Tuesday, August 15, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Off Island Time

by Stacey Longo Brown

I thought it would be fun to own a little acre of land on the mainland, but it turns out having a lawn and garden is a lot of work! I'm starting to miss my three little blades of grass that I called a yard on the island.

My lawn here consists of pretty uneven terrain, and I have a few scattered rocks (okay, slabs of granite) throughout the yard. It's gotten to the point that I'm actually kind of scared to cut the lawn, because I'm worried about the mower blade making that horrible noise it makes when I try to mow over a boulder.

I also seem to have the knack of making the lawnmower backfire. A lot. Okay, a minimum of six times during the course of the mowing.

Except that I shouldn't call it "mowing." Since I have this trepidation of cutting the grass, I tend to let it go so long that when I do hop on the John Deere, it's more of a "haying" process.

I wish that keeping the grass neat was my only problem. But I had the bright idea last April to clear out a portion of the brush in the yard and put a garden there. After

working for a month pulling up bittersweet and weeds, then spending a week planting vegetables and mulching, I was worn out.

I haven't pulled up a weed since Memorial Day weekend. I've decided that if the cucumbers want to live, they'll find a way. (I did go outside Tuesday to pick peppers and discovered that I had a basket full of milkweed pods when I went to make dinner that night.)

I'm also regretting putting up a hummingbird feeder. First of all, I had been led to believe there were no hummingbirds in Connecticut. I put it up because it looked like a piece of New Age, red liquid art that people hung from their trees. But those stupid hummingbirds have been flocking to it like...well, like birds!

I've been making hummingbird food (one part sugar to three parts water, plus three drops red food dye) twice a week for these starved little demons. I can't tell you how much fun it was boiling up that potion last week during the heat wave.

Shouldn't they be migrating to Colorado by now?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

hummingbird feeder : From the porch

The great squirrel disappearance mystery
Dwight Otwell

Michael Regan, of Andrews, responded to my latest story about my wars with Freddie the Banana plant.

Mr. Reagan wrote that in return, he wanted to share a tale of mystery. I liked the tale and asked permission to print it, so here it is.

A neighbor came to dinner one evening and reported to my wife and me that he was having a problem with squirrels. We asked how squirrels could be a problem and his eyes narrowed. He tapped into a part of his memory that he reported was painful, ominous and guarded.

He arrived in this area several years ago and immediately became captivated by the color and variety of birds around his house. Bird feeders appeared all around his yard. Filled with different types of bird seed, the feeders drew in a large variety of birds which he attempted to identify from a bird book. As he happily pursued his pastime, he noted that sunflower seeds seemed to be the most popular food item with the exception of the hummingbird feeders that required that special red mix.

He didn't remember exactly when he became aware of the squirrels. It started simply with seeing one squirrel. It didn't seem a problem at first. After some time, he began to notice that he was buying more and more sunflower seeds. And the squirrels were appearing in twos and threes. They would hang upside down on the feeder and drain the seeds like sand running through an hour glass.

His warnings started as chasing the squirrels away by walking out and waving his arms. The squirrels would retreat to the nearby woods for a few minutes until he was back inside his house and then they would return to the feeders, forcing the birds to withdraw.

The neighbor then made a decision that he would chase the squirrels away with a BB gun. His sunflower seed bill continued to go up. And the squirrels seemed to be ignoring his attempts to discourage. So he escalated his offense to the purchase of a pellet rifle. After several shots at squirrels on his feeder, he finally hit something besides the feeder itself. In fact, he killed the first squirrel. And then the mystery began.

The neighbor did not move the squirrel's body that day. It was near nightfall so he left it. Deciding that he would move it the next day, he gave it no more thought. But the next morning, he discovered that the squirrel's body had disappeared. There were no tracks and no sign of how, who, what or when. Two days later, he shot another squirrel at the feeder. He left the squirrel and when he got up the next morning, the squirrel was gone. He reported that over the next four months, he killed perhaps a dozen squirrels and each time, no matter how far apart or random, the bodies would be gone in the morning. He reasoned that since the shootings were so random, that whatever creature was removing the bodies was visiting every night since no squirrel body was ever found the next morning.

