stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
We started the season with one hummingbird that visited our two feeders.  Then it was two hummingbirds--a mated pair.

They must have had babies, because in the past few weeks I've seen at least two other hummingbirds at the front porch feeder.

However . . .

Hummingbirds DO NOT SHARE.  Ohhh, how they do not share.  As these young hummingbirds have gotten older, they've started fighting over the feeder.  They dive-bomb each other and chase each other through the pine trees, chittering angrily all the while.  "All the syrup are MINE!" they screech.

Never mind that there's more in that feeder than any family of hummingbirds could drink in a month.  Never mind that two other fully-stocked feeders hang in the back yard and outside the bedroom window.  No, no--this is MINE!!!

Also interesting is that Mama and Papa just let them fight.  When the two siblings are having at, the parents slip in for a drink.  Just like humans.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Lately, the hummingbirds have been snarfing down the syrup.  Two full feeders drained in a week!  I wonder if they have babies somewhere.

I used to have a third feeder.  It hung on a hook under the eaves that was there when we moved in, but the hook took a ladder to reach.  I hung one the third feeder from it for a while, but the inconvenience of hauling out the ladder to refill it was too much, so I stopped.  This was too bad--the hook is right outside my bedroom window, and it was very nice seeing hummingbirds at the feeder there.

Then we got the new windows!

The new windows open from both the left and the right.  Because of this, I can now open the window from the left and reach the hook from inside the house.  Cool!

Today I refilled the two other feeders and set out the third feeder again.  Within minutes, all three were busy with darting hummingbirds.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
We're getting more unseasonable weather out. The last two days have reached 70.  Today when I got home, the trails were dry enough for running, so I downloaded the next Zombies, Run! adventure and went jogging outdoors for the first time in months.  It was a fine run.  The redwing blackbirds have returned, along with several other songbirds, and they were in full song.  A great horned owl has set up residence in the area, and it was hooting loudly as well.

When I got back, I showered and emerged just as the sun was setting.  All the windows were open, and I heard wild turkeys calling to each other just behind our house.  A few minutes later came the hesitant sound of a few early spring peepers.  It's been a delightfully noisy evening!
stevenpiziks: (Light)
In the above post, I mentioned finding a nature trail created from a torn-up railroad bed.  It goes through forest, meadow, and swamp and I planned to take the boys there.  This evening I told the boys to get their shoes on--we were going!  There was minimal complaining. (!)

Although the place is biking distance away, Aran can't ride, so we drove over and parked in the school lot.  When we hit the beginning of the trail, we encountered a flock of geese with youngsters on a section of trail that passed between two huge ponds (or maybe they're small lakes).  The geese marched away, and the boys promptly set about throwing rocks from the trail into the water.  I showed Maksim how to skip stones and we all set about trying to see who could skip the most.  Sasha got several skips.

Farther down, Sasha, who was walking ahead, found the snapping turtle.  It was huge!  At least eighteen inches long, not counting head and tail.  It was crossing the trail.  I'd never seen a wild turtle that big in Michigan.  I warned the boys not to touch it--snappers can be dangerous--but they and I were able to examine it freely.  It hunkered into its shell and watched us pointedly: "Get those fingers too close, buddy, and I'm keeping one."  Maksim was fascinated beyond all fascination.

Eventually we let it be.  I was still getting over being impressed when Sasha found the turtle nest.  The trail, you see, is loosely packed earth and gravel, good digging material.  Sasha found an indentation in the ground with the remains of rubbery eggshells in it.  They were all that was left of recently-hatched baby turtles!  We spent considerable time examining them, and I explained how turtles bury their eggs near water (in this case, swamp) so the babies can scurry into it when they hatch and dig themselves out.

A little farther down, we found another turtle, also huge.  This one was half-buried in dirt at the side of the trail, and we suspect it (she) was laying eggs.  And then we found another, and another!  All in all, we found five enormous snapping turtles and dozens of hatched-out nests.

Maksim also found a snake, which freaked out and slithered away.

