Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Hummer Worry

[photo at feeder taken this morning...shy bird=blur. I can watch them all day from the sofa three feet away but let me stand up...The photo of bird in hand is a Rufous found by my dog Shadow, on the ground/my front lawn on mother's day 2009. He ate and flew off. Only the Annas stay here through winter, though.]

Maybe I can stop worrying about the hummingbirds. It has been uncharacteristically cold for Port Townsend, for about a week now. I actually brought the hummingbird feeder in night before last because it was frozen solid. Though I waited until nearly midnight, I still worried because I had heard that hummingbirds have to eat just about constantly to serve their high metabolism and stay alive. And I don't have any idea how many other people around here feed them during the winter. Needless to say, there is not a lot blooming right now to provide natural food sources. So I worry, as I have in winters past, that the little Annas Hummingbirds that I saw feeding at dusk will all drop from the cedar tree and arbor vitae, frozen and dead, in the dark of night.

I woke up yesterday morning at 5 and quickly hung the nectar feeder back outside. I half hoped to see a little line of them hovering, waiting expectantly for breakfast to be served. I waited a few minutes. Nothing. I fed the fur herd here inside and went back to bed. At about 9 I came back to the living room and saw that the feeder had already frozen, nearly solid! Yet two hummers were feeding, one at a time as they do here, so there was still a little nectar at the bottom of the frozen mass. Generally these birds do not tolerate sharing a feeder. I had put out two all summer and the birds still fought, zipping from one side of the house to the other,scolding the daylights out of one another. I bought two so I'd have a spare ready when this freezing happens. But the second feeder, with its more bulbous shape, proved impossible to clean reliably so I've thrown it out. Currently there's just one glass feeder with a red base and yellow plastic flowers at the feeding stations. It's been neat to see one hummer come and feed then just sit, watching the second bird light and feed. When bird #2 finishes it invariably chases bird #1 away. But since bird #1 was waiting and watching for this it seems like a different game than the wild competitive flights of summer.

A couple of days ago I decided to make a fresh batch of nectar, hoping a more full container would take longer to freeze. So often it happens that when I'm ready to do this I start questioning my memory about the ratio of sugar to water. Today I printed out the recipe, again, and put it in the front of a newly compiled notebook of clipped recipes so I will not keep fretting that I'm inverting the proportions and either making them drunk or malnourishing them. I got this recipe from The Smithsonian migratory bird site so we know it's right:

4 parts water to 1 part sugar, mixed. THEN BOIL this to kill any bacteria. COOL.
(I make 2 cups water to 1/2 cup sugar, generally)

That's it. No coloring required.

Now, why might I be able to stop worrying about the hummers dying in the frigid night? The Smithsonian site says they are capable of something called torpor. This is different from hibernation in that it's short term. But hummers can go into this state of torpor when they are unable to maintain their toasty 105 degree body temperature. Unbelieveable, isn't it? Having held one this summer I can tell you they really are nearly weightless and obviously that doesn't give them much to work with if they're in a freezing environment. So, torpor. Very cool. Yeah. And a great relief to worrying me.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lucy's Big Adventure

For some of us, traveling somewhere new and exciting requires a passport. For some of us it requires courage. I'm thinking of a Madeline Peyroux song: Don't Wait Too Long. The line I love is: If you think that time will change your ways, don't wait too long.

When I was very ill and the fear that I might be dying came over me, the honest to goodness first thought I had was: Damn! I never went to Ireland. Well, that takes cash and it's just not in the cards yet. I hope I get there. If I don't, that's okay. Perspectives shift when your body has failed and you realize every moment could be your last, could be anyone's last.

Maybe this is true even in Lucy the cat. Background: Her tumors are clearly growing. She's clearly shrinking. We're in a pattern of three visits a week for fluids to keep her comfortable and steroid shots, a cocktail of two kinds now, twice a week. Three times a day she gets what the vet calls pain juice. It's colorless, odorless, given orally and it keeps her comfortable. I make sure we don't run out. At med time she also gets a drop in each nostril to keep her breathing as her nose runs pretty much constantly. In fact if it quits running I go on a booger hunt to unclog it for her. It's always the right side. She actually comes to me now several times a day to get her nose wiped. If I'm not handy she uses the duvet cover which is now known as Lucy's hankie. Yeah, it's a good thing we sleep alone. I changed the linens the other day and an hour later there was a huge crescent of snot near my pillow because, of course, when I'm not there reading she curls up in "my" spot.

