HANSEN • Walk softly and sit quietly; you are in the home of the hummingbirds.
In the shade of trees, you can see their little bodies flit from feeder to feeder. Hear that drone? That’s their feathered wings beating 70 times per second as they dive attack one another, claiming their favorite spots.
“It sounds like mini Harleys whizzing by your head,” said DeAnne Klimes of Kimberly.
The Klimes family drove the dusty Rogerson Road nine miles into the Sawtooth National Forest on July 13 to visit the hummingbirds. Make the same drive and your family can sit on rustic benches to enjoy a free spectacle of hummingbirds crowding to feeders that hang from the trees.
Do it now: The migratory birds show up in the South Hills in late April, and by mid-September they’re gone.
“It’s a nice little day trip. A lot of people don’t get to see hummingbirds this close up,” DeAnne said.
Suzette Miller has been out to the site two or three times this summer.
Hummingbirds “get really close to you,” Miller said. “It’s interesting how they leave and come back to the same spot.”
Miller, co-owner of nearby Magic Mountain Resort, noticed new feeders this year and wanted to leave a note of thanks for the new caretaker. She noticed the location is cleaned up, too.
So who is the keeper of the hummingbirds?
Virgil Brockman of Jerome filled the feeders with sugar water for 17 years. He stopped seven years ago; after becoming blind, Brockman wasn’t able to make the long journey anymore.
“I didn’t start it. A barber in Buhl did and when he died, I took over,” Brockman said.
Back then, Brockman said, he made sure 11 feeders were always full.
“I fed them a gallon per day, seven gallons per week,” Brockman said.
Even though he can’t see them, Brockman often gets a ride up the mountain to visit the hummingbirds, on land owned by Chuck and Shari Helman of Hansen.
Now the man filling the feeders is John McManus of Kimberly.
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“The last time I visited the site I observed 10 to 15 hummers. It was in the heat of the day when the feeders are least active,” said Sarah Harris, president of the Prairie Falcon Audubon chapter.
Harris said the South Hills are home to four species of hummingbirds; however, the Rufous is much more common to the north. The three species most likely to be seen at the hummingbird sanctuary in the South Hills, Harris said, are black-chinned, broad-tailed and Calliope.
“The area is special because it is easy to get to and the birds are concentrated because someone takes the time to keep the feeders full and clean,” Harris said.
Almost every year, Fred Bassett, a hummingbird researcher from Alabama, travels to this site to band hummingbirds. Bassett founded the Hummingbird Research Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 2009. This year he isn’t able to travel to Idaho because he’s been busy conducting research in Alaska.
The South Hills feeders are “the only place I know where hummingbird feeders are put in the wilderness and not at a home,” Bassett said.
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When McManus first visited the hummingbird site, he never thought he’d be the one taking care of it someday.
But this is his second summer as caretaker, now with help from his friend Bob Bird. McManus took over after his friend Shane White moved away. White cared for the birds for five years.
“I’m just trying to give back,” McManus said. “I work rotating shifts and go up there every five or six days.”
On July 13, McManus visited the hummingbirds with his friends the Klimeses.
The hummingbirds darted from feeder to feeder as a small group formed to watch them. A couple of dirt bike riders also stopped by.
McManus said a number of people know about the location, mostly people who recreate in the area. An alternative route to the hummingbirds is by traveling on Indian Springs Road, but a four-wheeler, dirt bike or four-wheeled-drive vehicle is recommended.
Zoey Klimes, 14, brought the wooden sign she made to help direct people to the site. The sign read: Home of the Hummingbirds.
“I wanted to make sure other people could enjoy it. A lot of people just drive by. If there’s a sign they could enjoy it,” Zoey said.
Less than a mile up the road from this site is another location that is even harder to find. The pull-off is on the left, and a worn trail leads you to eight feeders hanging in a grove of trees.
This spot is secluded and quiet.
McManus likes to spend a hour or more in both locations, sitting on the wooden benches just watching the hummingbirds.