All posts for the month June, 2011

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Program Coordinator

A handful of hail stones, some as large as grapes. Held by Shannon, one of the DNS summer camp interns. Image by Derek Stoner, June 9, 2011.

Tonight at about 7:47pm, a fast-moving storm front passed over Ashland Nature Center, unleashing a fury of hail stones in a five-minute span.   In the midst of a training session for summer camp, our group dashed back inside and listened to the loud thwacks of hail striking the roof and windows. 

I ran outside to gather the larger hail stones, some of which were the size of grapes!  The icy cold hail provided a stark contrast to the 100-degree temperature earlier in the day.

Today’s heat wave set the stage for classic late day thunderstorm, and we certainly got a storm, albeit a very brief one.  Hail is one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena and one that certainly leaves an impression– sometimes literally!  The welt on my head is a testament to one hail stone that did not miss me.   We can only hope that the nesting birds and all the other animals did not get injured by the frozen projecticles hurtling from the sky!

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A baby Ruby-throated Hummingbird rests its beak on the edge of its nest at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Image by Derek Stoner, June 8, 2011.

After photographing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest two weeks ago on May 24, I returned to the location at Coverdale Farm Preserve early this morning, hoping to find the results of the female’s incubation efforts. 

Peeking inside the nest, I spied a tiny grayish lump!  The baby hummingbird raised its head and emitted a high pitched chirp as I perched above the nest and snapped photos.  Neat rows of “pin” feathers lined the bird’s back and sides.  Based upon its size and feather maturity, I guesstimate the baby to be about 9-10 days old, meaning it hatched on May 30 or 31. 

The fledgling raised its head briefly and rested its beak on the edge of the nest.  The beak is now only about 1 centimeter in length, but by the time it leaves the nest, the beak will be fully-developed at 1.5 to 2 centimeters.  Hummingbirds fledge at  18-20 days, so in the next 10 days there will be lots of growing to do for this baby hummingbird! 

The hummingbird nest is now adorned with dangling oak catkins, providing extra camouflage to hide the nest and baby. Image by Derek Stoner, June 8, 2011.

Another intriguing observation is that the nest is now adorned with several oak catkins, those long yellow-brown male flowers(up to 100,000 in a mature oak!) that produce the clouds of pollen that we are all noticing right now.  I suspect the female hummingbird wove the catkins into the side of her nest as a way of providing additional camouflage, since a few of the sycamore leaves around the nest have fallen off.  A very creative means of decoration and disguise!

What happened to the other egg?  Did it hatch?  We don’t know for sure, but luckily the one baby hummingbird is alive and doing well.  For great information on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, I highly recommend the website of Operation Rubythroat, where I am learning more about these amazing birds as I follow the developments at this nest.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

The month of June is here, and with it comes the peak of nesting season for many birds in our region.  The amazing cycle of bird courtship, mating, nest-building, egg laying, incubation, hatching, brood rearing, and fledging is in full swing right now.   


A Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest at Coverdale Farm Preserve, in a Sycamore tree along Burrows Run. Image by Derek Stoner, May 24, 2011.


In mid-May, Jim and Amy White discovered a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest in a Sycamore tree along Burrows Run, in the middle of Coverdale Farm Preserve.   The nest is on a branch about 20 feet above the ground and well-disguised amongst the leaves and lichen clusters.  I took up the challenge of documenting this nest and I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how I obtained this photograph looking down into the nest!

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird sits on her well-hidden nest in a Sycamore tree along Burrows Run. Image by Derek Stoner, May 24, 2011.

Our region’s smallest bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird not surprisingly has the smallest eggs and the smallest nest.  The nest is intricately constructed of plant fibers and smartly camouflaged with lichens.  In order to strengthen the nest, the female hummingbird gathers spider silk and weaves it into the walnut-sized nest.  She then lays two eggs that weigh half a gram each.  It would take 5 hummingbird eggs to equal the weight of a dime!

Stay tuned for a series of stories about nesting birds, as we celebrate the beginning of a new generation of avian life.