Spring has been going strong for weeks now in California (sorry, East Coasters!), and I took the opportunity this past weekend to visit the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum with my mom. It was a brilliant, sunny day, and flowers from all over the world were in full bloom. We usually think of planning beach days in Santa Cruz, but the arboretum is another great way to experience a day in nature.
We went down to check out the arboretum’s Hummingbird Days. The annual event celebrates three species of hummingbirds in the region, and is a great place to see large numbers of wild hummingbirds up close. (And as you may remember, I’ve gone to great lengths to take pictures of hummingbirds before). The birds will whiz right by your ear so fast, you might only catch a brief glimpse before they are gone.
Two different hummingbird species nest at the arboretum. The Anna’s Hummingbird has greenish feathers and the male’s throat (called “gorget”) is a translucent purple. You’ll only see that gorget color from the proper angle. (Not quite the right angle in this picture.)
The Allen’s Hummingbird has more orange and green feathers with a translucent orange gorget.
(A third species, the Rufous Hummingbird, migrates through the area around this time of year, but didn’t arrive in time for Hummingbird Days this season.)
During the mating season, hummingbirds are extremely territorial, and at the Arboretum, each Ruby Cluster bush (originating from New Zealand, and the favorite of all hummingbirds in the area) has it’s own “Boss,” who spends his days chasing other birds away. Here’s a shot of the most dominant little guy taking off and getting ready to dive bomb some intruders.
And to top it all off, you’ll see the hummingbirds do their incredible mating flight display where the male dips down from one side to the other, pausing briefly to hover on each side, then climbs more than 100 feet in the air before diving down at over 50 miles per hour, making a little chirping sound as he pulls out of the dive. Here’s some slow motion video where you can see the Anna’s Hummingbird dive (the Allens’ do a similar display) and hear the chirping sound:
This is an easy day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you’re a bird lover and want the chance to take pictures of hummingbirds, this is a spectacle I’d recommend traveling to see. On a nice day, you can marvel at these amazing little birds in the morning, then relax on the beach in the afternoon. For me, that’s tough to beat.
You’ll probably see my mom there, too. She goes every year.