discovered here after hanging the first hummingbird feeder from the eaves of their house – an impressive abundance of hummingbirds! Little did Barbara realize that banding hummers would be a bigger challenge than hawks.

In 2004 Barbara and Duane established an official monitoring site for the Hummingbird Monitoring Network (HMN) at their ranch between Mariposa and Oakhurst at the 2,000-foot elevation. Over a span of seven years the Robinsons and their team of dedicated volunteers banded more hummingbirds than any of the other 30-plus sites in the network.

At the end of 2010, the Robinsons decided to leave the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, but Barbara has continued to work on her own with a team of researchers at the University of California at Davis on various scientific studies related to hummingbirds. Today she has close to 15,000 records in her database.

Barbara believes that locally there are four distinct populations of Anna’s hummingbirds, the most commonly seen hummer in the foothills – those that winter here, those that breed here, those that migrate through the area and those that are here year-round. She suggests that if you maintain your feeders during the winter, you may be able to enjoy them even when snow blankets the area. For those frosty nights, though, you’ll have to set your alarm clock so you can put out room-temperature sugar water at the crack of dawn.

As for the other five species that frequent this area, you may be surprised to learn that the admonition to take down your feeders in the winter to encourage migration is an “old wives’ tale.” If the bird is a true migratory species, the imperative to migrate is so strong that leaving your feeders out will not discourage them from flying south. In fact, the sugar water may especially help them if they are late in migrating for some reason. The same is true if the birds migrate early, which climate change may cause to occur more often. But for now the real reason to feed hummingbirds is purely for human enjoyment. The birds will likely survive without you—unless development and overpopulation destroy their native habitat.

Ms. Robinson will explain in her presentation for Audubon how she captures these tiny jewels and describe the complexities in identifying the various species that occur in the foothills.

Like all YAAS programs, Barbara’s presentation Nov. 14 is open and free to the public, although donations to defray program costs and to support the chapter’s local activities are appreciated.

The YAAS will also offer its monthly birding trip Saturday, Nov. 16, to Merced Falls Reservoir (McSwain Forebay) via Hornitos. Participants will meet at 8 a.m. at the Mariposa rest area adjacent to the Mariposa Museum and History Center just off Highway 140. Suitable for beginners, the trip is free and the public welcome. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring binoculars, field guides, snacks, lunch and beverages.

Call (209) 742-5579 or (209) 966-2547 or visit www.yosemiteaudubon.org for additional information about either the program or the birding trip.

The mission of the National Audubon Society, the namesake of noted 19th-century naturalist and bird painter John James Audubon; its state affiliate, Audubon California; and local chapters such as the Yosemite Area Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. The YAAS is dedicated to educating and inspiring others to help protect those resource values.

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