Revisiting the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

I hope you don’t have the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in mind when describing how you don’t eat much or “eat like a bird” as the saying goes.

The hummingbird species visits as many as 2,000 flowers per day and consumes about 150-160 pounds of protein per day. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I could eat every 15 minutes like this species does.

I’m absolutely fascinated with this bird, which weighs about two to six grams. It’s the only breeding hummingbird in the eastern North America and its connection with Arkansas County is traced back at least 50 years when area residents began actively setting out feeders.

I was first introduced to the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird last year when I attended a program at Potlatch Conservation Education Center at Cook’s Lake in Casscoe. On Saturday, I went back to Cook’s Lake to visit Arkansas’ only licensed hummingbird bander, the center’s director Tanya Beasley. She’s one of about 150 banders with permits in the United States. She highlights her program through monthly workshops on the hummingbirds and the banding process each summer.

There are 300 species of hummingbirds whose habitats are solely in the Americas, although only 15 to 16 of these species are in the United States. Arkansas County only has the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

This species visits Arkansas County in the summer months as they head towards Central America via the Gulf of Mexico. Interesting side note: The albino hummingbirds struggle to make the flight across the Gulf of Mexico since the condition weakens their body and these birds rarely live a long life. Most birds only live three to five years.

Presently, Beasley said the hummingbirds in Arkansas County are nesting. Hummingbirds normally lay two pea-sized eggs about two to three days apart, which the female will incubate for about 12-16 days. After hatching, the fledglings are out of the nest by the third week and the female will have a second nest ready for two additional eggs.

“Seventy-five percent of the fledglings don’t make it,” she said. “They are very vulnerable to predators.”

By next month, Beasley said Cook’s Lake visitors will be able to see more than double the hummingbirds viewed this past weekend as more hummingbirds pass through as well as with the fledglings out of the nest.

The birds really are remarkable. They have about 950 feathers and, according to Beasley, one of the largest brains of any animal in relation to its body size. It has an excellent memory as well and will remember where it has found food, such as hummingbird feeders, in past years so it can visit them during future migrations.

It’s a fact that Beasley and others attending this past weekend’s program kept reminding me of as I complained (okay, whined) that only bees were visiting my newly established hummingbird feeder. In case my luck continues to lag, Beasley also offered this tip: Incorporate red throughout my yard.

The color red attracts hummingbirds along with various plants, including the pineapple sage. I didn’t realize it, but hummingbirds have excellent sight but cannot smell so I was warned not to purchase a plant for the smell alone.

I’m still considering whether to leave my new feeder out year-round. Beasley recommends it, saying the feeder can be hung just above a candle warmer or placed two and a half to three feet away from a spotlight to keep the liquid warm. I’ll probably end up trying the spot light trick.

Appreciating Memorial Day

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” β€” unknown

Luckily, I have never had a loved one die while serving our country.

I have had loved ones injured and changed forever because of their experience overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the heartache and fear I have experienced for these family members and friends cannot compare to actually losing a loved one, and I can’t imagine the loss. I’ve been fortunate to lose very few loved ones even off the battle field.

Growing up, I loved Memorial Day. We grilled out with family and friends while taking the day to relax and have a good time. It’s hard to comprehend the real meaning of Memorial Day when you have never been affected personally by death and war.

I guess I truly became aware of the holiday’s meaning, which honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, once I graduated from high school. I come from a large family and, upon graduation, I had five male cousins about my age enlist in the military and serve overseas. Later, I became good friends with others who enlisted.

I’m now thankful that I can spend each Memorial Day with these family members and friends instead of putting flowers or flags on their graves like so many other families have to. Instead, we have different wounds and scars to attend to.

The other factor that has changed the meaning of Memorial Day came from an unlikely source: My work email. In August 2010, I began working at my present job and began receiving a slew of Department of Defense news releases β€” many of which were death announcements for soldiers killed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

I now receive at least one or two of these emails daily and the majority of the deaths are of soldiers who are my age or younger. It strikes home the meaning of these soldiers’ sacrifice even more and what they will never get to experience. Each time I receive an email announcing the death of a soldier younger than me, I automatically think of where I was, what I was doing and what all I have experienced and learned since then. It’s humbling to think of their sacrifice.

I now fully appreciate what Memorial Day β€” and what every day really β€” means: These fallen soldiers were willing to lay down their lives for our nation and it’s citizens.

So, I’ll strive to do my part in remembering them and their sacrifice. As President Barack Obama said today, “… we can strive to be a nation worthy of your sacrifice. A nation that is fair and equal, peaceful and free. A nation that weighs the cost of every human life. A nation where all of us meet our obligations to one another, and to this country that we love. That’s what we can do.”

We might not agree, or like, the reason of the war, the politicians involved or the acts of war. However, we should respect the lives of those willing to fight for us. I, for one, will always strive to make the best of mine β€” it’s just one way to show that they didn’t sacrifice their life in vain.

Hawaiian extreme: From Kona to Waimea

Hawaii Island (also called the Big Island to make it less confusing) is the youngest of the Hawaiian chain at merely 800,000 years old. It’s also the largest island at 4,028 square miles (divided into seven main regions) and it’s climate contrasts vary to the extremes.

In the week that we were there, we experienced many of these climate changes: daily showers of rain in the Kona region; viewing the Kilauea summit at 3,000-4,000 feet above sea level; cool, misty breezes on the Kohala coast; and, on Friday, the seemingly desert conditions of the North Kohala region.

My Aunt Lynda wanted to visit Parker Ranch and Anna’s Ranch in the upper Kohala Coast and North Kohala regions. She owns cattle and horses with her husband in their northeast Arkansas ranch so these Hawaiian ranches were right up her alley.

The drive there was shocking though since the view was the opposite of what we’d seen so far. Apparently, says the area gets no more than about five inches of rain per year. We even saw lots of cactus.

Our first stop was Parker Ranch, one of the country’s oldest ranches. It’s 160-years-old and it’s beginning started when John Parker jumped ship in 1809. It’s also the home for 50,000 marines between 1942 and 1945 as they prepared for the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa since the area had similar terrain. Here’s some random pictures of the headquarters.

You could tell which direction the wind blew the most.

The ranch’s history is portrayed artistically at the nearby Parker Ranch Center, which hosts shops and restaurants. “The history of Parker Ranch Paniolo” is a mural series painted by Marcia H. Ray in 2002. It’s “geographically-positioned” β€” you are viewing the murals in the same direction you would see them outside. The Kamuela artist did a great job and spent several months researching before she even started. She interviewed several working and retired ranch paniolos (the Hawaiian version of cowboys) and their wives to learn the culture and lifestyle as well as people in the Waimea community. The murals are 24 feet wide and 6-and-a-half feet high and are done by oil. The whole process took place over a 2-year period.

My favorite, mostly because of the owl.

I also liked the above sea turtle placed in the center’s entrance for it’s food court. Speaking of food, I recommend eating at the Village Burger, which is known for supporting the island ranchers. It touts itself as having “pasture raised beef, hormone and antibiotic free.” The burgers are amazing!

Our last and briefest stop of the day was at Anna’s Ranch Heritage Center. The ranch was established in 1848. We barely missed the ranch’s closing for the day so we ended up looking around outside before heading back to our townhouse to officially finish packing.