The hummingbird announced itself with the buzz of its wings and a series of high-pitched chirps. Zipping through the forest, the tiny creature moved like I imagine a fairy might — darting to and fro, and hovering to inspect whatever caught its interest.
At another time, I may not have noticed the little green bird. But I was actively listening and looking for birds that morning in the Caribou Bog Conservation Area in Orono. With more than 18 miles of interconnecting trails that pass through diverse habitats, it’s a great spot to go birding.
The property is also filled with wildflowers, making it an excellent outdoor destination during the springtime.
To my surprise, the hummingbird decided to perch on a low tree branch just a few yards away. Through the long lens of my camera, I watched its chest move with each rapid breath. When flying, hummingbirds beat their wings about 53 times a second, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so I assumed it was taking a much-needed rest.
From its coloring, I could tell that it was a female. Maine is home to just one hummingbird species: the ruby-throated hummingbird. The male has shiny red feathers covering its throat. The female does not. Her throat, breast and belly are white. The rest of the bird — both male and female — is covered with iridescent green feathers that catch the sunlight like a living jewel.
You can imagine how lucky I felt to be in the company of a hummingbird as it relaxed between flights. That was special. If that’s all I experienced in the woods of Orono that day, I would have been happy. But the gifts of nature just kept coming, whether I deserved them or not.
It started in the parking lot, where I was greeted by the singing of American redstarts. I patiently watched the treetops until I spotted one flying from branch to branch. With tangerine orange markings on its chest, wings and tail, it is a flashy little songbird.
Next, I watched a yellow-throated warbler sing while perched in a bush beside a pond. The property is home to a few ponds and wetland areas, where waterbirds, turtles and beavers are commonly spotted.
Also near the ponds that day, I spotted barn swallows and a group of six adult Canada geese. I was surprised not to see any baby geese, also known as goslings. This is the time of year when they’re often seen waddling after their parents. Maybe they were close by, with another parent. Or maybe I was looking at a group of young, non-breeding geese.
Yellow warblers (which are mostly yellow) and eastern Phoebes (which are brownish gray) also made my list of birds seen that day. Plus, I spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a type of woodpecker. It was making all sorts of huffy noises as it clung to the side of a tree.
Moving slowly along the trails, I noticed a variety of wildflowers. I was crouching to photograph one of them when a young couple walked past me on a trail. I said “hello,” followed by “Did you see the painted trilliums?”
The couple quietly said “no” and kept on walking, so I hurried to point out the large white and magenta flowers. They mumbled some sort of affirmation but didn’t stop to look at any of the flowers. I got the impression they didn’t care.
Farther down the trail, on a rocky hump of land, I spotted my first few lady’s-slippers of the season. Maine is home to four different types of lady’s-slippers, with the pink being the most common. The ones I found were white, but after some research, I learned that they were technically just really pale pink lady’s slippers.
Out in the sunshine, on a gravel road that passes a few of the ponds, I spotted the deep purple flowers of blue-eyed grass. Each blossom had a bright yellow center.
I used the Seek mobile app to help identify some plants I didn’t know, such as Solomon’s plume, wintercress and garlic mustard. The app isn’t always correct, but it often is, and I get little badges for observing different species. I think the app was designed for kids, but what can I say? I enjoy it.
When writing this column, I often look up information about plants and animals. For example, when I started writing this offering, in an effort to best describe the sound of a hummingbird, I searched online for some audio examples. What came next was a bit of a surprise, though in hindsight, it makes perfect sense.
At the time, I was sitting outside on my house’s second-story deck. I played the sound of a ruby-throated hummingbird call on my laptop, thinking about how I’d describe it in words. Then, out of the woods came a ruby-throated hummingbird. It flew up to me, hovered and gave me what I perceived as a scolding glare. Then it zipped away. I laughed aloud and got back to writing.