Nature Talks - pic1

A hummingbird pauses to feed at a bright yellow flower.

HUMMINGBIRDS DON’T even make it to the top 10 of my favorite birds, but nonetheless they are certainly remarkable creatures and deserve admiration. I put out one sugar-water feeder and I do enjoy watching their antics. Every morning just as daylight has begun to think seriously about relieving the dark sky of its duty, a ruby-throated hummingbird (the only breeding hummingbird in the eastern United States) appears at the feeder.

I used a larger and longer-than-necessary zip tie to pull together three metal posts with feeder hangers on each. As I expected, the hummingbird finds it a reasonably good perch not far from his food source. Despite the fact that they are typically going at warp speed (with a heart rate of around 1,200 beats per minute during flight and 250 bpms when resting!), the little bird perches there for quite some time. From this perch, he also defends his feeder as other hummingbirds stop by. The face-offs are intense and noisy. No one seems to get injured although that seems like a possibility.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the ruby-throated hummingbird is “capable of flying more than 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) without a break.” The site also says that peak migration for the ruby-throated hummingbird is in September. So quite soon we will be saying goodbye to all but the stragglers.

I’ve been dismantling/rearranging my horse fencing and our resident doe and this year’s fawn have been enjoying easy access to areas they usually never go. One recent evening I scared them and the doe took off through one of the openings in the fence line. The fawn apparently thought she should go back the way she came but was reluctant to go all the way to the opening on that side of the metal-panel fence. She kept testing getting through the gaps in each panel until finally she made the plunge, squeezing her front legs and head through but she struggled to get her back legs to follow. Finally she blustered them through and scooted off to find her mom. I imagine she had a few road-rash abrasions on the insides of her legs from rubbing on those metal bars.

The turkeys and their poults are also enjoying the empty horse paddock, although each time I see them it seems like there are fewer young ones than before. The mother seems to pay little attention to them, typically leading the way and assuming they are following rather than herding them ahead of her. I suspect they get picked off by foxes and hawks.

I “rescued” yet another snapping turtle from a crushing death one evening. This was a little guy, not quite the size of the bottom of a coffee cup. He was three-quarters of the way across the road around a mile from my house. I missed being the one crushing him, turned around and managed to help him get the rest of the way off the road without another car coming along.

A great blue heron is visiting our small pond regularly these days. When the dogs and I spook him out of his fishing spot, he lifts himself into the air with wings that seem to stretch the diameter of the pond. As he pulls away over the house and around the barn, he tucks his neck, stretches his legs out behind him, and drifts soundlessly away.

My domestic duck, Trois, seems to be replicating last year’s fall scenario. He has spent the spring and summer going to the pond for the day and then coming back to his pen and secure stall for the evening/night. But three wild mallards have joined him in the pond and now he stays in the pond overnight with them. They march up the lawn in the morning to eat some duck grain and trot back to the pond when they’ve had their fill. Others join them for brief visits — there were seven a few days ago. Last year the accumulating group totaled well over 20. When the nights started to get cold, all but the three originals took off for points south. Once the pond started to freeze, the dedicated three left their Trois behind. Trois paddled himself an ice-free hole for a few days longer. Then I found him huddled in the barn waiting for me to pick him up and deposit him to his hay-filled pen for the winter. No worries, Trois, I will be ready when you are again this year.

Lastly, in response to a previous column when I mentioned the disappearance of chimney swifts from our chimney the past couple years, a reader emailed me a link to a report about the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at UNH discovery of a new (to the world) virus in chimney swifts (just google “chimney swifts NH” to find a story about it). Nestlings received from Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine, were found to have an adenovirus never before seen. It has been named the Chimney Swift Adenovirus 1. No idea if this is part of the reason I haven’t seen swifts at my house but it is a noteworthy discovery.

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Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.