July 27, 2008

Sippers Keep Fast-Food Diner Humming

It was the noon rush hour at Dennis McClenny's hummingbird restaurant in Pungo recently.

The little birds were zooming in and out of the area around McClenny's back deck where 10 feeders serve up the day's sugar water special.

Grown-ups - males with their bright red throats and females without - along with many smaller youngsters with shorter tails were eager to dine. The birds were not content to wait their turn at the table.

Squabbling with irritated squeaks, they would fly in, come to an almost dead stop, wings whirring, and chase others from feeder perches.

The birds, probably a couple dozen or more, were so intent on getting to the feeders, that they would zip past McClenny and me, so close we could hear their tiny wings whirring.

The McClenny hummer restaurant has built a following since he began feeding the birds 30 years ago. Hummingbirds generally return to their nesting site year after year, so the population grows and grows.

"At the beginning of the season, I see maybe two pairs," McClenny said. "Then as it goes on and they have babies and others come, there are anywhere from 25 to 40 around the first of September."

In summers past, McClenny has seen tiny nests no bigger than a thimble, in tall leafy trees to the east of his property off Indian River Road.

Already this year, the energetic birds have eaten 60 pounds of sugar. McClenny puts at least one feeder out at the end of March or beginning of April to greet the first returnees.

He uses the traditional formula of one cup of sugar to four cups of water, bringing it to a boil to mix the sugar. He cleans his feeders with a little bleach and water and then rinses them at least three times to get rid of any trace of bleach.

A week is the longest he will leave nectar in the feeders. When it is hot or if the water starts getting cloudy, he will change feeders every three days.

On changing day, McClenny lines clean feeders up on the deck railing to refill them. Impatient hummers come around, urging McClenny to hurry .

"They fly around the empty ones, waiting and buzzing you," McClenny said.

The only time the feeders get busier than they are at the morning, noon and dinner rush hours is before a rainstorm.

"They feed heavy before a storm," McClenny said. "You can always tell if a storm's coming."

McClenny can keep an eye on his busy restaurant from his kitchen window when he's not on the deck. He gets a lot of pleasure out of watching the birds and he enjoys sharing them with guests.

"It's so rare to see this many in one place," he said.

More hummer news Jeri Tuttle in Ocean Lakes said her "delightful hummers are out in full force." She says the birds love to feed on her glory bower tree flowers. "In the early evening, they put on a real show with as many as four or five buzzing one tree." Sometimes called the peanut butter tree because the blooms smell like peanut butter, glory bower blooms also attract butterflies.

Photo ops After a recent thunderstorm, Robert Brown photographed several cold-stunned little wasps "tucked and draped about in the herbs." The wasps did not move about until the next morning when the sun warmed them .

n Don Crago sent a funny photo of 12 ducklings that have been visiting in his Diamond Springs yard. The babies, almost juveniles now, were all crammed into the little water bowl that he had provided for them when the ducks were tiny.

* Patti Fay Schmitt sent a lovely photo, taken on a foggy morning of a great blue heron perched on a piling off Bay Island; also a green heron hanging out by her pool.

* Renelle Maddrey snapped photos of an immature heron along the lake in front of her Kings Grant home.

Barn swallow ouster Joan Strauss wonders if hanging wind chimes on her porch will deter barn swallows from nesting there next year. For two years, the birds have built a nest on her front porch and "They make a terrible mess," she said. Does anyone have any bird- safe ideas?

Injured osprey Amy Copestick was walking her dogs in the Red Wing Neighborhood Park when they came upon an injured or ill osprey. The bird could not fly well but it managed to get away as she tried to call for help. Folks in that area might keep an eye out for the bird.

Eagle sighting Barbara Zimmer said she was in the back of Roland Park in Norfolk recently when someone pointed out two eagles flying over the Lafayette River.

Hawk alarm Susan Wenzel heard a mockingbird in a tree in her Red Mill yard, "having a fit." She up and saw a little sharp-shinned hawk with the mockingbird a few branches above, "hollering at him."

State park activities Find out what's going on at First Landing, False Cape and other nearby state parks. Check out their new events Web site: www.dcrintra.state.va.us/dcr_forms/events/ VieweventPublic.cfm . It will take you to an events database featuring guided hikes, canoe/kayak trips, fishing, crabbing and other special outdoor programs that are open to the public.

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