Archive for June, 2016

Hummers – The Bringers of Summer

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 24, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

The little Hucklings would somehow manage to sit motionless for even more than a minute, transfixed by the magic and antics of our “Zoom birdies!” as they dropped in to enjoy, guard, harass or drink from the feeders we so carefully filled and placed. Those tiny hummers seemed always to be the bringers of the joy, excitement and laughter of summer.

If the reports of active hummingbirds around Paradise are any indication, we may yet have a summer. Thank goodness for those faithful hummers.

Hummer time is circus time, of course. A rufous male dive-bombs some kid standing too close to “his” feeder and makes a life-long memory. A hummer dances up to an evening feeder and a quiet meal at dusk becomes a celebration. A young bird, startled at the feeder, somersaults into a rolling escape maneuver and the awe of that moment becomes family legend. Really, what is more cool than the zippy up, down, back, forth or “stop!” of these tiny aerialists?

We generally see three hummingbirds here in Paradise, and the Science Education Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association requires that I pass along the following information. The two‑and‑a‑half‑inch calliope (Stellula calliope) is the smallest of U.S. birds, and the male is the only hummer whose throat is streaked, with red-colored feathers against white. The black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri) is the only North American hummer with a truly black throat. Rufous (Selasphorus rufus) is named after the male’s solid rusty‑colored back.

These tiny birds traveled thousands of miles, from wintering in Mexico and Central America. The males were first, with most females now on scene. The circus is underway now, as the birds choose mates with whom to make more hummingbirds. Sit tight and you will see some of the avian world’s most amazing courtship rituals.

The black‑chinned, to charm some feathered beauty, will swing pendulum‑like before her, then rise 15 feet, hover, and drop with a whizzing noise. The rufous is a real show‑off, often flying complete ovals before his prospective mate, then diving to face her from inches away. At the bottom of his dive comes that unmistakable trademark “whine” of air rushing through wing feathers. The tiny calliope male plays the daredevil, climbing 65 feet or so before swooping down before his love. After a short “bzzt,” he does it again.

Once love is in bloom, inch and a half camouflaged nests of spider web silk and cattail fluff may hold a couple white eggs the size of grapefruit seeds. 15 to 18 days later, the young will hatch. After three weeks on insects, they’ll be in line at the feeder, or catching tiny insects on the wing.

Hummingbirds go through nectar like jet fuel. (Only four parts water to each part white sugar in an always-clean feeder, please.) In flight, their wings beat up to 80 times a second, and their hearts more than 1200 times per minute. To hover, they hold their bodies at a 45‑degree angle and move their wings in a sideways figure eight pattern. A hummer may feed 15 times an hour, and visit 1,000 flowers a day. At night, both metabolism and heartbeat will slow enough for the tiny bird to survive until morning.

Studies have shown that hummers may take in five times their normal body weight in insects and nectar, each day, to fuel their high metabolic rates. (For us that’s about 125,000 calories, or 220 big chocolate shakes.) Urine production in this process is 75 to 80 percent of body weight. (Think 15-20 gallons a day for us!)

In August and September, even with still-full feeders, our hummers will head south in response to photoperiodism – changing length of daylight. They will return to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. Some will apparently fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Given their food needs, how they do that is a big mystery. (Jennie Miller, writing for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers this comparison: “Imagine circling the Earth twice on foot while drinking your weight in flower nectar each day…the human equivalent of what Calliope Hummingbirds do, by wing, twice a year, in their migrations between Washington and Mexico.”) Some researchers want to put tracking chips in a few of them, but even microchips are huge to a bird weighing a fraction of an ounce. Citizen science observations are now revealing migration routes. It seems that hummers take a slightly different routes each year (perhaps related to food).

Learn more about our bringers of summer. At, Lanny Chambers’ site, you will find great migration maps, cool videos, great photos, new science and information about hummer festivals all over the country. At you will find info by state and province across North America.  More locally, has DFW’s tips for attracting and maintaining hummers in backyards around the state. The Cornell Lab, at, has an exhaustive library of information about hummers from all over the world; just punch in the one you want to explore first.

