Thursday, July 21, 2016

Heatwaves and Ruby-throated hummingbirds #phenology

A few days ago, three hummingbirds were simultaneously at our feeder. I think it was two females and one male, but I'm not sure. Neither am I sure whether they were all adults or if one or two were this year's fledglings. It's about the time of year that their young should be starting to fly.

hummingbird at feeder
hummingbird at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I already knew that nectar (sugar water) feeders needed to be kept clean and to watch for mold. I hadn't been aware how quickly sugar water can ferment in the kind of heat we're having. Fortunately, I've switched to the smaller of our feeders because it has built in bee guards. I'll plan on refilling it every couple of days this Summer because drinking fermented sugar water enlarges a hummingbird's liver, I assume kind of like cirrhosis. Clearly, my guideline of watching for dead birds near the feeder isn't appropriate. How we humans can do so much potential damage with the best of intentions.

I bet my Better Half will be pleased to discuss improving our flower garden with plants attractive to and good for hummingbirds. Next year we'll limit feeding to early and late in the season, when real nectar is scarce. That'll also solve the issues with attracting bees and ants. It might, if I get lucky enough, even result in more natural photos than the ones at a feeder.

spider web in pine tree
spider web in pine tree
Photo by J. Harrington

We certainly have the spider webs the birds use for their nests and the stream/pond and nearby woods so the hummingbirds should find acceptable nesting habitat. There seems to be a limited supply of local flowers bearing nectar, but then, I hadn't been looking for any. We'll see how this goes. I certainly don't remember seeing as many butterfly weed plants as we've had this year and the number of columbine plants in also increasing in the yard.

“Hummingbirds”

by Mary Oliver


The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,
scattered,
shimmering
in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;
then they sat down,
each one with dainty, charcoal feet –
each one on a slender branch –
and looked at me.
I had meant no harm,
I had simply
climbed the tree
for something to do
on a summer day,
not knowing they were there,
ready to burst the ledges
of their mossy nest
and to fly, for the first time,
in their sea-green helmets,
with brisk, metallic tails –
each tulled wing,
with every dollop of flight,
drawing a perfect wheel
across the air.
Then, with a series of jerks,
they paused in front of me
and, dark-eyed, stared –
as though I were a flower –
and then,
like three tosses of silvery water,
they were gone.
Alone,
in the crown of the tree,
I went to China,
I went to Prague;
I died, and was born in the spring;
I found you, and loved you, again.
Later the darkness fell
and the solid moon
like a white pond rose.
But I wasn’t in any hurry.
Likely I visited all
the shimmering, heart-stabbing
questions without answers
before I climbed down.
***
Mary Oliver
White Pine (1994)


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