May 5 2013

Help Name the Hummie Twins

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s a good thing I didn’t have kids. Given the way I’ve carried on about these hummingbird babies (and driven my husband nuts), I’m pretty sure my own children would have been bubble-wrapped and wearing goggles and protective helmets as I sent them off to school each day (greeeaaatt for self-esteem).

Before I go back in time to show you the progression, first: today’s view of the nest. May 5. Click to enlarge.

Let me just start out by saying, sheesh. As truly wonderful as it has been to witness the evolution of eggs to miraculous tiny birds, I’ve been a bit of a basket case. (Scroll to the bottom of my first post to see the eggs being laid on April 3 and April 5)

At first, I was sure Egg No. 1 wasn’t going to hatch at all, since Egg No. 2 took the lead and busted loose first on April 19 (In the past, we’ve had luck with only one egg hatching, so I figured this was the case again).

Even so, I enjoyed the early videos of mama feeding this miniscule creature (when they hatch, they are bigger than a Tic-Tac but smaller than a Jelly Belly):

So imagine my surprise, when, on April 21, two days after the first egg hatched, I saw this:

I missed the first hatching, but actually caught this one in progress. Earlier in the day, I told hubby I thought I’d seen a crack in the shell (I figured this was wishful thinking, but I was right!). Click to enlarge.

This video captures the second baby trying to rid itself of the shell on its head and rear.

I was delighted by the second arrival, but the next day saw that it was trapped under the much larger sibling. For 45 minutes, I watched (in agony) as it struggled, kicking its eensy-weensy feet to free itself, but to no avail. By the time mama came to feed each time (when the larger would lift its head, finally freeing the smaller baby), it was too exhausted to attempt eating.

Can you see how much smaller the new baby is? And I swear its neck looks bent unnaturally (The neck was pinned under big sib). Click to enlarge.

But at long last, I witnessed mama feeding the tiny babe (after big sib):

Yay! Crisis averted. Right?

Not so fast. A few days later, mama disappeared amidst some 30 MPH winds. For four hours. This is unnatural, since the babies need her to help regulate their body temperature and need near-constant feeding. Alas, though, mama returned home around 4 p.m., and the babies were fine. (I don’t know if she was blown away and had to find her way home? I can think of no other explanation.) Another crisis averted.

Until April 24…I just happened to check the camera and saw this giant fly inching closer and closer to the nest.

For anyone wondering just how small baby hummingbirds are, this should provide some perspective. This fly reminds me (in size) of the horseflies of my youth in PA. Click to enlarge.

Not knowing what the giant fly was capable of (given it was two to three times larger than the babies), I ran outside and shooed it away. I later learned, from the wonderful local Arizona biologist, artist and blogger Margarethe Brummermann, Ph.D. that the Mexican Cactus Fly (Copestylum mexicanum) is a nectar forager and not harmful at all. Phew.

Finally relaxed, I began to monitor – and be amazed – by how quickly the nest filled up with growing baby bodies. Though I confess, I still worried about Munchkin, always the second to be fed, always smaller, always trying to ‘catch up.’

This night-cam photo on April 25 shows how featherless these little guys are, and how large and bulging their eyes are. Can you believe how much they’ve filled up the nest in a few short days? Click to enlarge.

This is the first hatchling, whom I started to call Big Mouth, because mama always went to its giant beak first. April 28. Click to enlarge.

This is the runt, whom I began to refer to as “Munchkin,” feeding. Can you tell the difference in size? April 28.

Of course my Nervous Nellie tendencies picked back up, right in sync with the strong wind gusts that returned days later (The babies are above a concrete floor. Eeks!) And I can’t begin to tell you how unnerving it is to see them push their feet around in the nest, the sides of the cylindrical construction expanding and morphing with their movements. This is a marvel of engineering; the nests are built with spider webs that allow for expansion (and “breathing”) as the babies move and grow.

Take a look at their early movements below. I think I captured the first faux flying-test by Big Mouth:

And, minutes later, Munchkin proves that he’s still quite the fighter, determined to catch up.

For Readers, for Writers: I think, as writers, its easy for us to become anxious about our progress and to compare ourselves and our journeys to other writers. Those of us who came to fiction later in life may feel we’re “catching up” to those younger writers who realized, early on, their fiction dreams. Or we may see other writers achieving success – signing contracts, selling books, advancing their careers – with greater speed. But I wonder … does it really matter? Does it matter who got there first? Do you really need to worry about catching up? We all work at our own pace, don’t we? And don’t things just sometimes have a way of working out when and how they should?

