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A rare treat is to see a hummingbird at rest. Here, a migrating hummer pauses in between visits to autumn blossoms. / Robert Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com

Bonsai day at the Gardens

Itís all about bonsai on Sunday when the Fox Valley Bonsai Society hosts a Bonsai Tree Show at the Gardens of the Fox Cities from noon to 4 p.m. Free to the public, the bonsai show will feature more than 40 trees, carefully and exquisitely created using the art of bonsai.
Bonsai dates back 2,000 years and the trees showcased at this fall showing will reveal the sophisticated techniques used by bonsai artist gardeners to ďtrainĒ their plants to achieve the unique appearance and even mood that bonsai represents.
Bonsai trees can range from 6-inch miniatures to large 3-foot specimens. A number of trees are used for bonsai art, including those native to our area.

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If you were outdoors this past weekend, chances are you witnessed the spectacular hummingbird migration that swept through our area.

The fall migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummingbird regularly found east of the Mississippi River, is on, and the past few weeks have seen huge numbers pass through the Fox Valley. Not only are these long-distance wanderers hungry as they wing south, they are also quite feisty. Where multiple birds congregated together, wild chases and aggressive fights, along with some good old sweet romance filled the air.

One of the joys of late September and early October gardening is witnessing the spectacular migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds as they begin the long journey to their wintering grounds in South America. Luckily, for many Fox Valley area gardeners, we donít even have to leave home to experience the joys of hummingbird migration.

More on birding: Birding news from around the state | Your birding photos | Your photos from Horicon Marsh

From late August on, peaking the final week of September into early October, ruby-throated hummingbirds begin to push south through Wisconsin. Young of the year join the parent birds on the voyage south. By mid-summer, the male ruby-throat loses his colorful, tell-tale throat and morphs into a somewhat duller breeding plumage. What he may lack in brilliant color, he more than makes up for with his feisty antics, especially when migrating hummingbirds gather in large numbers where flowers are plentiful.

Contrary to what many believe, hummingbirds do not need our artificial feeders to get by. While these are a convenient source of food for much of the time they are with us, hummingbirds are able to feed on a variety of other food sources. Hummingbirds will dart through the air chasing after midges, mosquitoes, caterpillars, gnats, as well as eat ants, small crickets and spiders. Hummers have also been observed feeding upon the sap of trees, juices of fruits and vegetables still on the tree or vine, as well as the blossoms of dozens of varieties of plants.

Another common myth about hummingbirds is that people should remove their feeders after Oct. 1 so that the tiny migrants wonít linger too long into fall. Hummingbirds, like many birds, migrate based on other natural factors, not food availability. Like most birds, length of daylight triggers the birds to move south, regardless of how many flowers are still in bloom or how many feeders are still offering a free source of nectar.

Chances are, you have had a few hummingbirds visit your garden this fall and didnít even notice them. Quiet and quite tiny, it is often difficult to spot a hummingbird in the garden, especially when perched among the green leaves of backyard trees and shrubs, or silently cruising among your garden flowers.

Recently, I visited the Gardens of the Fox Cities and was amazed at the sheer number of hummingbirds flitting about in the morning sunshine. Dozens of ruby-throated hummingbirds were present, feeding upon just about every blooming plant available, including tomato blossoms still decorating the vegetable gardens.

In between their quick meals, birds in groups of two, three, four or more engaged in spirited chases around the gardens, flashing their black and white patterned tails and arching their backs in comical displays before racing off to the treetops or performing wild looping flights around the garden shrubs. Perched in the morning sun, the sparkling, emerald feathers glistened in the trees, and the high-pitched, squeaky chirps of the birds could be heard all around the Gardens.

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to the various salvias and sages, especially this time of year, as they provide fresh nectar and short, tubular flowers conveniently positioned for the long bills of the hummingbirds. These plants are wonderful to include in your backyard landscaping, not only for their summer-long beauty, but for the unexpected bonus they provide in fall as the hummingbirds move through.

At the Gardens of the Fox Cities, the largest concentration of hummingbirds was indeed focused on a large planting of pink sages, along with the spectacular Black and Blue sages that grow just outside the rose garden. Here, up to half a dozen hummers at a time buzzed among the tall sages, often hovering at eye level and coming quite close.

When two birds became too close, a quick chase ensued, preceded by some wild tail-flashing and swirling, playful flights. Faster than your eye can follow, the birds raced in roller coaster flight up and around the fringing trees before returning to this patch of flowers to feed. Many hummingbirds fed among roses that still decorated the rose garden, as well as a beautiful blue Rose of Sharon shrub.

Other plants to include in your landscaping to draw in migrating hummingbirds in fall include cosmos, zinnias, statice, gladiolus, snapdragons, cardinal climber, morning glories, hardy hibiscus, coral bells, bellflowers, foxglove, phlox, obedient plant and the spectacular Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate.

ó Robert Zimmer of Appleton writes Garden Talk every Friday. Write to him at pcfeatures@postcrescent.com or follow him on Twitter: @robzeeee

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