Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2011

Hummingbird landed on foot

As has become my custom since moving upstairs pre-Flood of 2011, I was enjoying coffee on the balcony the other morning, when two phenomenons of Brownspur wild life occurred.

We’d hung a couple of hummingbird feeders up high in the pecan tree last summer, and the bigger one, with the perching rail, was newly emptied. The smaller one with the sip-tip was only a few feet from the balcony railing, and I was leaning back in the chair with my bare feet propped up on the rail, when a hummer inspected his favorite feeder, found it empty, and zipped up to taste the less-favorite model.

I froze, coffee cup at lip level, as the hummer hovered to take a drink, then turned my way.
He actually lit on my toe!

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Only for a brief moment, then he seemed to realize that he wasn’t perching on a funny-looking projection off the railing and zipped away. I’ve had them hover close before, but never had experienced the foot-falls of a hummingbird before.

I was still savoring that moment a little later when the jaybirds began a real serious disturbance in the top of the pecan tree over the Store, our guesthouse. There must have been a full dozen blue jays making their raucous squawking, plus diving at a target up in the tree.

I reached for my binoculars, to see if Major, our former pet and resident great horned owl, was paying us a visit and had attracted the jaybirds’ attention, or if maybe a squirrel was the target of the jays.

But before I could focus good, what I took to be a stick came tumbling from the top branches where the birds had been protesting a presence. It fell a good 15 or 20 feet, then hit a lower branch of the pecan – and seemed to wrap around one of the main limbs, with a great deal of thrashing!

Doggone if it wasn’t what looked like, at that distance even though I had the binoculars, a five-foot chicken snake. Now that it had stopped its fall, the jaybirds followed it, dropping down in their dive-bombing attempts toward the lower branch where the serpent had landed.

The snake coiled up for only a moment, maybe to regain its balance (yes, Virginia, snakes in trees DO have a balance problem!), then its motion changed to a winding dash down the length of the limb toward the trunk of the pecan. Since the blue jays continued their downward flight as well, I was betting that the chicken snake, if that’s what it was, had headed for terra firma behind the Store once again.  

Although these same Brownspur jaybirds had called my fatal attention to three other snakes earlier in the summer, I let them handle this one by themselves. I prefer a couple of cups of coffee under my belt before I head out snake hunting.

In this season of the year, when muscadines and persimmons, as well as pecans, acorns, and pignuts, are attracting birds and squirrels to feed in predictable places in the treetops, I have often observed snakes traveling in higher locales in order to waylay their quarry.  

Big Robert and I were in our old jeep, The Ghost, on Woodstock Island one squirrel season when my sire ordered me to stop under the tall pecan tree in front of Dub’s old tumble-down house. He raised that old long-tom Remington model 31 shotgun with its 32-inch full-choke barrel, sighted for a longer time than usual for him, then turned aloose nearly two ounces of mixed number sixes and eights with four drams of powder behind them, straight up.

I hadn’t seen what he was shooting at until he apparently tickled it, then a four-foot moccasin squirmed, but didn’t turn loose of its perch. Took two more shots to bring it down, it was so high up in that huge tree. I was a teenager then, but ever since I have learned to look for snakes in trees in the fall, especially if it’s a tree that I’ve got a deer stand in!

When I headed back for a second cup and to see if Betsy was up yet, I checked the little .22 behind the door to see if it had a full clip in it, just in case the snake returned to its perch one morning next week. Never can tell when those pesky blue jays might need some help getting their snakes out of the tree, out here at Brownspur.