The man began to lose sleep. He would lie awake for hours at a time, night after night, listening. What intelligence was out there so quiet, so consistent, so hungry? Or did other squirrels come and take their fallen from the field? He said that any noise at night would send him to a window with his flashlight. Of course, nothing would be there. He began to lose weight.

The sight of a squirrel at the feeder would bring upon him a sense of dread. He would move slowly, head down, into the room to find the pellet rifle. Robotically, he would take his post and drop the squirrel, knowing that there would be another sleepless night. And no, he would not find a squirrel in the morning.

He purchased a high powered pellet rifle equipped with a light and a laser. He sat up at night on the weekends following a squirrel shooting to wait for the creature that came in under the cover of darkness. He never saw the creature. His mind unraveled. No amount of waiting, watching or worrying brought the mystery to a conclusion. A week after relaying this story to us, the squirrel hunter went into therapy and remains in a world apart from us. We have lost a friend and neighbor to a mystery as yet unsolved. Perhaps, the lesson in this is to leave those furry friends alone. Or how expensive can sunflower seeds be?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Found around wildflowers

Tom Wiesen
August 5, 2006

The other day I was relaxing over a couple of ice-cold beverages at the home of Paul and Sherri Wilson in Minturn. We sat outside on the patio surrounded by their magnificent flower garden while a couple of hummingbird feeders hung nearby, attracting many hummingbirds.

The most common hummingbirds here are the broad-tailed. They are emerald green overall and the males have a bright scarlet throat patch. The males make a high-pitched trill sound with their wings when in flight, whereas the females are silent.

If you hear the high-pitched trill of a passing hummingbird, you know without looking that it is a male. Remember, a big part of bird watching is bird listening.

While taking close-up photos of a hummingbird, I unknowingly captured an image of a long, tiny tongue that looked like a clear piece of fishing line. Upon researching how hummingbirds actually drink nectar, I was surprised to find that they did not suck or lap up nectar. Instead the nectar or sugar water travels up the tongue in a sort of capillary action, much like a wick in an oil lamp.

Finger landing
Interestingly, hummingbirds have some alternatives for food other than nectar from flowers. For instance I've seen a hummingbird hovering in a swarm of gnats snapping them up.

Also, hummingbirds are known to visit trees with running sap, which they'll eat when nectar isn't available. Sometimes, opportunistic hummingbirds will pick tiny spiders and insects off of flowers.

When a hummingbird feeder is getting heavy use, the birds can be quite bold. I have a feeder that has four plastic red flowers that attract the birds. If I cover three of the flowers with aluminum foil, the birds are forced to drink from only one of the flowers. Then, I hold out my index finger as a perch at the base of the flower and wait still patiently.

Sooner or later a hummingbird will come. It may take a couple of approaches before the birds trust you, but if you hold perfectly still they will alight on your finger.

Wow! How cool it is to have a fairy-like creature from the wild settle in on your finger. I can assure you that this is a fun activity for adults and children.

Found with flowers
Like many of our summer birds, hummingbirds migrate to warm climates during the winter where they can find flowers. Some species, such as the rufous hummingbird, may travel up to 2,500 miles between their breeding range as far north as southwest Alaska and their winter range in Mexico - all this distance covered each year by a creature that weighs little more than a penny.

Rufous hummingbirds have just started to come through Eagle County in the last couple of weeks. The rufous hummingbird's typical migration route from Mexico is up the California coast in the spring and down through the Rockies in the late summer. These aggressive birds drive other competitors from flowers and feeders. They can be recognized because they are orange or copper-colored overall.

Hummingbirds have extraordinarily high metabolisms and can drink their body weight or more in nectar each day. During times of energy conservation - such as nighttime, storms, or food shortages - hummingbirds can go into a state of torpor which lowers their body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. This, in turn, lowers their overall metabolic rate. This is an example of how efficiency in animals is often the difference between life and death.