When we entered a heavily-forested area, Aran said it seemed like we would have a magical adventure.  I said I used to do that when I was his and Maksim's age, that it always felt like a fantasy world or a castle with a dragon in it would be just around the bend, and I finally started writing my make-believe games down as stories.

This set Mackie off, and he created a story about a boy who lived in a cabin with his grandparents and who had an encounter with a god. 

I pointed out a group of enormous trees looming ahead and said they looked like giants storming toward us.  "What do the trees look like to you, Maksim?"

"That one looks sad," he said, pointing to a drooping tree.  "And that one looks like a dead body that rose up from a grave."

I told him those were awesome descriptions.  Then I turned to Aran.  "What do you think the trees look like?"

"A forest," he said, with the literal-mindedness that inevitably accompanies autism.

"But what do they =look= like," I pressed.  "How would you describe them to someone who couldn't see what you can?"

"They look like a forest," he replied, confused.

"You want to write that fantasy story about twenty swords," I said.  "Writers use descriptions like similes and metaphors.  What if you had to describe the trees without using the words 'forest' or 'tree'?  You might say, 'The tree looked like . . . '"

"That tree is depressed," he said.

Ah ha!  He =can= do it on his own!  "Fabulous!  What about that one?"

"That tree is a warrior," he said.

Maksim chimed in with more figurative language of his own, which prompted yet more from Aran.  (Sasha was walking ahead, looking for more turtle nests.)  And Mackie added more about his boy-in-the-cabin story.  And I told them about the YA series I want to write when THE CLOCKWORK EMPIRE is done.

"I've written a ten-page draft of my own story," Sasha said.

"We're a family of writers," I replied.  "You're all so creative!"

At last we arrived back at the car and drove home.  Maksim promptly set about writing down his story about the cabin boy, and he wants me to submit it to my writers group.  Aran learned how to create his own figurative language.  Sasha took pictures of the turtle egg shells he brought home.

It was the best nature hike in the whole wide world.
stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
Yesterday I went out on a bike ride.  My normal route takes me on a dirt road that eventually leads near Aran's school.  Usually I turn around when I get that far, but this time I kept going.  An abandoned railroad track crosses the road, and when I got to that point, I saw the tracks were gone.  The place where the tracks went into the woods showed a wide gravel trail instead.  Huh.

I turned down it and followed.  It was a wonderful shaded walk.  (The gravel was too loose for riding and I was forced to ditch my bike.)   The trail threaded through trees and past ponds and lakes and meadows.  Dusk gathered, and up ahead of me I saw little forms bounding on the path.  I thought they were raccoons, but when I got closer, I saw they were foxes, five of them.  Littermates, I'm assuming.  They were so cute!  They dashed off when they caught sight of me.

Bullfrogs boomed in the ponds and fireflies winked in the trees.  It was cool and relaxing, exactly like summer nights I remember from when I was little.

I'm going to take the boys down there.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Yesterday Sasha called out, "Dad! Hummingbird!"

Sure enough, a hummingbird was hovering around the feeder.  I think it was a female, which means a likelihood of a nest and babies.  Yay!
stevenpiziks: (Carved Rock)
I had great success in attracting hummingbirds at my old house, but had no idea if I could do it in the new place.  A couple weeks ago, I boiled up some sugar syrup, filled a pair of feeders, and hung one out the kitchen window and one out the living room window.  The living room backs up to a wide creek and a meadow, so I had hopes.  However, day after day after day passed, and no hummingbirds.

Today, Maksim said to me, "Daddy, I saw a hummingbird at the feeder!"

Yay!  We have hummingbirds!
stevenpiziks: (Bad Ass)
About 16,000 flights to be canceled in Europe Saturday due to volcanic ash.  We are still nature's bitch.
stevenpiziks: (Noooo)
The hummingbirds are gone.  I refilled the feeders two weeks ago, and they haven't been touched.  I haven't seen any drinking at them, either.  They've clearly taken off for Mexico and South America for the winter.

Can I come too?
stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
The local hummingbird population has increased.  I don't know whether they're babies from the original pair that showed up this spring or if our feeders have simply attracted more.  The new ones (there are at least three, as far as I can tell) are rather smaller, which makes me think they're babies.  However, hummingbirds DO NOT SHARE.

