Sunday, December 4, 2016 Snubbed by a Hummer

Seward, AK
Sunny today, a marvelous change from yesterday’s gloomy gray, though it lifted spirits, not the temperature. The NNW wind remained strong, from 23 to 31 mph with gusts to 46 mph. With temps ranging from 12º to 18º the wind chill ranged from -8 to -2º. Brrrr!

Last night I rounded up two no-longer-needed round trashcan lids and cut a scavenged piece of greenhouse Lucite ripple to 36” high.  I learned how to use a rivet tool to attach the Lucite to the top and bottom lids. Once I had the basic cylindrical structure, I used pieces of scrap white electric wire to hang the clamp lamp from the top lid, then screwed in a broomstick dowel near the top across the diameter with an eyehook to guide the line holding the hummingbird feeder. Other eyehooks guided the lamp cord and feeder line along the edge of the Lucite to keep the opening clear. I added two long cords to the opposite sides of the bottom lid to for tiedowns to keep it stable in the wind.

First thing this morning, I hit upon the idea to use the cut off sleeve-down part of an old T-shirt to fit over the top and further reduce the opening and draft, and another old T-shirt around the bottom to raise up. This is adjustable, depending on the wind and temperature. I scrounged around for some red ribbon and decorated the upper circumference to further attract the hummer to this contraption.

In the predawn twilight, I struggled on a ladder against the buffeting wind to drill a hole overhead in the soffit, screw in a hook, and then hang it. Luckily, it was very light. I drilled two smaller holes down lower and screwed in the lower eyehooks and tied it tight. Nice and solid. I plugged in the 60-watt lamp, lowered the feeder ring, hooked up the feeder half-filled with fresh, warm solution, and raised it close to the lamp, secured by a chain to another eyehook for maximum adjustability. Voila! In business!

Just then, I heard ticking from the nearby spruce tree. Official dawn, 9:40 am! The hummer! I was so excited! I stepped back from my whizz-bang Super-Deluxe Hummingbird Windbreak and Feeder. The ANNA’S buzzed over, looked it up and down and zipped away. What?! Snubbed by a hummer! 

How could he afford to be picky after sitting somewhere in the dark for 18 hours, buffeted by the wicked north wind gusting to 46 mph, and temps in the teens? He is one tough hombre!

My neighbor reported that he was back at her feeder, licking the concentrated sugar solution that froze under the yellow plastic flowers when it was accidentally tipped. Hard to compete with frozen sugar pops, but at least he knows I plan to be in business if he ever needs my contraption’s offerings. 

I monitored the feeder throughout the day, and though it was mighty cold, the solution did not freeze. THAT is a huge improvement. I plan to leave the lamp on all night and see if it remains liquid by morning. 

It’s astonishing how a tiny bird weighing less than two thin dimes can make adults go to such great pains to accommodate their particular needs. But, just to hear his brave ticking and see him after surviving another frigid Alaskan winter night makes it all worthwhile.

While I was busy installing the Super-Deluxe, I heard and watched ROBINS flying in to feed on my Mt Ash trees, joining the cheerful whistling PINE GROSBEAKS. An adult BALD EAGLE soared overhead, and RAVENS played in the wind. 

Just before noon, I headed out again. A flock of about 20 Robins plucked red berries from a neighbor’s Mt Ash trees; the berries must be frozen and hard as little rocks, but down they hatch they went. I heard the chirring of BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS and found a dozen sitting in a nearby Mt Ash; only a few were actively feeding. Such handsome birds!

A few blocks away, whitecaps whipped across Resurrection Bay and sea smoke streamed south like whirling ghosts. Three PELAGIC CORMORANTS braved the sea smoke as it swirled around them. In the lee of the bank by the Alaska Sealife Center, a small mixed flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and COMMON MERGANSERS circled around, searching for small fish. 

GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS patrolled along the waterfront, dipping into the wind and down to the water. Two sea otters bobbed placidly in the waves, holding their paws up out of the chilly water, disturbed only when one paddled backwards into the other by mistake. The shiny, round head of a HARBOR SEAL poked up to look around then quietly descended like a periscope.

At the harbor mouth, two MARBLED MURRELETS, a small flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and COMMON MERGANSERS dove after small fish. NORTHWESTERN CROWS scavenged along the beach or sat forlornly, fluffed up against the cold. RAVENS looped and called, quite pleased with the wind toy. More Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers swam in the boat harbor.

I checked the Stash and Store Pond at mile 3.5 Seward Highway and immediately found the male HOODED MERGANSER, looking debonair, in the company of a tiny female BUFFLEHEAD.

Over at Fourth of July Beach, many Northern Sea Nettles lay frozen where the tide left them early this morning. They glowed like little suns in the low afternoon light. Upside down, they resembled frozen confections. 

Several GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS fed on partially thawed sea nettles as the tide slowly rose to engulf them. Earlier this winter I noticed the gulls feeding on live ones as they drifted in to shore. Jellies seem to be a food source for gulls, and they are plentiful. Another gull with much darker gray primaries that I think is a GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING hybrid also fed on the thawing, submerging jellies.

The birds, scenery, and the sun warmed my spirits but not my body, so I reluctantly retreated to the shelter of the warm car and drove home. Though I patiently stared at the Super-Deluxe in hopes of conjuring up the hummer, it was in vain. But tomorrow is another day of hope for everyone.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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