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Scott Shalaway: Bloodsuckers, sugar-sippers and more

By Scott Shalaway
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week's column about ticks drew a quick response from many readers, including a great tip about a simple, inexpensive tool to remove engorged ticks.Dr. Rod Groomes, director of the emergency department at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, in Kittanning, Pa., for 27 years, wrote, "I'm an ER doc in rural Pennsylvania, and I have removed hundreds of attached ticks. In the old days, we injected the area with local anesthetic and dug out the mouth parts with a needle."A few years ago," Groomes continued, "I discovered a nifty little tool called a Tick Twister. It's shaped like a crowbar. You ease the Tick Twister under the tick and twirl it around three or four times, and the tick lets go. We treat hundreds of attached ticks every year, and I've never seen the Twister fail."In a follow-up phone interview, Groomes explained, "Tiny ticks can usually be removed with tweezers, but for larger, engorged ticks, the Tick Twister is much more effective. And right now we're seeing about 10 cases of Lyme disease each week, so anyone who spends time outdoors in this region should have a Tick Twister."Tick Twisters are available online at and in drugstores.Reader Ruth Bechtie-Pierce also recommended the Tick Twister. "I wanted to let you know about the Tick Twister for removing ticks. We found it at PetSmart last year and have been using it on the dogs. I was a little nervous about using it to remove a tick on my husband's back, but it came out easily and completely."From Mayville, N.Y., Martha Carnahan writes, "You will be interested to know we have a downy woodpecker that sips nectar from our hummingbird feeder."It's always interesting to watch birds other than hummingbirds sip nectar from a feeder, but it's relatively common. More than 50 species of birds besides hummingbirds are known to sip nectar. Orioles, chickadees, house finches and woodpeckers are among the backyard birds that enjoy an occasional sweet drink.
Beryl Johnson, of Moon Township, Pa., wrote, "A pair of red tailed hawks built a nest in a pine tree in our yard this spring. One day about two weeks ago, we saw two blue jays harass the hawks at the nest. Since that episode, we have seen very little of the hawks. Could they have been frightened away by the blue jays?"The blue jays almost certainly did not cause the hawks to abandon the nest. A more likely explanation is that a great horned owl or crow visited the nest while it was unattended and helped itself to the nest's contents.Finally, from Guernsey County, Ohio, Barbara Chorey is the most recent of many readers asking, "Where are all of the hummingbirds? We just aren't seeing many this year."I've been wondering the same thing. According to the map of returning ruby-throated hummingbirds (, hummers returned early over most of the East this year. I saw my first one the second week in May. But since then I've seen just a few. And when I did see a hummingbird at my feeders, it was just one. Most years in early June I see four five hummers whenever I check my feeders. So, I too wonder where the hummers are.Two explanations come to mind. The first is yo-yo weather. We had 8 inches of snow on March 25, 82 degrees on April 9 and 16, 32 degrees on April 13 and 28 degrees on April 14. Then on May 24, the high temperature was only 49 degrees.Though ruby-throats are hardy little birds, these thermal ups and downs could have had them scrambling to find early nectar sources and soft-bodied invertebrates. If spring weather has influenced hummer abundance, I expect their numbers will stabilize soon.Another possibility is that last year's derecho at the end of June destroyed many active hummingbird nests. The big wind blew down many trees, and even if nest trees did not fall, the fierce winds could have easily blow eggs or chicks from the nests. As a result, fewer hummers may have fledged last year, and that may be why numbers are down this year.
Contact Shalaway at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.
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