As I’ve done for many years now during the Memorial Day weekend, I get on my bike and make a solemn sojourn to Los Angeles National Cemetery. Late last week, in response to an inquiry from KPCC as to who or what their listeners would be thinking about and doing for the occasion, I recorded my thoughts for them via SoundCloud:
It was a beautiful day and a beautiful ride, and as you’ll see in the video, I did my annual duty in righting a whole bunch of individual flags that had fallen. But I pedaled very pensively the way home, thinking both about the freshest graves I found there of soldiers killed in Afghanistan in August and September of 2011, and of those undoubtedly to come.
An ultra-awareness of the fragility of new life comes with the territory I trod in observing hummingbirds brought forth into the world via our property. But that doesn’t make it any easier whenever I’m taught the next in a continuing education of harsh lessons on that subject, such as the one today.
I had concerns yesterday evening when I found the backyard nest suspiciously super-still. Neither of the chicks, which by yesterday had grown enough that both their heads stuck well out above the nest’s rim, were visible And there was nothing in the way of movement coming from within the nest. This morning, the same thing. And to make the situation more dire, the sun shone through the nest wall that would never have penetrated if there were chick bodies in there.
A search on the ground yielded nothing but a torn shred of nest material.
This afternoon, I finally couldn’t stand not knowing anymore and sent up a probe visible below, realizing my fears. The nest was entirely empty. Both chicks — nowhere near the fledge stage — were gone. I can only conclude that another bird, maybe a jay, discovered the nest and raided it and the two chicks, which had been doing so well under the dedicated and diligent care of their mother hummingbird, are dead.
Another more thorough and cautious search of the ground around the site yielded absolutely nothing.
There is some consolation in that it wasn’t worse. The mother could have died while getting food or water and the chicks could have perished a slower death in the nest. While I didn’t actually see the mother, I did hear some clicks in the area that are probably hers.
I can only hope she’ll try again, but I’m pretty sure she won’t attempt it here and instead will do so from a new nest in a completely different location.
UPDATED (3.05): Yep, pretty sure it was jays. Found a fast-moving sinister pair methodically casing the branches of the same tree this morning, as if returning to the scene of the crime in search of other nests to pillage.
I couldn’t resist putting my GoPro cam up on a monopod secured to a ladder so as to get a different nest-level perspective on the mother hummingbird during a feeding session with her two nestlings. I was happy to see that while the camera’s location about a foot from the nest drew the attention of the mother, it didn’t create a deterrent. Nevertheless, I took it down immediately and won’t risk it becoming one at this stage… although I might film again from this angle as the chicks (fingers crossed) get closer to fledging.