Consider Munchkin: Though he is still lagging behind in size, it looks as though he is going to make it. Maybe he’ll be that infamous underdog we love to root for in the books we read – the one who kept fighting and grew to be a successful young hummingbird, despite the odds.

Help Me Name the Babies

I’m not sure my nicknames are appropriate for this dynamic hummingbird duo. Help me choose official names:

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P.S. 1 If you read my last post about the bees: sadly, they left Ray’s bee boxes after one night, apparently driven out by the territorial local colonies.

P.S.2 Edit Palooza is ‘officially’ complete – well, this go-round, at least!

Apr 20 2013

A Bunch of Buzz

Melissa Crytzer Fry

There’s been a whole lot of buzz in the desert lately. And if you read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve got a bird’s-eye view of some of the zippity-doo-ing and buzzing going on at the hummingbird nest.

The camera that hubs set up has allowed me to peek right in the nest, using a fun little app on the iPhone. You can imagine my surprise when checking in on Humma Mumma, and I saw this on the other bird cam.

Inside the kestrel box. Click to enlarge.

Yep. Bees. Of the Africanized variety. Without our consent or nary a reservation, our kestrel box became a Bee Motel.

So many bees! Our Bee Motel needed a “No Vacancy” sign. Click to enlarge.

Within thirty minutes, this is the photo we got inside the Kestrel bee box:

Yes. Darkness. Total ... Because that box was filled with bees and, we later learned, honeycomb right over the camera lens.

When morning came, we saw this:

Jam-packed with bees. Nearly everyone inside now. Click to enlarge.

What to do? This might be a no-brainer to some, who might quickly conclude: exterminate them. But my science-writing background and nature-lovin’ ways have made me aware of just how important bees are to the ecosystem – even these Africanized hybrids that wipe out indigenous honeybees. I once wrote a story for Arizona Monthly about the craziest, most fascinating bee guy. (He removed about 50,000 Africanized bees from our property when we first purchased it. And yes, he did provoke a bee to sting him; he did eat one; and he did chomp on a piece of dirty honeycomb then excitedly searched for a rattler. “I heard a rattler out here. Mind if I look for him?” You know you want to read the story now, don’t you?)

I digress… that’s a different story. So, back to this one: I obviously experienced more than a tinge of guilt at the thought of destroying them (the solution offered by pest control companies). They’re pollinators and we need them. And could I fault these honey-makers for taking up residence? They simply found the best “house” they could… one that we’d inadvertently made available to them.

Enter the solution: “Honey Bear” Ray, who was ecstatic to take a swarm of bees home for his new avocation: beekeeping. (Thanks to neighbors Mark, Roxanne, Mel and Nan for hooking us up).

Ray in his new suit, only a week old. See the kestrel box – I mean, bee motel – in the background on the telephone pole? Click to enlarge.

Maybe it's just me, but this would be my least favorite scenario: wobbly ladder, bees in my face. Click to enlarge.

Emptying the bees from the removed kestrel box into his bee box (their new home). Look – in one day – they created the honeycomb attached to the camera. See them on Ray’s suit?

I’m happy to report that everything ended well. Ray came back for his bee box under the cover of darkness (when the bees had settled and all of the colony was inside). He enjoyed the experience so much – and the bees behaved so well – he asked if we’d put the kestrel box back up, in the hopes of attracting another swarm. Um. I’m not so sure about that.

I will forever be amazed by the geometrical precision of nature. Look at this one-day-old honeycomb. Click to enlarge.

For Writers, for Readers: Yes, there’s a writing lesson here! Over the past two days, it became apparent to me that I had two distinct plotlines running at once: 1) the bees themselves and the formulation of a game plan for their relocation; and 2) the activity at the hummingbird nest that prompted the bee discovery in the first place. Yes, one of our baby hummers made its way out of the shell on April 19! But that, too, is another story, one to be continued … (There just may be some fabulous one-day-old baby videos in a future blog post!)

What do you think about concurrent plot lines in the books you read or write? Do you like a subplot that is nearly as consuming as a plot? What books have you read lately that drew you in with their complex multi-plots? Or do you think too many storylines can get too confusing?