Monday, September 28, 2009

Sliding Downhill from the Equinox

Once the Autumnal Equinox has passed and we're offically in autumn, it should be illegal for the temperatures to reach 100°. After we have suffered through a brutally hot summer and a pathetic monsoon, don't we deserve some small reward for our patience and forebearance? Alright, I admit the nights have been blissfully cool and it's a joy to sit on the patio in the early morning with a cup of French roast, savoring the soft sounds and scents of the desert.

Today my birding group met at 7:30 at Tucson's Sweetwater Wetlands for a morning of birding and general nature-watching. The temperature was already climbing, on its way to 102°, but the birds didn't seem to mind and our lists grew rapidly - many species of warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers and ducks, hawks, falcons, herons, egrets, grebes, hummingbirds, tanagers, killdeer, wrens, sandpipers, cormorants, a kingfisher and a roadrunner, cowbirds, yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds and quail. In the non-bird category were turtles, cottontails, lizards and dragonflies by the thousands. No snakes today unfortunately. A very pleasant morning, and better than what I'll be doing in the heat tomorrow - playing golf! Am I crazy??

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Bees, Bats and Hummingbirds

A little sugar and water in a feeder brings hummingbirds to my yard throughout the year.  Various species come and go, and some hang around all year.  Anna's with the bright red head and gorget and  Costa's sporting outrageous purple on the throat are the mainstays.  They are sometimes joined by Rufous, Black-Chinned, Broad-billed, and one very special winter by a Violet-Crowned.  There really shouldn't be any drama.  Just remember to fill the feeder every few days, sit back and enjoy the show, right?  Oh, the Gila woodpeckers like to hang on the feeder to get a free meal, and the tiny Verdins have figured out that some sweetness can be had from this odd-looking flower.  That I don't mind. 

But, last September, a lone bee discovered a nectar source beyond her wildest dreams and raced back to spread the news to the workers.  Soon the troops began arriving at each of the two feeders, one in the front of the house and one on the back patio.  Two hours later, the feeders had disappeard under a buzzing, roiling  mass of insects, drunk on the sweet bounty, climbing all the way inside and even drowing in the liquid.  Needless to say, the hummingbirds took one look and made other plans for their meal.  It was terribly distressing to watch the hummers go away frustrated. 

I tried all kinds of deterrents - moving the feeders, spraying the bees with soapy water and even insecticide, taking the feeders down for days at a time - all to no avail.  Finally, I took them down for the duration, however long that might turn out to be.  During day, that is. 

More drama.  Every fall, the nectar-feeding Lesser Long-Nosed Bats (Leptonycteris curasoae) are making their preparations for the long trip back to Mexico and their winter home.  They, too, have discovered how easy it is to get nectar from a hummingbird feeder rather than looking for night-blooming flowers.  They arrive at my house around 8pm expecting  to find a full feeder.  Being the accomodating host that I am, I want the fuzzy little fellows to be happy.  So I filled the feeders and hung them out for the night, retrieving the empty, sticky thing in the morning before the damn bees arrived. 

By the middle of October, the bats had moved on.  Every two weeks or so I would hang the feeders up again, testing for bees.  It would take the hummers a couple of days to come back.  But it was well into November before the bees were finally gone.  To where, I will never know.

Fast forward to September of 2009.  Almost to the day, one year later, I was so disappointed to see bees hovering around the feeders, a prelude to the onslaught.  How weird is that?  I decided there was no point in fighting those determined little buggers and just took the feeders down for the day, filling and putting them back up for the nighttime arrival of the bats.  I mentioned this aggravation to one of my fellow docents at the Desert Museum and she said, "Spray the feeders with Pam!" She works in a hummingbird banding program and said that all the feeders at the banding sites use this method to keep the bees away, while allowing the birds to feed.  Wow, such a simple solution.  It has worked perfectly.  The bees hovered around for the first few days, but would not land.  Now they don't even bother coming around. 

The bats are happy.  The hummingbirds are happy.  I am happy.  The bees are pissed.  Well, you can't please everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thoughts on Socialism

All those people ranting about 'socialism', 'socialistic medicine' and calling Barack Obama a socialist, got me to thinking.  So to all of you who are so concerned about our health care system making us a socialistic country, here's my advice for you.  (Those of you calling Obama a Nazi obviously have no idea what the word means and are too stupid to even address).  First of all, you should stop paying taxes.  Next, send back your Social Security payments, your unemployment insurance and any Medicare reimbursements you might have received.  Take your children out of public schools or any private school subsidized by tax money.  Stop driving on public roads.  This will be tough.  You may have to stop driving altogether as there are not too many private roads that actually take you anywhere.  But, you cannot take any form of public transportation - subway, bus, train.  Do not go to the library.  Do not call the police if you are robbed or attacked.  Fight your own fire, or put out a fire at your neighbor's house so it doesn't burn yours.  Cancel your flood insurance and do not even think of asking the government for help when a tornado or flood comes through your town.  If you are a veteran, renounce all your benefits, including medical.  Do not take prescription drugs that have been tested by the FDA.  Never again go to a national park, a national forest, a public campground or a public beach.  Do not walk on a sidewalk or under a streetlight.  I'm afraid you'll have to grow your own food, as most of the corporations and/or farmers that produce food in this country are either subsidized in some way, or the food they produce is tested and approved by the FDA, or both.  Of course you'll have to drill your own well so as not to be using the municipal water system.  Yes, a septic system will be necessary too as you don't want to rely on a socialistic government to haul away your shit!  Do not attend a baseball game at a publicly funded stadium, and do not allow your children to play in any athletic leagues sponsored by any government agency or to play in any public park.  Oh dear, you'll have to stop using money too, so it'll strictly be the barter system for you.  Take any money out of banks or credit unions that are regulated and insured by the government.  Take nothing to the post office to be mailed, and refuse any mail that they attempt to bring to you.  Unfortunately, you won't be able to fly out of most airports, so your traveling will be quite limited.  Write to your legislators and tell them that you no longer want inmates detained by the government, so please release them.  Now, about the military.  Well, you'll have to opt out of their services too.  Write to everyone you can think of, soldiers included, telling them you no longer require their services.  These letters, by the way, will have to be sent by Fed Ex.  Do not vote in any election.  After you've completed all these steps, you might as well renounce your American citizenship, as you are obviously no longer a contributing member of society.  At that point, feel free to throw rocks at 'socialized' medicine.