Sat, 23 Feb 2013 18:36:50 EST
Birds and Bees
By Tom Lounsbury
The birds and bees time is finally upon us. I know this is a fact when the humming birds and orioles arrive at our home, which happened just a few days ago. Last year, these two bird species caught us by surprise and we had to scramble to get out the special feeders with their syrupy red contents. This year, we seemed to sense it was time, and the morning after we put the feeders out, both orioles and humming birds came swarming in.
We used to have specific feeders for each specie, but have found that humming birds are quite content to dine at the oriole feeders, so that is all we put out now, which simplifies matters. The majority of these feeders are on our back deck, while the regular bird feeders are suspended down from mulberry tree limbs in front of our bay window, so we have a diversity of bird viewing on both sides of our home.
I personally enjoy sitting on the back deck and enjoying watching the orioles and humming birds visiting the feeders. Iíve finally adapted to the buzzing sounds of humming birds careening close by my head. The first couple of times, I mistook the sudden sound for an angry bumblebee and instinctively swatted at the intruder buzzing near my ear, and fortunately missed (if connecting with a flying humming bird is even possible).
My nervous reaction about bumblebees has been well earned over the years, and although I know they are a necessary part of nature, there is no love loss on my part. My first run in with bumblebees occurred when I was a kid with orders to grease some farm equipment in the tool shed. It was when I was pulling a grease gun out from under the workbench, I felt a vibration in the tool and then the bumblebees came tumbling out, obviously having built a nest under the bench and around that particular grease gun. I got stung pretty good, most notably on the right ear that swelled up big enough to put Dumbo to shame. If I had gotten stung on both ears I might have been able to take up flying.
Then there was an instance just a couple years ago when I was working on a firebreak surrounding one of my CRP grass fields. I was pulling an ancient cultipacker using my 1953 Oliver 88 tractor. One of my sons clocked me going down the road in the (6th) road gear, and top end for this tractor is 12 mph. I was puttsing along and aimed for a large lump of earth that turned out to entail a bumblebee nest, and the swarm that came buzzing out didnít appreciate my home wrecking efforts. I quickly slipped into road gear and pulled the throttle wide open with the farm equipment behind me bouncing and clanging like I highly doubt it had ever done before.
Thatís when I soon realized the particular bumblebees pursuing me could buz along at 15 mph, and were gaining on me almost as if in slow motion. The swarm put its first focus on the bouncing equipment but soon realized it was nothing but cold steel. Then several individuals seemed to sense my bug-eyed presence up in the tractor seat and homed in on me, which had me fending them off by swatting them with my cap while controlling a bouncing tractor (anyone viewing this from a distance would have assumed it was a farmer gone mad). The bees soon broke off their attack, but not before I was stung several times about my head, face and neck. Fortunately I didnít end up with anymore Dumbo ears, but I had my share of lumps.
Generally, I heal pretty quick from bee and wasp stings, so getting stung, although not a pleasant experience, never worried me much during my frequent outdoor experiences. Then came my walk in the garden last summer to check things out while walking in my bare feet. Actually I enjoy going barefoot in the yard, so this was nothing new. It was while I was walking around some squash vines and blossoms that I felt a burning sting on the underside of my big toe, and saw the culprit buzzing in a circle on the ground. I had just stepped on a bumblebee that was simply defending itself.
I sat on the ground and quickly removed the visible stinger from my toe but it was clear the venom had already done its job because my toe began to swell right away. I guess my system was letting me know it had enough run-ins with bumble bee stings over the years, because my entire foot started to immediately swell, followed by my ankle, and then the swelling started going up my leg, almost as if I had been snake-bitten. Iím not quite sure which is worse, a Dumbo sized ear or a genuine Sasquatch foot (I sure could have left some strange tracks in the woods for folks to ponder over).
It was when I couldnít bend my knee and was feeling a bit ďoddĒ (tipsy), I thought Iíd best say something to my wife Ginny, who quickly assessed everything and rushed me to the hospital, despite my saying the matter would work off, as it had always done before. I actually thought Iíd get a simple shot and head back home, but soon found myself flat on my back with an I-V attached to my arm for the next few hours. The swelling did quickly subside, but I found out because that particular leg had had some previous major surgeries including a bit of metal, I had to take antibiotics to prevent a possible infection caused by the sting, which surprised me some.
Since that incident, Iíve had a few wasp stings with no ill effects, but I now keep an EpiPen close at hand in the event things go array, especially in regards to bumblebees. Our farm actually has several beehives on it and Iím delighted with this fact because of the very necessary pollination they provide and the honeybees are a very industrious and friendly sort which cause us no concerns at all.
Just the other day I was taking a break and enjoying a cool drink of Hawaiian Punch on my deck while watching the orioles and humming birds visiting the feeders. I had the clear glass mug with its red contents sitting on the deck railing when a brilliant colored male humming bird hovered above the mug, and then surprised me by dropping on in and savoring some punch. It then buzzed up out of the mug and flew away, leaving me a bit mesmerized about what had just happened. I then grabbed the mug and went to take a sip, but then stopped, and carefully examined the contents, not quite sure what the humming bird might have left behind.
Thanks to the humming bird, I saw a large fly had just succumbed in the punch, and I might have missed it until it was too late (I dislike having to spit out flies). Needless to say I started over with a clean mug and new punch.
It never hurts to play it safe.
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