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Archive for January, 2009

Late last Sunday afternoon, as I was here tidying up my travel trailer just a bit, I suddenly had the urge to sneeze.

And then it hit: AAAAAAAAACHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

And it was a powerful sneeze!

Most of the time, when I sneeze, nothing much else happens.

That sneeze, though, was the opening salvo of five rotten days of of runny nose, draining sinus’s, headache, coughing, watery eyes and a gazillion more sneezes! And four days of missed work!

After that very first mega sneeze Sunday afternoon, my sinus’s immediately started to drain, and when that happened, I figured that I was in for a really rotten session, after several years of fortunately missing these lengthy episodes.

In years past, such a siege of miserableness has often been initiated by a sneeze. and then the race is on!

Monday morning, I went in to work, as the symptoms had not really gotten up to full speed yet, but as the day went on, they did gather momentum. By Monday evening, I was going through tissues by the dozens.

Tuesday morning, my head had all kinds of things going on, and I was in no shape to go into work.

As the week went on, I consumed what seemed like gallons of liquids, including orange and grape juice Drinking those seemed to stoke the fire more than anything, but I was able to stay hydrated.

I profusely apologize for the following verbal description of my sneezing episodes this week, but believe me, the actual physically revolting experiences were much more loathsome in person, than as described in the following words.

During the several days of this madness, the sneezes came quickly with little forewarning, very often, and with nasty results. If I wasn’t within grabbing distance of a tissue when one of the monster sneezes suddenly occurred, more often than not, I was literally left with a disgusting hand full of slimy yellow snot.

Revolting when it happened? You can’t imagine. My expressive reaction to these occurrences, was probably as equally disgusting, if you would have been within earshot when one took place. You have only to use your imagination on that!

The only thing that comes to my mind as being on a similar footing with those repulsive images, was when, during my later college years, I worked three jobs besides attending classes full-time at a university some 50 miles from my home, the first job each very early morning being, working as an Artificial Insemination Technician for American Breeders Service on a farm route near my home in south central Wisconsin. The only way to do that folks, is to stick your entire plastic-enclosed arm into the rectum of a cow to be able to feel your way to the cervical opening of the cow and put the thawed bull semen where it needed to be to make the cow with calf.

Pulling your arm out of a cow’s behind is not exactly a pleasant viewing or fragrant experience, folks, believe me! Especially, if on occasion, the plastic sleeve develops a hole during that procedure.

This process was so much easier if the cow had already defecated into the barn gutter before my arrival and the start of the procedure. If she hadn’t already done this, it was a tough entry, and a must to “clean her out,” before attempting to insert the semen tube or straw, and very gently squeeze the tiny bulb and place the bull semen where it needed to be, just within the entrance of the cow’s uterus, to be most effective.

Oh, incidentally, I was known among my farm route customers then for my excellent “first service rate,” which was better than 80%. Which means that more than 80% of the time, the cow became pregnant the first time I ‘inseminated’ her (if you have ever lived on a dairy farm, this procedure is no big deal), thus keeping the cow in a regular calving and milk-giving rotation within the dairy herd. The quicker and earlier a cow became pregnant, the more profitable she was to the herd and farm milk business.

During those college years, I did the AI route in the early morning and mid-evening, then drove an elementary school bus on a pickup and drop-off route to nearby school, then parked the bus and drove my pickup some 50 miles to my classes, then back home again, for the evening bus and AI routes.

On weekends back then, my third job tending bar for my parents in their nearby supper club supper club. And during those hectic years and many miles, my grade point average was very nearly a 4.0. Good focus, I guess.

Meanwhile, back at the trailer, this week…

By last night, being locked up in this tiny trailer (usable space: about 8′ by 25′) for three days and nights, was getting to me. I thought that, just perhaps, things would get better by early morning, and I would be able to go back in to work.

Alas, when I awoke by 6:30am, I actually sounded the worse I have sounded all week. So, another call in to my supervisor, to let him know it still had its hold on me, and that I hoped that I was better by Monday morning, so I could go back to work.