Ohhhh, how they do not share.

They fight over the feeders.  One bird approaches a feeder, and another dive bombs him.  They swoop and stab at each other in two gray-green blurs, making little chittering noises.  Their wings thrum with a deep throbbing noise, rather like a quiet full-sized airplane or helicopter.  They chase each other around the trees like tiny warplanes.  Vicious nectar-suckers, all of them.

When they aren't fighting, they're eating.  They drain the feeders like crazy.  I change the sugar-water once a week to prevent mold from growing, and refilling them halfway used to provide plenty of food.  Now I fill them completely, and they're still empty by end of the week.  (Good thing the stuff is cheap to make!)  When the feeders run dry, the birds hover outside the windows and glare inside.  Kala says she half expects to hear rapid-fire drumming on the front door, followed by a squeaky, "Hey!  Where's the friggin' FOOD?"

One of the more vicious birds is very shy with people.  He has a gray-black coat and a ruby throat.  He prefers the kitchen window feeder, and drinks several times an hour.  But if he spies a human watching him through the glass, he leaves the perch and goes into hover mode.  If the human doesn't move, he'll sip while hovering.  If the human moves, he zips away to the safety of the maple tree in the back yard.  But let his brother approach (I think it's his brother--they look alike), he turns into a chittering hover bomb of fury and attacks with all the anger of hornet.

Maybe the Air Force should look into using hummingbirds in some way.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
This afternoon I was working on the living couch in view of the hummingbird feeder.  The hummingbird came by and fed, its wings a blur.  It sipped and sipped, then sped off.  A few minutes later, it came back, sipped and zipped away.  It returned again for yet more sipping.

A hungry day for hummingbirds.
stevenpiziks: (Bear)
So I was in a Petco store a while ago and I passed their crappy little display of hummingbird feeders, and on the shelf underneath them was a display selling humming "nectar."  You could buy it by the pint, quart, or gallon.  I stared at the gallon a moment, then heft the jug.  It cost--heart attack time here--FIFTEEN DOLLARS.  Yes, you read that right.  Fifteen freakin' dollars.  I checked the ingredient list.  "Water (purified by reverse osmosis in a filter . . . [blah blah blah]"  The blah blah blah part went on to desribe the exact process used to filter TAP WATER. 

Second ingredient: sucrose.  Yep--plain old sugar. 

Third ingredient: red food dye. 

In other words, it was red sugar water, and they were charging fifteen bucks, or seven times the price of a gallon of milk.

I was stunned.  People actually bought this crap?  For fifteen bucks, you could buy enough of the ingredients at the store to make a whole barrel of the stuff!  Someone has a really good racket going here.

For a moment I was outraged as well as stunned.  Then I thought, "Anyone who's stupid enough to buy it deserves to get rooked."  And then I thought, "I wonder if I could get in on it?"  Hell, I could sell my hummingbird nectar for two dollars per gallon less than theirs and still make out like a bandit.  Hmmmmm . . .

stevenpiziks: (Cup)
Today I took the hummingbird feeders down to refill them.  While I was rinsing them out in the sink, the male hummingbird buzzed around the kitchen window where one feeder usually hangs.  "Hey!  Where's the food?  Bring it out or I'll buzz you silly!"

I finished with the feeders and brought them out to hang.  The hummingbird hovered a few yards away, supervising.  "That's right--get it on the hook.  Now back away, buddy.  Clear the eats!"

When I went back inside, he zipped straight over to the feeder and drank.

