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MARTHA SEZ: ‘The lives of spiders and hummingbirds are intertwined’

October 3, 2019
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

It's October. My friend Cherie was taking down her tomato garden in Westport recently when she found three struggling baby hummingbirds caught in a spiderweb.

Fortunately, Cherie was in time to save the tiny hummingbabies. After she freed them from the sticky web, they flew away.

I read that large orb weaving spiders may sometimes eat small frogs and hummingbirds that become entangled in their webs.

Would the hummingbabies have fallen prey to a spider in Cherie's tomato garden? They may have been too much for the webspinner. Even so, they would have starved to death if Cherie had not come along when she did.

The lives of spiders and hummingbirds are intertwined. Hummingbirds do not live on nectar and sugar water alone. They get their protein from insects, and sometimes steal insect carcasses from spider webs. My friend Darla, who for several hummingbird generations has fed and befriended a family of rubythroats, tells me that they use spider silk in building their nests.

I learned that hummingbird nests are small cups built with plant fibers, twigs and leaves.The birds use spider silk to make the sides of the nest elastic so that it stretches to hold the baby birds as they grow. Spider webs are also used to secure the nest to a branch.

I have been home recuperating from surgery for a detached retina for several weeks. My friend Sherri, a masseuse, very kindly installed a massage table in my living room so that I can follow doctor's orders by sleeping with my face down while still breathing. Last week, to my great relief, the ophthalmologist told me that my eye has healed well, and he predicted that I will regain my vision, eventually. Before last week, he would not, or could not, say.

My eyesight has been slowly returning. Every day it gets a little better. At the moment, when I close my good eye, I see as if I am looking at the world in a funhouse mirror. There is a lot of refracted light in the upper half of my field of vision, moving like sunlight through water. In the lower half, objects appear to be obscured by fog. A heavy black line runs through the middle. It's pretty disorienting. Mostly I stay at home.

The good thing about my house arrest is that friends come to visit and tell me interesting facts and stories about what is going on in their lives. The ophthalmologist told me to keep my head down, so I have been knitting. Every day, I knit a baby sweater for hours on end. This is challenging, however. Never a good knitter, I make more mistakes than usual due to my strange vision impairment. In the morning, like Penelope at her loom, I tear out my previous day's work and begin again.

It occurred to me the other day that this is the longest I have gone without wearing mascara since I was 15.

This has been going on since the last week of August, and now it is October. Soon it will be peak leaf season. They tell me that the town is full of leaf peepers.

Meanwhile, I assume the hummingbirds have taken wing and are on their way to their winter homes in the south. The babies that Cherie liberated have probably flown away. I don't understand how this is possible, but ornithologists say that hummingbirds fly south by themselves, not in flocks, and that very young birds make the trip without parental guidance. It's instinct, they say, as if that explains it.

These tiny birds fly by day, just above treetop level, following so-called nectar trails and making use of head winds. They may fly 23 miles a day, stopping to build up their strength in good feeding areas.

They sometimes remain on the ground for two weeks at a time before taking off again. Older birds will take the same route year after year. Rufous hummingbirds, the ornithologists tell us, migrate all the way from Alaska to Central America.

Does anyone believe any of this? I swear I didn't make up a single word, but it all seems highly unlikely.

This is the season of monstrous cobwebs on Adirondack porches. I have always wondered why we see them in late summer and fall, so I looked it up. It turns out the orb weavers and other spiders have become mature and are now building their largest and most plentiful webs.

Have a good week.



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