Go watch. Then, next winter, be warmed by memories of ordinary summer evenings made extraordinary by hummers’ whistling, trilling dances of up and down, back and forth and STOP!

Welcome to summer in Paradise.

The Legacies of Our Fathers

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 17, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Funny, really, how for so long I saw myself as a unique guy, benefiting from the lessons of my father, The Old Man, but (Heaven Forbid!) not like him at all. And then one day I did something – or thought something – that took me by surprise. Bit by bit, moment by moment, it dawned on me that The Old Man was alive and well in my mind and heart and habits.

At a recent celebration of Law and Justice Department students, colleague Roger Schaefer and I were discussing work ethic and a determination to earn a place on the planet. We noted that our fathers had handed those to us. …And how we had accepted them without even realizing we had done so.

That conversation brought me back to my adaptation of Upper County Jodi Larsen’s homily to the future – we must remember that children are the emissaries we send into a time we will never see, and send with them those things we wish to have carried forward.

Somehow, of course, our mothers and fathers (and us too as we become parents along that life-cycle continuum) intuitively know this. Still, it catches us by surprise, I think. At this time each year, we take a moment to consider the roles of our fathers – and where they are in us.

From time to time, I lapse into thinking about various struggles – mostly over priorities – I had with my father and various father figures. Over time, I came to understand why our priorities seemed so different and at odds. Eventually, those seemingly-insurmountable differences in priorities didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

One of my all-time favorite men was Edward Bossert, a former father-in-law and namesake for youngest son Edward, the last of the Hucklings. How that man loved the outdoors.

Edward generally liked my stories, but he took exception to one of the early ones in my Colorado newspaper column – one about priorities. In that particular column, I was encouraging people to put time outdoors building memories near the top of their priority lists, with work somewhere near the bottom.

His problem was that, as the superintendent of a school district, he was the one who ended up dealing with getting the job done when some guy took off hunting or fishing instead of working.  It had to be a source of conflict for Edward – he talked about how he envied them at times – but he had work agreements to keep.

I loved hearing Edward talk about his own father and how he grew up loving to be outside. Like all real outdoor folks, he was a pretty good philosopher. After he passed on, I started thinking about how I came to the decisions I had made about my own father.

The Old Man lost his father when he was eleven years old. He finished fifth grade and took on responsibility for helping his mother and kid sister stay fed and housed during the Great Depression. I guess he learned early on about the value of having and honoring a job and a home. Somewhere in there, he forgot how to have fun. That made it almost impossible for me to get him to come play.

He seemed to take life pretty seriously. I decided at an early age that The Old Man didn’t really like to hunt and fish. I even concluded at one point (I was about seven I guess) that I’d never learn to hunt with him as a father. He had just taken away my Daisy BB gun, and blistered my butt for shooting a sparrow. As I recall, I’d made a long stalk and a successful shot on that little bird, and I was very proud of remembering my Indian training. On the other hand, as the Old Man pointed out between swats, I’d forgotten Rule No. 1: “We don’t kill anything that we don’t intend to eat.”

Eventually, I figured out that he deeply loved the time he spent afield, he just let the importance of work push hunting and fishing down his list. While I had occasional glimpses of how deeply it affected him to have to choose work and chores over hunting or fishing, he always chose work.

Years later, we would start planning family outdoor trips a year or more in advance. Whether it was a salmon fishing trip to Ilwaco, a deer hunt in Colorado or antelope in Wyoming, he let nothing get in the way. He’d finally found a balance – a way to play and still honor his job.

I have rarely let work or other responsibilities get in the way of outdoor time. Yet I find it nearly impossible to head out without first being certain that responsibilities to work and other agreements have been managed. It seems rare these days to make a decision or do a job without a pretty clear sense of how my father might have handled it. At those moments, I have to smile; I’m sure The Old Man is looking down and laughing. Somehow, it seems just the way it should be.

Take a moment this weekend to tell your father what he means to you and all the ways you find him in your mind, heart and habits. If he can’t be reached on this Earth plane, send a prayer.

Happy Father’s Day, wherever you are on that continuum.

