Hummingbird Flu is not Coming to any Sugar Water Near You (Probably)

Hummingbird Nest on Two Old Mac minis

The news industry exists for the same reason as the entertainment industry–to sell consumer products. Instead of reporting actual facts about daily Covid deaths, or Russian fascists committing genocide, we get stories about hummingbirds–not that I have anything against Hummers, but things need some perspective.

Today’s bird flu hysteria is about the ever-present danger of hummingbird feeders. Today’s click bait headline on Al.com is “Avian flu and bird feeders: Can you still feed hummingbirds?” It should read “should” instead of “can,”but this is only click bait, and I clicked on it. Among the ads for sandals and Toyotas was some generalizing about hummingbird safety, from Dr. Victoria Hall, who lives in the hummingbird paradise of Minnesota.

Dr. Hall starts out well enough, admitting that there is actually no evidence about any dangers of giving birds sugar water–unlike humans, who contract type two diabetes if they consume too much sugar water, aka soft drinks (that’s my addition). Then out comes the generality.

Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds in this current H5N1 outbreak, one consideration is to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders or bird baths. These are places where things like viruses could easily be exchanged between individuals

Hall

Exactly. That’s why I am not going near any cafeterias as long as viruses exist. On top of viruses, there could not be enough plates, or food, or silverware. Someone could have a gun. Someone else could speak Russian. Some creep might have a sharp fork.

The hummer feeders stay up, and filled. I might even find a new nest this year. But on to more important things–what Coach Saban serves the losers of Alabama’s spring scrimmage–beanie weenies, and no cake for dessert. That monster! How do his teams keep winning?

Stop Feeding Songbirds (If You’re Easily Frightened)

“Why experts say you should immediately stop filling birdfeeders”. So blares a leading headline on our state’s top “news” site, Al.com. Never mind that there is only one expert cited, and she lives in Minnesota. At any rate, here’s what Dr. Victoria Hall has to say.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks. We have some data from previous outbreaks around the world, but this outbreak is very different. The 2022 outbreak is unique because of the very high levels of transmission of the currently circulating H5N1 virus strain in wildlife.”

Hall

Let me translate:

“…we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks.” Trans–We don’t know.

“With minimal viral surveillance being done with songbirds, it is hard to measure the risk of transmission from songbirds to other birds.” Trans–We don’t have enough data to prove anything, but I am an expert, so I don’t need any.

Let me step in to the void with what is actually known. Here’s useful information from the CDC, cited near the end of the article:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27 million cases of avian influenza have been reported in backyard and commercial poultry as of April 8th. Another 637 cases have been reported in wild birds in 31 states, including Alabama. The Alabama case was reported Feb. 23 in an American wigeon found in Limestone County.

AL.com

Divide 637 by 27 million, and you have it–0.0000236% of documented bird flu cases in the US have been found in wild birds. I personally am going to roll the dice and keep my bird feeders full, and my chickens fed. Though I will end with a witty fake headline:

All cases of bird flu reported in Alabama were in the wild bird population.

Of course that number is only one, which occurred almost two two months ago, and was a couple of counties away from here. I just like to live dangerously.

December 16–Pizza al Fresco

Mangia

Yes, winter in the age of climate disruption. Technically this was late late last fall, but with temps in the mid 70’s, it might as well have been late late spring. In this situation, the only thing to do is light up the brick oven, and eat some pizza outside.

Our pizza sauce has evolved over the years, and I will simply list the secret ingredients, soon to be secret no more. Here it goes:

Balsamic Vinegar

Garlic Paste

Italian Tomato Paste in a Tube (like the Garlic Paste)

Homemade Pesto, frozen in an ice cube tray

Home canned local Tomatoes

It is possible to screw up the sauce even with these ingredients, but it can only be accomplished with some difficulty. Go easy on the vinegar and the paste, and all’s well that eats well.

I will resist the temptation to make another bad joke about Al Fresco. I could hurt his feelings.

