Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nature Notes: Little Bird and Big Trouble

When the hummingbirds returned this year, they announced themselves by hovering outside the kitchen window and peering in, looking for the feeder that hung there last summer. What a marvel that they find their way back from the far south, not just to Indiana but to this exact window.

I wasted no time putting up the feeder, and they have been buzzing in and darting away happily ever since - until one day, when I noticed this little guy.

He just sat there on the feeder, unmoving, feathers puffed up, breathing hard. It was chilly, but other hummers were flying. They perched on the other side of the feeder, sipped a bit, and lingered a few seconds to consider their sickly friend. Maybe keeping him company. He did not stir when I took a close look at him, returning my gaze without any sign of alarm.

Twenty minutes later, he was still there. He clearly needed help from somebody who knew what they were doing, so I started looking for a rehabber.

I tried the Audubon Society, the Humane Society, the zoo, the botanical garden; I called the numbers they gave me. Of the few who picked up, nobody took hummers. I searched the web for avian vets, and they told me they could not treat wild birds by law. I called the numbers they gave me, too, with no luck. Eleven calls and an hour later, the cavalry was still not coming.

At that point, with the hummer still panting away on the feeder, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I consulted the Internet for instructions: Hummingbird First Aid.

The news wasn't encouraging. According to the site, very few hummers survive any kind of trauma. You have about four hours to start treatment, 24 before it's too late. Plus, there are heavy duty laws against keeping one in captivity.

Undeterred, I rounded up a shoe box and a soft cloth and headed back downstairs to attempt a rescue. Per the website, a pouffy hummingbird is a cold hummingbird in need of being warmed under a light bulb. That much I could do.

Then I heard a thudding sound downstairs from the general vicinity of the kitchen window. And when I got there the little bird was gone.

Did some predator notice him there and snatch him? Did Gatsby Cat pounce at him through the glass and scare him away? I'll never know.

But the next day, a somewhat puffy male hummer came and went at the feeder. He did not fly away when I peered closely at him, and looked me in the eye, unafraid, as he drank.

Was it the same bird? I hope it was, and that he's made it through to another season.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And Here We Go...

Well, yesterday was the last day of training. Today, I'm on my own. I'll be moving soon from the training facility to a little gray box of my very own. It's been an intense three months, but I think I'm going to be alright.

The beginners all start on the night shift, 3pm to 11pm, when things are a bit slower. That means I never see The Hubbie. He's in bed before I get home, and he leaves long before I get up. I'll get Friday and Saturday off, and he's been getting only Sundays. We've begun communicating by quick phone calls and by leaving little letters for each other, which is surprisingly fun and sweet. It makes us feel like we're back in college, separated by summer break.

I really love having the morning and early afternoon free. I can putter in the garden, run errands, make appointments. I get to have a leisurely breakfast, with time to fresh-grind good coffee. Sometimes, I just sleep in. I feel like I have a life again, something beyond just work-dinner-bedtime every day.

There's always a little anxiety, though, because I'm constantly checking the clock to avoid being late: How much time do I have? How much do I have now? And I have to be careful not to wear myself out before I leave for work. But I'm sure I'll settle into a routine, in time.

Life is hard. But life is good.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nature Notes: Nightmare on Elm Street

Some creatures are scarier than others. This one, hanging from the garage ceiling, sent my younger son sprinting into the house the moment he laid eyes on it.

Fortunately, that four-inch long "stinger" isn't a stinger at all.

This is a Giant Ichneumon Wasp, megarhyssa atrata lineata, and that formidable-looking appendage is a highly dexterous tool for boring into wood and laying eggs.

How the ovipositor can bore into wood is still not well understood, but in some species they actually have metal tips.

This parasitic wasp lays eggs inside the caterpillars of wood borers, primarily of horn tail wasps. The eggs hatch inside their hosts, feeding slowly from the inside out, killing the host only when they pupate.

The whole grisly process is said to have shaken Charles Darwin's faith in a benevolent Creator. You can pretty much see his point.

The adult ichneumon, on the other hand, doesn't eat at all. She's just a lean, mean, baby monster-making machine.

All in all, the wasp is considered a beneficial insect. Unless you're a caterpillar.