We were already short-handed at work, after one of our guys passed away in his sleep last fall, and another recently had heck surgery and was out for recuperation for another 2-3 weeks or so.

This afternoon, I drove just about a mile up the road from my trailer, to one of the local Urgent Care-type clinics, to see if the attending physician there had any miracles he could prescribe to send this THING down the road.

The doc there that I saw, spent about 5 minutes with me and promptly prescribed an anti-biotic that he thought would help weaken the condition. Will it work? Who knows? Probably a $120 office visit down the drain…

So, I drove over to the Walgreens Drug Store, about two miles away, where I usually have my prescriptions filled, and asked to have this one made up. The pharmacy was so busy filling scripts, though (lots of sick people around here), that they asked if I could come back in a couple of hours.

I advised them that if I didn’t get back this evening, I would stop over sometime in the morning, and pick it up.

I then made a quick stop at the nearby grocery store and picked up several jugs of juice, and headed back home to my trailer.

After returning, late in the afternoon, I laid back down for some more rest. Amazingly, about 5:00pm or 6:00pm, my sinus’s finally quit running, and my eyes stopped watering, and the sneezes stopped coming as often as previously.

I’m still coughing, with just a small bit of nose blowing, and still have a mild headache, but overall, I think that the condition is finally starting to improve. FINALLY!

In thinking about this condition during this week, although this stuff was rather miserable, I tried to keep everything in perspective, and remember that there are lots of folks experiencing much worse, miserable and painful maladies than I.

Things could have been a lot worse.

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In yesterday’s mail here at my P.O. Box in Long Beach, I received a large, manila envelope from stepmother Nancy, from up in the Wisconsin snow country, which contained the typed memoirs of my late Aunt Erma, one of my dad’s sisters, which she wrote in February 2003, before she passed away.

In her memoirs, Aunt Erma described life for her and her family, especially when she was very young and growing up.

Some of the things she and her siblings endured during their early years, I had heard bits and pieces from my dad during his life, and also in his memoirs, also dictated during his later life and then transcribed by Nancy.

The memoirs describe how, my grandfather Fredrick, father to my father and Erma, died in a tragic fire in October 1921, when she was only three weeks old, and my father was just under two years old.

The fire occurred when grandfather Fred, who worked for the Post Office, was home during the lunch hour, and while attempting to heat the home up, dumped a small can of what he thought was coal oil, into a stove to stock up the coal in the stove.

Unbeknownst to my grandfather, the young man who recently filled the coal oil fuel can at the service station, had a degree of mental retardation, and inadvertently filled the can with gasoline, rather than coal oil.

When the gasoline hit the flame in the stove, it exploded and burned my grandfather severely. He lived for two days after the fire, before dying.

My surviving grandmother, whose maiden name was Julia Belle Rolfe, really struggled to try to raise her three children, my Aunt Lil, my father and my Aunt Erma. She was gone a lot of the time, and worked as a ‘midwife’ for a doctor, taking care of mothers-to-be and staying after the baby was born.

Grandmother Julia, who had but a fourth grade education, did the best she could, but eventually, neighbors reported her to the State authorities, and as a result, the three children were taken away from her and sent to the State School (orphanage), up in Sparta.

What happened to them after that for many years is truly sad, and something I won’t elaborate on here, as it brings on too many tears, even 60-80 years after the fact. What I will say is that, long after that, my brother and sisters and I were extremely blessed to have both my father and mother as our parents during our growing years.

As I read through page after page of Aunt Erma’s memories, I laughed out loud a number of times, at a lot of things she recalled about her life, including several references to her memories about ME.

Often when my brother and sisters happen to be together for family time, and get around to talking about some of the things that happened to us during our growing up years, invariably, my sisters Barb and Sue bring up about how I usually was at the root cause of our getting into trouble with one or both of our parents, especially at the supper table.