Hummingbird and wildflowers go together, and both are true joys of summers here in Eagle County. Visit areas that are rich in red flowers such as Indian paintbrush, scarlet gilia or firecracker penstemon, and hummingbirds will naturally be attracted.

Writer Tom Wiesen and photographer Tanya Wiesen are the lead guides and owners of TrailWise Guides. Privately guided wilderness hiking and backcountry mountain biking tours are available daily. Call Trailwise for more information at 827-5363. TrailWise Guides in an equal opportunity employer that operates under a special use permit in the White River National Forest.

Vail, Colorado

Monday, August 07, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Garden planner

July 8, 2006

This week

• Pinch chrysanthemums back one more time this week to keep plants short and bushy and to prevent early flowers, but don't pinch them again after July 15.

• Deadhead annuals to keep them flowering all summer. If your trailing annuals, like petunias, are getting too straggly, pinch them back a few inches to encourage some lush new growth. Most annuals need regular fertilizing.

This month

• Harvest cantaloupe when they can separate from the vine with just a gentle pull.

• It's time to divide and transplant bearded iris. Lift out the clumps, shake off the dirt, and cut or break off sections of plant. Only keep big, healthy rhizomes with a fan of leaves; discard any shriveled rhizomes and dead foliage. Cut back healthy leaves by about half so the new roots don't have as much plant to support. Replant the divisions so that the tops of the rhizomes just show above the soil. Keep them watered (but not soggy) during the hot weather the rest of the summer.

• When your raspberries are done, cut the canes that fruited this year back to the ground.

• If you have a hummingbird feeder, wash it out with hot, soapy water every two or three days to keep away mold and bacteria, which can harm or kill the birds.

• Stop fertilizing trees and shrubs by the end of the month so they can begin to harden off for fall.

Friday, August 04, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Food, shelter, light hand earn habitat title for Chapel Hill home

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The house on Glenwood Drive for nine years has been home to the family of Rex McCall and Susan Elmore. The yard - well-tended if not well-groomed - has been home to scores of other, more elusive parents and children.

The yard's appeal to birds, bees and other animals earned it the designation of official "wildlife habitat" from the National Wildlife Federation this spring.

"Humans have had such an impact on the landscape," Rex McCall said. "We've really denuded and deleted a lot of the natural habitat. Just to be able to give a little bit of it back, that's one of our (goals)."

The couple and their 10-year-old daughter, Savanna - the last of their children still living at home - don't worry about raising the perfect lawn and keeping the shrubs neatly trimmed. But they still put a lot of time and effort into the yard.

"We try not to do too much cleaning up in the yard," Elmore said. "We want to keep it natural. A lot of it is just thinking in a different way and not having your yard so pristine."

It was Savanna McCall's idea to apply for the certificate, which now is posted near the street outside their home just a short step from a busy city thoroughfare.

To earn the federation's designation, awarded through a program begun in 1973, they must provide food, water, cover and habitat for a variety of insects and animals.

They had to document that the yard has three sources of food for wildlife. The family has a hummingbird feeder and have put out birdseed, suet and mealworms for birds. They've also kept dead trees in place so woodpeckers can tap into them.

They have birdbath, nesting boxes and a bat house.

Roxanne Paul, an assistant coordinator with the federation, said the organization also looks for at least two sustainable gardening practices, such as using native plants and cutting back on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The McCall-Elmores fit those specifications, and also use a soaker hose for watering, leave plant beds intact over the winter and use fireplace ashes as fertilizer.

Paul said North Carolina has nearly 2,700 sites certified as wildlife habitat in the program, out of 69,000 such sites nationwide. The North Carolina Wildlife Federation is one of the national group's most active affiliates, she said.

"It's really been taking off the last few years," Paul said. "I think a lot of it is because almost everyone lives in a community where there's some development going on. Most people miss having as much natural habitat around, and it's a way that people can give back.

The sites include schools, homes and commercial properties, and range from city balconies to undeveloped properties with hundreds of acres. Paul's own one-acre property in Vienna, Va., also has earned the designation.

"You don't need to have an acre lot," she said. "It's really more quality than quantity."

Information from: The Herald-Sun, http://www.herald-sun.com