If you'd like to see one of these amazing creatures in action, here's a remarkable YouTube link for you. And for bigger, better still shots go here.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Nice Surprise

Look what landed on my feeder this morning: a rose-breasted grosbeak. I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid.

Actually, I may have been seeing the female and didn't know it. The photos I've turned up online show her as virtually indistinguishable from a sparrow, and I have lots of those.

The feeder has been a huge success. So much so that I had to move it off the front porch because of the mess. (See my bird list on the sidebar?)

I've been taking it in at night to keep the raccoons out of it, and filling it only halfway so that it's mostly empty by nightfall. I've has to shoo them away with a broom to get it sometimes.

And now Chuck the Woodchuck has gotten wind of the freebies. I ran him off the deck railing twice this morning, caught with his nose in the seeds. He retreats to the bottom of the steps, with just the top of his head and eyes showing, waiting for me to turn my back, and then sneaks slowly along the edge back toward the feeder. It's pretty funny, but annoying at the same time. I think my next step has to be a pole feeder with a baffle.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nature Notes: You Get What You Pay For

Back in April, we were thrilled to be able to order 20 very inexpensive trees from our Soil and Water Conservation District - a fantastically helpful group of people who have sent me loads of information on everything from planting native species to tax breaks for conservation measures we could take.

Keeping in mind the great suggestions sent by Sally and the District's guide, we chose redbuds and American plums for flowers and wild fruit, and swamp chestnut oaks for the sketchy parts of the wetlands.

The day came to pick up our baby forest, and I insisted on keeping the minivan that day in order to have room for all the trees. I arrived at the 4H Fairgrounds to find the parking lot full and dozens of families milling about, moseying in and out of the assigned barn. It was like a carnival, everyone happy and excited, optimism wafting through the air like sweet wood smoke. I took my number, and shortly I was standing at a folding table waiting eagerly for my order.

Then the attendant arrived with a paper-wrapped bundle about 10 inches around and two feet long. It contained all 20 of my trees. Crestfallen, I began to regret the squabble over the minivan.

The Hubby got a good laugh at my expense but, as he is a good sport about these things, set out with me to plant my barely rooted twigs. The first one was a plum. I carefully considered where to place it "so it wouldn't block the view of the pond". He looked at the twig. He looked at me. We both burst out laughing, stuffed it in a hole and moved on. By the end of the project we were planting at random, wherever we felt like digging would be easiest.

I have them all staked with flags - we'd never be able to find them again otherwise. And next year I'll fork over the dough for some actual saplings.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wearable Hummingbird Feeder

I have gotta get me one o' these.

Well, then again, at $79.95, maybe not. It's a pretty cool idea though, if you aren't the sort who cares what the neighbors think.

Check out the details and some great hummer photos at the supplier,

Up for Air

Has it really been a week since I've been online? Obviously, it has - and I do apologize for not getting around to visit or participate in Nature Notes.

I'm in the final stage of training in the new job, which has been unimaginably stressful. All I want to do when I get home is eat dinner, whump down on the sofa, and stare at the TV and drool until bedtime. Sleep and repeat.

But it's the weekend, and these 48 hours are all mine. Let the good times roll...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hoardus Interruptus

Left Behind

As I've mentioned before, I have a really hard time getting rid of stuff. And when my mom passed away, I inherited a whole houseful of things I felt I had to keep, most of which ended up in the basement. If it were up to me, that's where it would all have lived forever. But when we sold the house to my son, he understandably wanted it gone.

And so, we had a yard sale at our old house Saturday. In preparation, the stuff we're keeping was boxed and stacked at the new place, but there was a lot left over. I didn't mind letting the bulk of it go, but I did have to go inside and hold back tears for a while when someone asked for "all the old stuff".

The "old stuff" meant my mother's things and my grandmothers' things that I grew up seeing every day. Things that I would never again use or want, but that were loaded with emotional connections.

And when somebody made off with the things from my kids' childhood, it took every ounce of willpower to avoid a full-blown hoarder meltdown straight from that TV show "Buried Alive". I did snatch back one little board game from the pile, but other than that I think I handled it pretty well. Though I do wish I had kept these two toys. And the basket they're sitting in. And that tin just behind them. And the one behind that...