During those times when fingers are pointed in my direction, I normally shrug my shoulders and feign innocence, all the while showing a slight smile, as if their insinuations may be a little bit true. All that I ever did own up to, was pulling the kitchen cupboards off the wall over the sink and breaking all the dishes, glasses and cups inside. TWICE!

My little sister Sue did it, too, after my second time, as she, like me, tried to climb up on the sink by grabbing the cabinet door handles and pulling herself up. After the third time, my father drilled holes all the way through the kitchen wall and installed long bolts completely through the wall, so it wouldn’t happen a fourth time. That and he went out and bought the old melamine (what we used to call “melmac”) dishes, glasses and cups to put in the cabinet now.

The cabinet never came off the wall again.

Some of Aunt Erma’s recollections of me, which my brothers and sisters, I know, have all received a copy of, too, lend a bit of collaborating back-up to my sisters’ accusations.

Here is one of Aunt Erma’s recollections: “I helped with Evan’s 3 kids, did housework and baked pies for the restaurant [which my father owned, and Aunt Erma work in, as did my grandmother Julia]. Once as I was making fudge candy, little Lance climbed on a chair and was watching me. He was almost three and as the candy started boiling up he shouted “Auntie Erma its ‘gozing over.'” He was so cute but into everything.”

She goes on, “Another time, he wouldn’t eat all of his supper and wasn’t supposed to get dessert, which was a pumpkin pie I had baked. During the night, my Mother heard sounds in the kitchen and investigated. There he was with the refrigerator open sitting on a stool and with his feet in the refrigerator dipping all over with a spoon eating the rest of the pie. He was determined to get his share.”

Another incident she recalled, “When it was the day before Mother’s Day, Evan brought home a three-tiered big beautiful cake decorated with red roses in honor of his Mother, wife and sister. Of course we were all excited about it and decided to hide it away from Lance under the sink. Someway during the night, he found out where it was hidden and got up while everyone was sleeping and ate every one of the roses.”

Well, thanks a lot, Aunt Erma, there goes my cling to innocence with my brother and sisters. I can just hear my sisters shout out as they were reading Erma’s memoirs, “See, it’s true what we have been saying about Lance being behind our getting into trouble all the time!” Finally, they have their confirmation, after all these years!

Aunt Erma and Uncle Bern raised five wonderful children, and in 2000, celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary, which I had the honor to photograph for them.

When grandmother Julia Belle passed away some 50+ years ago, she was living with and being cared for by Aunt Lil in Riverside, Michigan. I remember vividly the following night, very late, when my father arrived back home from Michigan with our station wagon. In it was the body of grandmother Julia, which my father had journeyed to Michigan to bring back, to the funeral home in nearby LaFarge, where the service was to be held a few days later.

We kids had all been sleeping when my father arrived home, with grandmother. I remember waking when I heard the car come into our driveway, and crept down the stairs from the bedroom I shared with my brother upstairs.

When I silently peeped my head around the doorway, I saw and heard my father sitting at our yellow kitchen table, his arms down on the table his head buried in his arms, wailing in his grief over his mother. My mother was standing beside him, her arms around his shoulders, her head on his, also crying. I think he cried for twenty minutes or so, it seemed. I had never witnessed my father crying like that, so hard and for so very long.

That memory of that scene, so long ago, has never left me, and never will.

How many of us could drive the body of our deceased parent, lying directly behind our seat, several hundred miles, to bring them ‘back home,’ for the last time?

Grandmother Julia Belle Rolfe was buried in a tiny cemetery, located on a knob,
in the wooded hills of western Vernon County, Wisconsin, only a few miles from the Rolfe family homestead, her grave located between two tall cedar trees that my father planted there, shortly after her death.

Grandmother Julia’s grandfather, Albert Harland Rolfe, originally from New York, and later from Painesville, Ohio, established the family homestead, there at the head of Jug Creek, in a log home, shortly after coming back to Vernon County after serving and being wounded in the Civil War.

My great great grandfather Albert Harland Rolfe, served in Company K, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was part of the renowned “Iron Brigade” of the Army of the Potomac of the Union Armies, consistenting of the Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin Voluntary Infantry, the Nineteenth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, the Twenty-fourth Michigan Volunteer Infantry, and the 4th US Artillery.

Grandfather Rolfe served in the Civil War in the eastern battlefield arena, serving in many of those horrible battles that students of the Civil War are familiar with, including Brawner’s Farm, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Richmond, St. Petersburg and Five Forks, from April 1862 until he was finally wounded on April 1, 1865, at the Battle of Five Forks, a few miles south of St. Petersburg, just nine days before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

When my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our third child, which turned out to be a boy, his first and middle names became: Andrew Rolfe.

American History, and more specifically, Family History, has long been important to me, personally, and as a field of study, something I have devoted literally years of study to in my lifetime.

Family is more important than anything, I believe. And that is what I miss most about serving down here on the Gulf Coast during my mission. I sincerely hope and pray that I may soon be reunited with my family back in my home.

Until then, they remain ever in my thoughts and prayers.

Thank you so much, Aunt Erma, for helping provide some needed laughter and special memories for me to enjoy this week and in the future, while my mission proceeds. I pray that you and your brothers and sisters, including my father and mother and your spouse, Bern, are having some good times up in heaven, talking about some of the fun times you had together when you were all on this side.

I’ll catch up with you folks some day, on down the road a piece.

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THE SECRET OF LIFE

As I was driving home this evening, along the coast highway from Biloxi, over to my travel trailer in Long Beach, I was listening to a CD by Faith Hill, one of my favorite recording artists.

The winds had quieted down, and the lights reflected off the gulf waters at the port complex in Gulfport, made possible by hardly any wave action coming in to shore.

As I drove along highway 90, listening to the CD, this song flowed from the speakers, as only Faith Hill can sing it: The Secret of Life.

Here are the words:

Couple of guys,
sittin’ around drinkin’
down at the Starlite Bar,

One of them says,
‘You know, I’ve been thinkin’
other one says,
‘that won’t get you too far’

he says: this is your life,
your welcome to it,
it’s just workin’ and drinkin’ and dreamin,’

ad on TV says ‘just do it,’
hell if I know what that means,

The secret of life is a good cup of coffee,
The secret of life is keep your eye on the ball,
The secret of life is a beautiful woman,
Marilyn stares down from the bar room wall,

You and me, just a couple of zeros,
just a couple of down and outs,
the movie stars and football heroes,
what have they got to be unhappy about?

Oh yeah…

they turn to the bartender,
Sam: what do you think?
what’s the key that unlocks that door?

Sam don’t say nothing,
just wipes off the bar,
and pours them a couple of more,

’cause

The secret of life is Sam’s martini,
The secret of life is in Marilyn’s eyes,
The secret of life is in Monday Night Football,
havin’ strong friends, mom’s apple pie,

Sam looks up from the Sunday paper,
says: boys, you’re on the wrong track,
The secret of life is: there ain’t no secret,
and you don’t get your money back,

The secret of life is gettin’ up early,
The secret of life is stayin’ up late,
The secret of life is try not to hurry,
don’t wait, don’t wait,

The secret of life is a good cup of coffee,
The secret of life is keep your eye on the ball,
The secret of life is to find the right woman,
The secret of life is nothin’ at all.

The secret of life
Couple of guys sittin’ around drinkin,’
down at the Starlite Bar,

one of them says: you know, I’ve been thinkin,’
that won’t get you too far…

When the song ended, I pushed play again, and listened to it a half dozen more times, as I drove along the beach.

As I listened, I thought to myself, “this would be a good question to ask in a post, to see, in their own words, what others thought The Secret of Life was.”

So, let’s make a list, OK? Do you think that The Secret Of Life is any of the above? Or do you have a different idea? Share it with us, will you?

Jump in and add your thoughts and let’s see what the “Secrets of Life” really are…

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Hummingbird study and enjoyment isn’t only during the spring, summer and fall, when most hummingbird activity takes place in southern Mississippi. It can happen during winter months, too, supposedly after the hummingbirds have migrated farther south. This post kind of follows up on a recent post about migrating hummingbirds, What A Buzz! Hummers By The Dozen!

I discovered to my surprise this weekend that not all hummingbirds have migrated out of south Mississippi this winter.

And, thanks to some good friends, here is how that discovery came about.

Question: How many people does it take to safely trap, tag and measure a wintering hummingbird?

Answer: One, if he has five years of training, proper accreditation and really knows what he is doing!

Friday evening, as I was eating supper, my cell phone rang. The caller was my friend Ralph, from Pass Christian, of recent sky diving fame, inquiring if I might be interested in coming over to his home early Saturday morning to observe a trained trapper catch a winter hummingbird or two, for leg banding and measurement.

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James sets up Hummer capture cage.

Ralph said that James Bell, of Picayune, Mississippi, would be stopping over around 7:00am with his trapping and measuring equipment to study any wintering hummingbirds that happened to visit Ralph and Andrea’s nectar feeders, and venture into the radio-controlled trap he was bringing with him.

James is a trained member of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, Inc. (HBSG), a Non-Profit Organization founded by Bob and Martha Sargent in 1993, dedicated to the study and preservation of hummingbirds and other neo-tropical migrants (songbirds).

I said to Ralph, “Hey, that sounds really interesting. I’ll be over at 7:00am.”

Ralph and Andrea’s home is located in nearby Pass Christian, about a mile across the woods and railroad tracks, from my little travel trailer home in rural Long Beach. Andrea and I are co-workers weekdays at the nearby South Mississippi Regional Center, in Long Beach. Like our friend, Master Naturalist John, Andrea is also an accredited Master Naturalist.

The weather forecast for Saturday morning called for an 80% chance of rain, and when I got up at 6:00am then, it was raining heavily. As the rain pounded onto the metal roof of my trailer, I wondered to myself just how would we be able to trap hummingbirds in heavy rain?

When I drove into Ralph’s driveway at 7:00am, it has stopped raining, and Ralph and Andrea were on the front porch, waiting for me, and for James, who had not yet arrived.

We went inside, and while waiting for James, had a cup of coffee and some toast, and watched the many birds flying to and from the many feeders, located just outside the large windows of the spacious kitchen.

At about 7:30am, James arrived and carried in his banding gear box and camera, and then went out back to set up the radio-controlled hummer trap, just outside the kitchen windows.

When all was in readiness, the four of us went inside and took up our watching stations in a line of four chairs facing the windows and the hummer trap outside.

We hadn’t been sat down in our chairs for even a minute, when a small hummingbird flew up to the trap, buzzed around to the opening, and zipped inside to feed on the nectar feeder hanging from the top of the trap.

James had the trap clicker in his hand, and with a quick press of a finger, the trap door dropped, locking with a soft click, and just that quick, we had our first hummer of the day to band and study.

We quickly went outside to the trap, where James reached in and carefully put the little hummer into a small, nylon mesh bag, after which we returned to the kitchen where James would apply a tiny leg band, do a serious of measurements and observations, and weigh the little hummer.

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Andrea checks out captured hummer in mesh bag.

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James reaches inside cage to put hummingbird in mesh capture bag.

After a little careful study, James determined that the bird was a second-year, Rufous female. The final part of the study was to photograph the bird, using a macro lens, from several angles.

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James resets capture trap door.

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James shows Andrea distinguishing characteristics of the little Rufous female hummer.

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One of the fellow characteristics charts of hummingbirds.

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James applies a tiny band to one of the legs on the female Rufous.

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James uses a small magnifying glass to examine the Rufous female hummer.

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James uses a vernier caliper to measure feather size on the Rufous female.

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Encased in a small portion of the toe of a ladies stocking, the female Rufous is weighed and a notation made in James’ notes.

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James uses a straw to gently move air on the hummer’s chest feather, to note chest and fat characteristics.

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James gently holds the Rufous hummer to shows its colors.

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During the measurement process, James pauses to have the little Rufous female eat from the nectar feeder.

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James explains the significances of of the many measurements he is making of the captured hummingbird.
Andrea and Ralph observe, as James photographs the Rufous hummer prior to release.

Among the many interesting facts about hummingbirds that James told us about during the time he was doing measurements and photographing, was that their normal heartbeat at rest, not under stress, was around 250 beats per minutes. When they were at high activity or under stress, their heartbeat could rise to approaching 1000 beats per minute.

He also advised that when hummer babies were ready to leave the nest, they were normally full grown, and had a healthy level of body fat, as the mother hummer took very good care of them when they were growing in the nest.

He also related that hummingbirds scout out and know where all active nectar feeders are in a given local, and generally will have a nectar visit route where they will stop by all the feeders to feed.

The hummer nest is very small. If you were to try to set a quarter flar down into the nest, it may not fit, without pushing on the quarter. The hummer female also always lays two eggs, at most, almost never, three, and can have 3 sets of babies in each bredding season.

As the breeding season approaches each spring, the male hummers always come north to the area where they were born, approximately two weeks before the females arrive, basically to mark and lay out their own breeding territories. Hummingbirds also do not mate for life.

And then, already, it was time to set the little hummer free. James gently set the bird in the palm of Andrea’s hand, and with a couple of light taps of his finger to the underside of her hand, the bird quickly zipped up and away and out of sight.

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James gently holds hummer to show the orange spots on its neck.

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Another view of the orange spots.

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Andrea holds the female Rufous in her palm during the release.

Seated back inside again in our viewing chairs, James talked about his experiences working as a HBSG volunteer banding apprentice for five years with hummingbirds along the Gulf Coast, especially at the Fort Morgan, Alabama Bird Banding Station, which led to his being certified to catch, band and study hummingbirds.

James talked about his experiences at Fort Morgan, during the spring and fall migration seasons, when volunteers would set out dozens and dozens of catching nets each day. He said on his busiest days, he would catch, band and measure up to 200 birds.

As we were sitting in front of the windows talking, another hummingbird suddenly appeared by the cage, and quick as a flash, zipped inside to feed.

Ralph made a dive for the trap door clicker and was pressing buttons like mad, finally pressing the right one, and the trap door dropped.

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The second hummer caught in the trap was a large, male Buff-belly.

We had our second hummingbird of the morning! And this one was much larger than the previous bird!

When James removed this bird from the trap, he said with a bit of glee, “This one is a Buff-belly, and a large one, too!”

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A large Buff-belly male hummer.

James told us that this bird normally winters down in Mexico, which is around an 18-hour flight for Buff-bellies to make, flying along at a height of 20′-30- or so, during the trip.

Because of the large size of this hummer, James had to fashion a special leg band to fit this fellow, and after the band had been applied, measurements and digital images taken, he was released, and quickly flew away.

James had determined that he was also a second-year bird, and was a strong male.

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Buff-belly male hummer.

Shortly thereafter, James loaded his equipment up, bid us all a cheery goodbye, and headed to his next appointment, in another yard, also in Pass Christian.

It was a most interesting and informative morning learning much about hummingbirds, and enjoying fellowship with good friends.

If anyone in southern Mississippi or southern Louisiana has hummingbirds visiting nectar feeders in their yard this winter, and would like James to stop by and try to determine exactly what kind of hummer you have in your yard, he can be contacted at: James Bell, at this email address: jbellbirds@bellsouth.net or by calling: 601-798-9389.

Interested persons may also volunteer at the Fort Morgan, Alabama Bird Banding Station in the spring and fall, by contacting the HBSG web site.

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