National Geographic : 1946 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine the east or south sides of trees, but this had a northern exposure where photographic light never filtered in. Fortunately, however, our bird did not mind a mirror flashed in its face, and our cameras caught him (Plate VIII). An inspection of the nesting cavity showed that deer mice were the main source of food. It also revealed four astonishingly nonphoto genic young that only a saw-whet owl could love. When we placed them on a log, they closed their eyes against the strong light and leaned against each other for warmth. It is surprising how quickly the quiet forests become animated. The trees will be bare, and sheltered slopes will be massed with snow. Then will come a few days of warm rain. Almost overnight the white expanses disap pear, buds break, and the fresh green of open ing leaves welcomes the feathered summer residents. Aspen forests are the favored habitats of many of the High Country folk, and with the aid of photographic blinds we pried into their home life. We watched mountain bluebirds make repeated trips to their nesting holes, carrying luscious-looking worms (Plate VII). Red-breasted and Natalie's sapsuckers brought beakfuls of ants to their wheezy young, while warbling vireos swayed on their hanging nests and paid us in song for the hours we remained in concealment. Black Widow Spider on Vireo's Menu Their near relatives, the plumbeous vireos, often revealed their nesting sites, for the males have the habit of singing as they incubate the beautiful spotted eggs. These inconspicuously colored birds take rather kindly to photogra phers, and one brooding vireo was so tame that it took insects from our fingers and passed them on to its young. The bird even fed upon a black widow spider, and one photograph showed the spider's silken thread attached to its beak. When the sun was directly upon the nest, the old one would stand with wings outspread to shelter the young. On the edge of the moist ravines grow big yellow pines, and a pair of Natalie's sapsuckers had excavated their home in the live trunk of one old monarch. Their habits seemed identical with those of red-breasted sapsuckers and hairy woodpeck ers, which we photographed in aspens; the adults of all three species kept busy carrying ants and other insects to their strident young. They would come to their home and alight above the nesting entrance, backing down with abrupt jumps as they supported themselves with stiff tails pressing against the rough bark. It is always a surprise to the stranger in the West to find that robins are the most com mon of mountain birds. These hardy fellows are found to timberline and, since they raise two broods, are the most conspicuous birds in August when most species have concluded their housekeeping. Adaptable, the robins nest in thick spruces close to the ground or in the tops of the highest trees. A Jewel on Whirring Wings The jewel bird of the aspen and yellow-pine country is the broad-tailed hummingbird. To see one of these winged creatures with its flashing gorget as it poises on a tip of willow along some rushing mountain stream, with snow-clad peaks rising high above, is one of the rich delights of roaming the high places. Fortunate indeed is the discoverer of one of the tiny lichen-covered nests of this beautiful little bird (Color Plate V). We have learned by experience that the male will not disclose the hiding place. Al though we have found many nests, we have never seen a male near by. The females are usually tame and will hover over their young on fast-moving wings, feeding them by regur gitation even though an interested spectator is only a few feet away. Often broad-tailed hummingbird nests are high overhead on some swaying limb, and al most invariably they are in dark places where photography is difficult. Recently, however, we located the ideal nest. The fluffy cup with two tiny eggs was within a foot of the ground in a young spruce; it was in the dark, but since the female did not object to light re flected by a mirror, we took pictures to our hearts' content. On our first visit she alighted on the nest, settled snugly upon the eggs, and calmly shifted about until facing away from the glare. On our next, the eggs were hatched, and two black little mites scarcely larger than blueflies nestled in the center of the cup. In the following two weeks we made re peated trips to record the progress of the youngsters. When last seen, the two over flowed the nest, and the little parent came every half hour to thrust her pointed beak down the throats of the eager young and pump food to them. Minute insects seemed to make up the bill of fare. There was a constant change of plant life. One week the forest floor was covered with columbine; a few days later the blossoms were gone and the seed was maturing. Wild rose, geranium, and parsley grew rank in the moist valleys, and as the season progressed the wood lilies came into bloom (Plate XVI).