And then there was one….

Migration is winding up for most Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in our area. As children, our mother told us that the hummers begin their journey on September 15 to Central America and Mexico for the winter months. She was always right within a day or two.

This year, the majority of our adult male hummingbirds left prematurely when Hurricane Irene roared up the coast at the end of August. We were left with 30 – 40 adult females and juvenile males. By the end of September, we had about a dozen hummingbirds. Last week we had two adult females at the feeder. Today, October 16, we have one lone female. Food is scarce in the garden but I see her hovering at blooms on honeysuckle vine, rosemary plant, and the abelia and loropetalum woody shrubs.

Every few days, I clean the feeder and give her fresh nectar. I wonder how she feels having all the nectar she wants without being attacked, challenged or having to contend with any aggressive activity around the feeder. I watch her checking the heavens every few seconds for incoming hummers but no bombardment comes. I think when she decides to leave town, she’ll be the fattest hummer of all.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times….

Whew! Irene packed quite a punch in Tidewater Virginia.  We awoke to a cleanup nightmare but we weren’t fazed by the sight of branches, trees, and debris. We spent the nighttime hours worrying about the worst that could happen and awoke to the best… only because we came through the hurricane unscathed. As with all storms of this magnitude, the morning after brings the hum of chain saws, the songs of hungry birds and the sight of boats on the river returning to their moorings.

Cleanup has begun all over this yard and we’ll soon be back to a normal routine. mister gardener is tackling the larger job of cutting up three large trees that were downed by the storm, a magnificent white pine and two old maples, one that fell across the driveway. After our job is completed, we will venture out to see what assistance our neighbors need after Irene’s assault on Ware Neck.

We left plenty of nectar in the garden for the hummingbirds during the storm but they were buzzing around the feeders in force this morning to top off their little tanks.

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Our thoughts and concerns are with those less fortunate individuals who were casualties of this massive storm in property and in person.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Out of the Camera of Babes…

It’s been the summer of visits from children and grandchildren with today being the conclusion of week 6.  With a houseful of children, it’s been difficult to make time for blogging and photographs so the assignment went to a 9-year old.  Here are his views of what he thinks is interesting in this yard…. and it’s definitely not my gardens he likes!

The pond is somewhere at the end of this path...

Dinner is served!

Old Mattie stratches an itch...

Hummingbird battles are always entertaining...

No doves in the dovecote but inhabited by bluebirds!

Close to 50 hummers crowd around the feeders this summer.

I threw this in to show why no one swam this summer!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Sapsuckers, Ginkgoes and Hummingbirds

A pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers spend the winter months hanging from my suet feeders but they have another feeding trait that annoys me. They drill holes in my tallest ginkgo tree.  Sapsuckers are the woodpeckers that make the series of small round holes that line up in neat little rows around the trunk of trees. From the holes, they lap up the oozing sap with their rough tongues and dine on any insects trapped by the sticky substance.

Our winter resident sapsuckers are migratory woodpeckers. They have now left Gloucester, following the sap trails to their northern breeding grounds in forested areas of Canada, the northeastern United State, and the higher elevations of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

And they’ve left me with a ginkgo full of holes. I’ve read that the holes do not damage a tree and are purely cosmetic. I’m not convinced of that. The holes they have made in this ginkgo are numerous.  When I hear their telltale Morse code knocking on the ginkgo, I often open the door and clap my hands to send them back to the suet or the woods. However, they know I’m all bark, no bite, and they rarely fly. They simply hide like a squirrel on the far side of the tree until I give up.

But in Mother Nature’s wisdom, she makes sure there is a reason for everything and order in her kingdom. She has taught me appreciation for these small woodpeckers for they provide needed sustenance for other creatures.  I have seen squirrels, insects, and other birds at those ginkgo holes at a time of year when food sources are scarce.  Widely known among bird watchers is the fact that hummingbirds arrive during the migration of sapsuckers. It is the sap and the insects that are trapped within that sustain the tiny birds until nectar flows from flowers.

The sapsuckers are long gone and the first hummingbird has arrived to feed on the ginkgo sap and insects, my newly mixed nectar and the blooms of our new Red Buckeye tree.  If a hummingbird could smile, I know he would.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fireworks Every Day in the Garden

Every two and a half weeks I stand in line at Costco along with other bulk shoppers, their carts full of king-size supplies of food and my cart containing only two items….two king-size bags of sugar, 50 lbs. of sugar to be exact, just enough to fill 7 hummingbird feeders with nectar for about 18 days.  There is a formula to estimate how many hummers reside in an area by the amount of nectar they consume but we aren’t interested in knowing.  We only know we have oodles of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that are drawn here year after year by an abundance of food, water, and nesting sites. Suburban and rural gardens are ideal hummingbird habitats with trees, shrubs, open areas of grass or meadows, water and flowers.  With the addition of the right flowers, most gardens will attract these miniature thespians to entertain you in the garden.

leucistic Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Ware Neck VAThese “glittering garments of the rainbow,” as John James Audubon called them, are the most colorful and prolific bloomers in our gardens from early spring until late fall. We recognize the same individuals as they arrive each spring, not only by their familiarity with us, but by unusual markings on some of them.  Several of our hummers are leucistic, a condition of reduced pigmentation in the feathers.  As new generations are born each spring to these birds, it is interesting to see the white leucistic variations on the heads of the offspring.

We are entertained by the raging territorial battles to protect their nectar source. They battle each other, bees, birds, the dogs and people.  As the ‘king’ of one feeder chases an intruder, several others slip in to have a sip from his nectar cache. These jewel-colored birds with their explosive and ferocious territorial dances at speeds of up to 60 mph provide us with 4th of July fireworks every day of the summer.

Did you know?

  • The Ruby-Throated is the only hummer to breed east of the Mississippi yet during migration you can see other varieties passing through.
  • Hummingbirds are great pollinators, often better than bees because they feed continuously from dawn to dusk.
  • Hummingbirds do eat insects: gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, aphids, etc.  In the early spring they will look for insects trapped in sap from woodpecker holes.
  • Females do all the nest building, often attaching it with spider silk and pine resin, and camouflaging it with lichens and fungus.  The nest is walnut-sized and the 2 eggs are pea-sized.  The male continues to court other females after mating.
  • Predators include spiders, preying mantis, dragonflies and other birds. I have witnessed a bullfrog in our pond jump a foot straight up to within 1/4-inch of a hummer at a pickerel weed bloom. We have rescued them from spider webs and nursed them from collisions with each other.
  • At night, due to their small size and lack of insulation, hummers enter a state of torpor, a hibernation-like condition where the breathing and heart rate slow dramatically.

Nectar recipe:  1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts water.  According to Bill Williams of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology, it is not necessary to boil the solution, just dissolve the sugar. Male Ruby-Throated HummingbirdThe nectar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. Do not use the commercial red dye solution.  Keep the feeder very clean to avoid black mold that can be harmful to the birds.

Bill Williams also states that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has recently been documented wintering over in two Tidewater locations.  Is this a new trend? It very well could be he says.

Plants to attract:  hibiscus, flowering quince, currants, weigela, azalea, mimosa, and buddleia.   Flowers to attract: morning glory, columbine, trumpet vine, fuschia, bee balm, bleeding heart, honeysuckle, virginia creeper, and salvia.  Remember, they are attracted to the color red.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester