Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes revisited

For hummingbird food I dissolve one cup of sugar in four cups of water,

heat and boil for a couple of minutes. After it has cooled, some red color is

added and it is transferred to a half-gallon plastic milk jug for storage in the


The first time I put that ice-cold formula in the feeder, there was some

doubt as to how the hummers would accept it. One minute later a tiny

iridescent dive bomber was sampling the cool brew with apparent delight.

I’ll bet they like a cool drink during the hot weather, too.

There have been some problems with ants invading one of the

hummingbird feeders lately. The ants make a long journey up the porch

post, onto the eaves, around a corner and finally down a three foot rope to

the feeder. Some also make the return trip. Others fall into that delicious

elixir and drown. In the process, they must add some flavor to it, not to the

hummers’ liking. They seem to avoid it when too many ant bodies are

floating in the sugar water.

_ _ _ _

Sometime in the next week geese will probably be seen heading south.

Listen for that thrilling music! It’s a sound we only hear twice a year. The

cry of the wild goose! A hint of far off places. Freedom. Fall.

_ _ _ _ _

Morning walk. The half-light just before sunrise. Venus, beautiful and

bright in the east, up about 45 degrees. A deer snorts loudly in the brush

along the road. I/we must not smell good to a deer. They sure blow their

nose at me. Coincidence. Same night on Nova, PBS TV, there was a

segment on human odor. It showed a German Shepherd dog tracking a

man. The statement was made that all people in this world have a different

scent. A good tracking dog, given an accurate odor to start with, has the

ability to follow the course of an individual, regardless of how many other

people have crossed that track. And for several days, depending on

conditions. Remarkable! Did humans once have the same sensitive nose?

_ _ _ _ _

George and Harold Koth have my thanks for steering me onto a stand

of narrow-leaved cattails. I now have 10 slender spikes proudly showing

off in a floral centerpiece.

_ _ _ _ _

Two small snapping turtles were seen on the edge of the blacktop road.

They were about the size of a peach. One was dead. The other either

almost or very lethargic. Both were gone the next day. Crow food?

_ _ _ _ _

The bottle gentians are blooming. Its flowers remind me of old-

fashioned small-sized Christmas tree bulbs (cone-shaped). The blooms

are closed, in clusters, on top of the upper leaves. The color is a deep

blue, between royal and purple.

Bees force open the petals to reach the sweet-smelling nectar inside,

gathering and leaving pollen in the process.

_ _ _ _ _

I found out what a piker I am. I’ve been buying thistle (niger) seed all

summer for the goldfinches. Two pounds at a time. I noticed the feed mill

had 10 pound sacks also, but the price scared this Scotchman. Met a man

the other day who has gone through six of the 10 pound bags so far this

summer. Does he ever have the birds!

_ _ _ _ _

Get out and enjoy this great time of the year. That’s an order!

Footnote: 2019 we know that we do NOT have to put red dye in the food!

Late nature writer Allan Bell wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on Sept. 14, 1983. In revisiting some of his work, we of course know today that red dye is not necessary to attract hummers to the feeders. But the ants still remain a problem for many at the hummingbird feeders all these years later. Remember to leave the feeders up for the next few weeks for all the hummers migrating from further north as they make the long journey south for the winter.

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