Smokehouse, Part Three–It Takes a Village, or a Family, to Frame a Smokehouse

Moochers R Us

This project began with the gift of a bunch of cinder blocks, and a couple of wooden pallets–all unsolicited, naturally (I should add that cinder blocks are known as “see-mint” blocks locally). These came from BIL (brother in law) #1, who then added a few pressure treated 2x4s as well, which you can see as the sill boards on the smokehouse.

Not long thereafter BIL #2 got in on the action, giving us the lumber for the front and back walls, as well as the rafters, and some tin roofing. He really really wants this thing to be finished, as he has a whole list of meat smoking projects. We (gasp) actually bought the lumber for the two side walls. I have plans for a fancy door as well.

No Door Yet

I did all the work myself, with the exception of Melanie Jane helping me hoist up the first rafter. But, as my labor is free, as always, I did all the rest of it by my lonesome. That is, if you don’t count my actual supervisor on this project.

Get Back to Work

That’s Siegfried, more commonly known as Ziggy D. Dog. A finer nor a lazier Aussie has ever been birthed. The combination of the two traits makes him perfect for a middle management position.

MJ says that 16 square feet, the size of this structure, is big enough to sit in and smoke a couple of packs. My counter was that I would rather puff on a Bob Marley sized fattie (that’s a joint of Mary Jane, in case you just fell off the turnip truck). Truthfully, neither of us has ever smoked vegetable matter of any kind. I suppose we will have to stick with smoking meat instead.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Part Three, Recycled Fire Pit

The words Fire Pit and Outdoor Kitchen have become such a cliche when put together that CNN had one of their homepage top ten lists, just on Fire Pits, last week. Strangely, they left off my heavy steel pit in favor of a bunch that were made from sheet metal. It could be that because you have to be related to the guy who makes these in order to get one–I am.

My best estimate is that this was made from the end of a 150 gallon propane tank, as they are usually 30″ in diameter, as this is. The handles and rim are made of rebar, and the legs and cooking crane are heavy steel bar and pipe. The crane works like a crane found in Colonial kitchens, so this is made to cook.

How tough is this thingie? A dead and quite large oak tree blew over in a storm, and made a direct hit on this pit. The impact was so hard that the tree mashed the pit into the ground to the top of the legs. After I cut the tree off, the only damage was that it bent the crane slightly, which had no impact on the performance of the pit.

Further evidence that it was designed to be a fire pit and a cooking machine:

Great Grate

The rebar grate can be used to stack logs on, or sit a pot on, or taken out so the things can be cleaned or used only as a fire pit. Likewise, the crane has a swivel hinge which means it can be moved completely out of the way. or even taken off altogether.

I did drill four holes in the bottom for drainage and to add a little air circulation. I will drill more eventually, but drilling through this steel just about destroys a drill bit. At least the thing isn’t full of water and mosquito larvae. This state was originally nicknamed “The Yellow State” because of the prevalence of malaria. A case of that will definitely ruin your meal.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Two–Magnolias and Moonlight

An outdoor kitchen dedicated to the natural world and natural materials needs a specimen plant. My philosophy of the whole enterprise is go big or go home. That’s why I chose Big Leaf Magnolia for the role, the Latin name being Magnolia macrophylla.

With leaves up to 36 inches long, and flowers up to 14 inches wide, this is about as impressive a deciduous tree as there is. It will occasionally get as tall as 70 feet. The range is from DC to Texas, though there is a subspecies found in NE Mexico. The densest population of these trees is in Alabama and Mississippi.

This angle gives a better idea of the magnitude of the leaves. This is still a young tree that has not bloomed yet, and when it will is a known unknown. I can never resist a reference to Rummy Rumsfeld.

Bellflower, Leatherflower–Two Native Vines

Relocated Texan

A hort cliche is that there are “much neglected” plants, to which I say–good. The native clematis species fit this category perfectly. More than a few are not even available commercially.

This red guy, Clematis texensis, is one pricey unit, if you can even find one available. I swapped for this plant with a nursery owner in Texas, and now have a whole jar of seeds. It’s hardy and a beauty. In return, I sent her–

A Garden City Native

Clematis reticulata isn’t particularly rare, but is rarely sold. We have a few hundred of them, all growing wild. In fact the phenotype, or original sample that the species was described from, came from where we live in Garden City. We have so many I have even stopped collecting seed for these.