Hummingbirds, incidentally, are quite territorial.  I'm guessing the male and the female that hang around are a mated pair (and I'm looking forward to the babies that I'm sure are coming), but even they don't share feeders.  The male drinks out of the kitchen feeder and the female drinks from the living room feeder.  The feeder on the side of the house doesn't get much business, and I suspect they've declared detente on that one.
stevenpiziks: (Cup)
This morning a female hummingbird hovered at the feeder outside the living room window, sipping at the syrup.  Way cool!  I ran to snatch up my camera, but Aran rushed up to the window and scared her away before I could get anything.  The birds clearly know the feeders are there, though.
stevenpiziks: (Good News)
We have hummingbirds!  Or =a= hummingbird, anyway.  I was in my office when Mackie came running downstairs.  "Daddy!  There's a hummingbird upstairs!"  By the time I got up there, though, it was gone.  Kala and the boys had all seen it, though.  And now we know the feeders are working.  Neat!
stevenpiziks: (Ireland)
After supper, I went out in search of hummingbird feeders.  First stop: PetSmart.  Their web site had several models, and I figured their store would carry them too.

They carried exactly two models.  Both were completely plastic.  $10 and $15.  Chintzy, ugly--nothing I wanted around my house.  I left them on the shelf.

I knew that Meijer has a fairly extensive pet section and figured they might have feeders, so I drove down that way.  This took me past Home Depot and Lowe's.  Of course!  I zipped in there right quick.  Found several models of feeder, ranging from $3 to $30.  For the price I would have paid for plastic at PetSmart, I got glass and brushed copper at Home Depot.  Sheesh!

I also noted the many, many cartons of hummingbird nectar I could buy.  "No boiling necessary!" says the copy.  Oh, brother.  So they're saying I can buy this in case I don't know HOW TO BOIL WATER??

I like the feeders I found.  They look cool, and I want the weather to clear up so I can put them out.
stevenpiziks: (WTF?)
This week I'm going to get some hummingbird feeders.

Early last fall, I was looking out the kitchen window and I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering just beyond the glass.  I just had time to blink before it darted away.  I didn't know we got hummingbirds around here, but now that I do, I want to bring them around.

On-line research was, once again, my friend.  I learned how to make hummingbird feeder syrup (1 part sugar to 4 parts water).  I uncovered the Great Red Dye Debate, which reminds me of the Great Autism Vaccine Debate.  Red, you see, attracts hummingbirds, since that's the color of some of their favorite flowers, and people often color the syrup in their feeders to encourage the birds.  Hummingbird enthusiasts warn that red food coloring doesn't harm humans but there's no evidence that it doesn't harm hummingbirds, and most of the web sites order you not to put red food coloring into hummingbird syrup.  "The feeders are usually painted red where the syrups comes out," they say.  "Or you can tie a red ribbon around your feeder."

Interestingly, there's absolutely no evidence that red food coloring DOES harm hummingbirds, either.

I probably won't color the syrup simply because it'll be cheaper.

I also learned that it's a good idea to place a couple-three feeders around the yard, but not in view of each other.  Put one in the front yard and one in the back, or two feeders around the corner from each other, and so on.  Hummingbirds are territorial and one bird will try to drive other birds away from multiple feeders if it can see them at the same time.

Hummingbirds arrive in this area in mid- to late April, and it's a good idea to put feeders out a couple weeks before then to establish early that your yard is the place to go for free eats.  Weather allowing, I'll head out tomorrow and see what I can find.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
The weather got into the high forties today.  In Michigan, this is practically summer weather.  So I went for a bike ride, the first of . . . pre-spring.
I ride my bike three seasons out of four, which makes winter difficult, since I'm so used to riding all the time and then abruptly I can't.  (Well, I probably =could=, but I wouldn't get any enjoyment out of it.)  As a result, it felt very good to get out and ride.
I rode the back roads, which were not nearly as bumpy as I expected.  Snow was melting in the fields and rushing into the ditches, creating new runoffs and creeks and streams everywhere.  The sound of running water followed me everywhere, and I wondered if this is what the earth sounded like before the rivers formed.  An enormous flock of geese was setting up camp for the evening in an old cornfield, and they honked and called to each other, their bodies hidden by the earth, their voices carried on the air.  A pair of white swans flapped heavily overhead.
I rode and rode and rode, and my leg muscles didn't protest nearly as much as I thought they might.  A winter of karate training kept everything in fair shape.  Go me!
It was splendid being out in bright, clear air, clad a jacket and scarf, skimming in a breeze that didn't hurt or howl.


stevenpiziks: (Default)

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