Sorry Toto – We’re Not in the ’50s and ’60s Anymore

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 10, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

A week ago, Boyfriend-in-law Brian and I were up the Icicle with a paddle. My long-time friend and fishing pro Shane Magnuson was finding the springers in the river, but that high water kept most of them off our rigs. (Still, I guess we won: we still got more of them than they got of us.) Slow fishing day and all that; it was one of the best of days.

We spent a fair amount of our time talking boundaries, timing, and limits for fishing opportunities around the state. After discussing the current state of the Icicle (fairly much normal), we moved to other possibilities. That conversation, covering a mile or so of a beautiful drift down the Icicle, led into sockeye fishing on the Upper Columbia this summer (forget it), the chance of a spring Chinook season on the mid-Yakima below Roza (maybe – one fish per customer, please), the outlook for summer and fall Chinook runs along the Columbia (looking good, thanks), and the forecast for Coho – silvers – most anywhere in the state (good luck…). Such conversations always swing back to simpler decades-ago times, when regulations were on a few pages of a pamphlet.

Those were simpler times in oh so many ways. In the late ‘40s, Cousin Ron and I – somewhere around seven and six years of age, respectively – would walk the mile from his folks’ house on North 28th in Yakima to the Naches River, fishing gear in hand. We would stun and catch minnows, find grubs or grasshoppers, and spend the whole day fishing the stream. Late afternoon, generally just in time for supper, we’d find our way back with at least half a dozen trout up to a pound or more.

Today, we’d have to find a way through office parks and ponds, across Highway 12, and through that fence between the highway and the river. We’d likely find that we couldn’t fish for, or keep, the trout anyhow. ‘Course, that’s all pretty much moot, since any parents allowing – much less encouraging – youngsters to venture that far to play in a river would probably find themselves pretty quickly in the slammer. We live in a different world.

Then, early this week during the Board Meeting of our Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, a nearly identical conversation flowed through the room as we discussed upcoming hunting seasons and the changes afoot for seasons, bag limits and license fees. Inevitably, Homey Steve said something like, “Let’s just roll all the hunting seasons and rules and regulations back to the ‘60s and ‘70s when everything was in English and all in one small pamphlet!” Amidst a general, and somewhat sad, wistful, murmur of agreement, someone noted that, “Well, those were simpler times in so many ways…”

You think? When I was in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, I would regularly (during fall) lug The Old Man’s J.C. Higgins bolt action 12-gauge the mile and a quarter from our humble little abode on Highline Drive (now under the front door of that East Wenatchee Costco) to the grade school. I would park it and a handful of assorted shotshells in the cloak closet, and hunt my way home after school. As I headed toward home, Mrs. Sprague would always say, “Hope you find a pheasant or a couple quail, Jimmy, I know how your mom loves those birds.” How far along Highline would that 11, 12 or 13 year-old get today, I wonder? We live in a different world.

Cousin Ron is wont to tell anyone that, if he was God – or ran the Department of Fish and Wildlife – the first thing he would do is roll all hunting and fishing regulations back to those days of our youth and near youth. Much as many of us might yearn for those days, it just isn’t that simple. And, given an educated choice, we probably wouldn’t want those regulations in today’s world.

One of the clearest, most succinct, explanations I have heard for today’s complications versus yesterday’s simplicity was given to the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club in 2011 by DFW’s then-director Phil Anderson.

Think about it, he urged us; Washington has nearly seven million people – twice as many as in1970. Ours is the smallest western state, with a relatively small amount of public land. We have an amazing diversity of fish and wildlife, in a wide variety of habitats – wet mountains, dry mountains, desert, semiarid and humid lowlands, temperate rainforests, open pine forests, salt water, small to large streams and lakes of all sizes. We also have 24 Treaty Tribes with rights to fish and wildlife and their co-management. Each combination of habitat and species requires one or more levels of specialized management. As I shook his hand at meeting’s close, he smiled. “You know,” he said, “we could pretty easily simplify the regs. …But it would take away a huge amount of today’s fishing and hunting opportunities. Who wants that?”

Sorry, Toto. We are not in the ‘50s and ‘60s any more.

