As summer winds down, here are some recommendations, suggestions, and tips.
As a law enforcement officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rachel Porter doesn't go looking for trouble. But trouble certainly has no problem finding her. Every year since 1997, Rachel has found herself embroiled in a case where very bad people treat wildlife as a commodity to be bought, sold, and/or poached. Her job is to stop the bad guys. So far she's six for six.
Before I continue, I should point out that Rachel Porter is a fictional character, the heroine in a series of wildlife mystery thrillers created by author Jessica Speart. Rachel's latest adventure, A Killing Season (Avon Books, $6.99), was published earlier this summer. This time Rachel investigates rumors of grizzly bears being killed for their gall bladders, a highly valued product used in Chinese folk medicine. The problem turns out to go far beyond the realm of grizzly conservation. It's another great read and perfect for the beach or the back porch.
What I like most about the Rachel Porter series is that Speart not only tells a great tale, she uses the story to expose real conservation issues.
Some people might think poaching's only a concern in Africa where elephant ivory is a valuable black market commodity. But illegal traffic in wildlife is a huge problem right here in the United States. Speart's readers get an inside look at some of these problems and the agents who investigate them. The time she invests in shadowing real FWS agents enables Speart to capture not only the facts behind the problem, but she also brings the story to life with realistic dialogue and sound biology.
Watch for swifts
Anyone having chimney work done during the summer, particularly the installation of liners or caps, should check to see if any chimney swifts inhabit the flue before the work is done. Otherwise, swifts can be trapped and die. Work in chimneys inhabited by swifts should be delayed until after they migrate south in September. My thanks to e-mailer Dick McCall for this timely suggestion.
Look for activity at your hummingbird feeders to pick up over the next few weeks. The young are now fledging, so your hummer numbers might double or triple overnight. Keep your feeders filled with fresh nectar (one part sugar to four parts water), hang them in open shade, and clean the feeders every two or three days.
Speaking of hummers, if you've been seeing "baby" hummingbirds visiting your flowers beds, your eyes aren't deceiving you. But these tiny creatures, less than half the size of a ruby-throated hummingbird, are hummingbird moths. Their beating wings blur as they hover above nectar-bearing flowers, just like hummers. And their long coiled mouthparts, when unfurled, suggest the tubular bill of a hummingbird.
When you enjoy a watermelon or cantaloupe on a hot summer day, save the seeds. Seed-eating birds love em, so it's a waste to toss them in the trash. And later, as squash and pumpkins ripen, save those seeds as well. Your birds will thank you.
A common summer question I hear every year concerns "bald" birds. Readers describe peculiar cardinals, blue jays, and sometimes other birds t hat come to their feeders. The odd trait these birds share is a complete absence of head feathers. This is a symptom of a heavy infestation of mites or feather lice, which actually eat feathers. Though birds are fastidious groomers, they can only rake their heads with their claws rather than use their bills to remove parasites. Occasionally the parasite load gets so severe song birds look like miniature vultures. Fortunately, the condition is temporary, and new feathers usually grow out before cold weather sets in.
Finally, stargazers, get ready for the annual Perseid meteor shower in mid-August. If clear skies prevail, we could see one "shooting star" per minute at the peak of the show on the night of August 12/13. Enjoy.