T&G reader George Gavutis shared that last week, for the first time, a trusting hummingbird flew up to his watering pail to sip a drink as George poured it over some of his garden plants. Fascinatingly, hummingbirds can recognize individual people and even fly around them to indicate that a nectar feeder is empty.
As they do every year in mid-September when the broad-winged hawks fly through and our nectar sources begin drying up, our enchanting hummingbirds leave us, too, on their long journey to Mexico and Central America. I’m going to miss them and their entertaining antics.
They have a perilous journey ahead of them, including predators and hurricanes. Their hyperactive lives are brief, 3 to 5 years at most. If they survive their journey, they’ll return here – to the very same feeders – taking the very same route that they’ve used before and arriving amazingly on our properties within a day of when they arrived last year.
The hummingbirds’ cerebral GPS capabilities and perennial fidelity to their breeding sites are truly amazing. Magnetite in their brains helps them precisely distinguish subtle differences in the earth’s magnetic fields – and return exactly where they previously nested.
As it’s been several days since my three residents last visited my feeders (Sept. 20), I’ll still keep them up a bit longer, considering they might provide fuel for other migrant hummingbirds passing through here. I might keep them up until our first frost. By then, the vast majority of our hummingbirds will be long gone.
Unlike all our other songbirds, hummingbirds never flock. Their migration is performed entirely alone, and uniquely during the daytime, when they fly low to periodically refuel on nectar sources. At night, when all other songbirds migrate at high altitudes, they all rest.
Meanwhile, to my surprise, nightcrawlers, unlike most earthworms, have been coming out of part of my lawn late in the afternoon. Temperature and soil humidity for that behavior has been perfect. Though mostly nocturnal, they’ll dare now to come to the surface to mate or feed on dead leaves and some other plants as much as they can before the famine of winter strikes. Then they’ll have to stay far underground below the frost line. Here in Massachusetts, that safety zone can be three feet down in total darkness. But at least there, they don’t risk becoming wormsicles.
Native to western Europe, these introduced aliens detrimentally outcompete our native American earthworms, which have severely declined wherever nightcrawlers exist. When they do come out from their vertical burrows, they typically travel up to 50 feet in search of food – or other nightcrawlers. Hot nights, cold nights, or very dry conditions deter them from emerging.
Normally, they pull down plant litter to eat inside their burrows – and deposit rich, soil-enhancing wastes on the surface. Their hermaphroditic mating is fascinating. Each nightcrawler is both male and female.
After numerous visits to each other’s burrow, the couples couple – each exchanging sperm above ground about once a week for several weeks. Mating adults, which are 2-years-old and older, store each other’s sperm for up to 8 months after which they produce cocoons, where egg fertilization takes place. Their cocoon is deposited in a little, shallow hole right next to the parent’s burrow. Ironically, while nightcrawlers are prospering in America, back in their native Europe, they’ve become an endangered species thanks to the introduction of highly predatory flatworms accidentally introduced from Australia and New Zealand.
My daughter Jessica came over to visit with her two little sons, Cameron and Connor. As we walked the gardens so they could pick raspberries and tomatoes, she felt something crawl on her sandaled foot. At first, she thought it was a baby garter snake, but it turned out to be a large nightcrawler.
It was one of about two-dozen that my grandsons would delight in gathering to go fishing with their father. They also planned to feed some to their voracious chickens back home.
Fearless and not at all squeamish about handling the slippery nightcrawlers, they eagerly hunted every one they could find. The event made me recall the camp song we sang so comically in our youth.
“Oh, the first one was easy. The second one was squeezy. The third one got stuck in my thro-o-o-oat. Big fat juicy ones. Long thin slimy ones. Fuzzy, slippery, wiggly, jiggly worms.”
Robins love worms, and so do many of our freshwater fish. While most serious fishermen use artificials that include bucktails, spoons, soft plastic jigs and top-water plugs, the nightcrawler can sometimes out-fish all of our advanced lures. You can fish it several ways.
The easiest is to just thread your hook through about an inch of it starting at the head; put on a bobber and maybe some split-shot – and wait for an inevitable hit. If there are fish around, that nightcrawler will disappear – either nibbled away and stolen – or impaled deep in the fish, enabling the meat-fishing angler to enjoy a good fight – and a possible dinner.
Some trout fishermen, though, will float nightcrawlers very effectively off the bottom, injecting air into them with a needled worm blower. That advanced strategy, available in most bait shops, allows the angler to fish deep – but have the bait up and visible above dense plants or other bottom debris, right where cruising fish can readily see the enticement. With MassWildlife stocking trout now in many of our lakes and ponds, this is a good way to bring dinner home if you’re not a catch-and-release fisherman.
MassWildlife offering seminar for woman looking to get into hunting
MassWildlife is again offering women a chance to learn how to deer hunt in their Becoming an Outdoors Woman Hunting Seminar and Mentored Hunt program.
Part One: The virtual deer hunting seminar, will take place online through Zoom on October 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Part Two: Field Skills Outdoor Seminar will be held Saturday October 23 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Shirley Rod & Gun Club with staff and volunteer guides. Women will develop field skills including shooting, hunting gear awareness, scouting, following blood trails, and learning when to shoot and when not to shoot.
Part Three: is a virtual pre-hunter meeting on Monday November 22 from 6-7 p.m. online, one week before the hunt, which will take place at Devens South Post Military Area in Lancaster, a real hot spot for white-tails.
Part Four: On Monday, November 29, the all-day hunt will occur with an experienced deer hunter as your guide and mentor.
Space is limited. To be considered for this great opportunity, women should apply online by Monday September 27. Registration preference will be given to new participants. Contact the MassFishHunt website or call MassWildlife in Westborough at (508) 389-6300.
—Contact Mark Blazis at email@example.com.
REad More:Intelligent hummingbirds are preparing to migrate south