Lightning: The Alka-Seltzer of the Air

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 3, 2016. Posted in Uncategorized

Each year about now I get excited to see an old friend – one I don’t see so much here in Paradise (and not all that commonly anywhere on the Cascades’ east slopes, actually). I almost forget how much I miss the excitement until, one afternoon, I hear that distant rumble and see his flash up over the Naneum or off toward the Basin. I caught a glimpse of him last week – took me right back to being a kid in East Wenatchee, Washington.

By mid-spring, the waiting would get almost unbearable. I don’t think I knew what I was awaiting. I do recall that, as the last of the winter’s snow disappeared, and those warm chinooks swept down off the Cascades and out into eastern Washington, the anxiety rose. Not like it would make you crazy, but as the air got warmer and drier, it became harder to concentrate on the three R’s.

Then one morning, I would arise knowing that something was afoot. There would be a sweet discomfort to the air, even inside. On the walk to school, my lungs couldn’t get enough of that air. I wanted to yell to everyone “This is the day!” but I didn’t even know what that meant.

By noon the clouds would be building. About the time school let out, he would be everywhere.  The sky would fill with LIGHTNING! and the earth would tremble with his voice. The dry, nervous air of past weeks would settle as the rains came, and I would feel fully, joyfully ALIVE.  I would watch, transfixed, until the lightning stopped.

Maybe I became a meteorologist out of my fascination with lightning. I see my old friend as the Alka-Seltzer of the air, bouncing between negative and positive charges on the ground or clouds, neutralizing atmospheric ions that make us so irritable or uncomfortable at times.

My lightning excitement peaked when I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. The first meteorology class I taught was full of young people who saw no sense in knowing anything about the weather. Several of them observed that since they drove air-conditioned cars and lived and studied in climate-controlled rooms there was no need to even think about the weather. As they saw it, they were totally insulated from Nature and all that weather.

There were two things I loved about the thunderstorms that swept across central and eastern Kansas. First, they were often nighttime storms – something I had never seen in my life on the east sides of the mountains in Washington, Idaho and Colorado. On top of that, I could lay in bed, look out my window to the west, and watch the spectacular lightning show as it dashed and sizzled and danced from cloud top to cloud top. The show might last an hour or two before it passed over and around us. I loved it.

Generally, the discomfort people feel with very “dry” or very “humid” air has to do with the electrical ions in the air. With very dry air, particularly when there has been a downslope warm wind, there will be an excess of negative ions. With such negative ion excess, people get irritable and short-tempered. A good example might be the ways people in Los Angeles react when the Santa Ana winds are blowing in off the desert. During these winds, numbers of people become hyper, squabbling over trivial matters. Accidents increase. On the other hand, water vapor molecules carry an excess of positive ions. If there is a great deal of water vapor in the air, we tend to be fussy and uncomfortable, with a “leave me alone” attitude.

In the spring of 1971, we had a time of very warm, windy and dry weather. The graduate students would bicker over anything in our study room. (Do you HAVE to turn those *!^# pages so loud?) It was great. Then, one night before an early-morning class with my “insulated” ones, a line of thunderstorms moved through – maybe the best ever –with two and a half hours of fireworks.  As it approached, drawing warm moist air in ahead of it, the humidity (and its positive ions) rapidly increased in the air around us. The kids’ mom couldn’t sleep, and our kids, one by one, drowsily came into our room. “What’s wrong, honey?” I’d ask?  “I don’t feel good,” they’d say. “Well, what’s wrong, then, honey?” “NUTHIN’! I just don’t feel good. I can’t sleep.” As they huddled around our bed, each alone, groaning, I forgot all about sleep and watched the celebration in the western sky.

As the storm finally passed over us, a dozen lightning strikes crashed and exploded within a hundred yards of the house, balancing all those negative (clouds) and positive (ground) charges. When the storm moved out, my family was out. Mom in bed and Michelle on the carpet near her. Nicole was on the floor next to her bed and Tim was sprawled on his bed with one foot on the floor.

My students were all yawning the next morning. “Just couldn’t sleep ‘til after the storm,” they said. “Not insulated enough, I guess,” I replied.

One of these days or weeks in Paradise… If it can just resist starting fires, it will be glorious.