Further background: Lucy and Lisa Miranda (who died this summer) have been living in my bedroom/bathroom since the Virginia cats wore out their welcome with our friends in Virginia and came back to live with us. Lucy and Lisa never liked the interlopers who joined our household in Hampton VA. PJ was too needy and too much of a lap hog. They didn't buy Smokey's story of multiple surgeries for a broken paw and he's too much of a lap hog too. And both Virginia boys were far too frisky, played "chase" and tumbled and wrestled. Girls from Connecticut might do those things but they like to do them in their own time and way. And then came Gracie. The final interloper. Too. Damned. Cute. They mostly coexisted in the three story house in Hampton. And when we moved here only the Connecticut cats, Lucy, Lisa and Spike, moved with me. The three Virginia cats moved in with a family who knew and loved them there. For four years. Then circumstances changed and they had to move back in with us. Well, I wasn't having them adopted out to strangers!

And that's when Lucy and Lisa moved into my bedroom/bathroom. We like to think of it as "the suite." It's small, but there's a big window. And a bed. And a big closet to explore in which I created a kind of cat secret hideaway. And a cat tower by the window. And a bathroom where there are litter and food dishes. We've lived with this arrangement for four years or so and the girls have not wanted to come out and mix with the other cats. Lisa died in July and Lucy was showing no interest in coming out then either, so I knew Ineeded to spend more time in there with her. In June she'd taken a fall and knocked a fang loose and gotten an inefection, so maybe she just wasn't feeling very social and that's why she hasn't come out sooner. But why now does Lucy decide to woman-up and come out of the bedroom to explore?

I'm not leaving the door open because the Virginia cats would eat all of Lucy's food and take over all the best perches. But when I go out of the bedroom sometimes Lucy decides to go with me. To my continued surprise, because she has to be feeling vulnerable when she's this close to death, she's come out to explore a few times now.

She talked at me this morning, as she has the past few days, for about two hours before I saw any hint of light in the sky. We did meds, I wiped her nose, we cuddled. Still, she yakked. I decided to go feed the rest of the herd and she was lickity split on my heels. She's not edging out, she's not creeping cautiously through the door, she's strutting right along, passing me! And them! She IS intimidated by Shadow sticking her head through the gate and oh boy does Shadow want to get her! But this morning I went through the gate to feed Shadow and let her outside so she'd at least be out of the way for a bit. Then I fed The Three. When I looked around for Lucy and couldn't find her, I went back to the main bath where The Three are fed and out popped Lucy from behind the shower curtain! She stepped out of the tub and walked right through the gate. Did she know the dog had gone out? I don't think so. I think she really isn't too worried about risk these days. She went straight to Shadow's water dish and had a good long drink. Then she started back down the hallway to our bedroom.

I tried coaxing her and Lisa out for about two years, hoping we could work out a truce. I tried having a cat door in my bedroom door, with Lisa and Lucy wearing collars that allowed them in and out. But PJ picked the lock. And the girls were so darned nervous about it all. So I had given up. But this little dying cat just hollered again, so I opened her door and she's tried three times now to get to the bathroom, but the big black Labrador head craning through the gate towards her successfully intimidates and impedes. She'll get about four feet down the hallway, still about six feet from the dog, and she'll even lie down for a bit. But then she heads back to the bedroom. I think I'll try letting her out every time Shadow goes outside. And after my shower I'm definitely going to see if she wants to check out the tub again. Clearly she wants to venture outside her safe space now. I can't know, really, if Lucy's exhibiting courage. It seems that way to me. Or maybe it's just the steroids.

Post Script: This morning, a day after my original post, she came out before the dog went out so I quickly grabbed Shadow's collar and escorted her outside. When I came in I got the two photos above of Lucy drinking from Shadow's dish AND sampling her food! Don't worry, Shadow wasn't out in the cold for long. : )