In short, if these plants can grow in the sandpile we live on, they will grow in most places. The hardest part is just finding them.

Optimus 45–Rehab and Refurb Time

Over Half Way to the Full Monty

Even a Sherman tank requires the occasional repair, and so does the Optimus 45 kerosene stove. Two legs fell off this stove, and I just started with some super glue, and then did the real work with some solder.

Then I over-pressurized it, and blew out some solder in the seam around the tank, and made a great kerosene geyser. I have that about 90% repaired, but still get to solder some more. Could this be an excuse to buy an actual soldering gun?

Last, my best brain infarction. The cast iron Tilley cooking ring came completely unfinished, and as a cast iron expert wanna-be, I immediately thought–bacon fat. Two trips to the oven and the iron is now bright black.

A few more minutes of soldering, and this dude is ready to cook.

I Can’t See The Epidemic For The Trees

Winterzeit

Now that I have had my second Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and will soon be 95% to 97.5% immune to our latest plague, I have a chance to be philosophical on the subject. Naturally, I turn to our friends at Deutsche Welle, the voice of Germany, for my information.

As it turns out, a brilliant Polish scientist at the University of Warsaw actually predicted the epidemic in 2018. After studying previous Covid outbreaks, Aneta Afelt came to the following conclusion.

“By being one of the regions of the world where population growth is the strongest, where sanitary conditions remain poor and where the deforestation rate is the highest, SEA [Southeast Asia] meets every condition to become the place of emergence or reemergence of infectious diseases,” Afelt wrote in a 2018 article.

So trees are the answer. Need more evidence? How about another equally brilliant woman scientist in Brazil. She thinks they will be the source for the next epidemic. The reason once again is deforestation.

Here’s the numbers.  “In 2015 the (Brazilian) government-led Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) found that for every 1% of forest that was cut down per year, malaria cases increased by 23%.” And that is only the beginning. Professor Ana Lucia Torinho has the following to add.

“The closed forest is like a shield against external communities coming into contact with animals that are hosts for microorganisms that cause diseases. And when we fragment the forest, that opens new ways of entry to its heart. It’s a ticking time bomb,” Tourinho said, while pointing out the danger of large projects like hydroelectric stations in the Amazon.

Deutsche Welle

Columbia University in NYC has identified 3,204 different Corona viruses, just in the bats in Brazil. I suppose I won’t be going there anytime soon.

Here’s my woods now.

Temperate Forest

We have five acres of Oak-Hickory-Beech-Pine forest, and any number of second and third layer of canopy plants. One-half acre is right of way for the Alabama Power Co., which just happens to be one of the biggest polluters in the US. Shocking, I know.

Don’t worry about any epidemics starting in our woods. We occasionally cut down a small tree for making woodenware, but they grow back faster than we can cut them down. We burn deadfalls in the brick oven. Respect nature, and it tends to respect you back.

Fröhliche Fruhling Zeit! Happy Spring! Joyeux Printemps!

Taters, Precious

The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are back, from their winter vacation. Though we will probably have one of our notorious late frosts, I’m prepared for it. Floating row covers are arriving today.

Our dilapidated, abandoned, old garden is suddenly back to life. It still looks like a landfill, with my cardboard box mulch, but we have had two things–enough rain, and endless amounts of chicken manure. Add those two together, and you end up with taters like those in the above picture. They are now on a diet of fish emulsion fertilizer.

Pasta Time

Forty something garlic plants should do us for a while. And then there is their cousin.

Elephant Garlic

This is not really a garlic, but the bulb just tastes like one. It is a sub-species of the garden leek, and grows like mad. Many of these were volunteer plants. Now for something completely different.

Asparagus Galore

Fifty something shoots of asparagus from about as many crowns. I know there are more coming. If they freeze to the ground, they will just re-sprout. It has happened before.

Almost eighty degrees today, and freezing temps forecast for Thursday night. Over eleven inches of rain so far this month, with more coming tomorrow. Just another typical Appalachian Spring.

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