Not because school has let back in, not because the pine trees are turning some of their needles honey-brown and dropping them, and not because football is back on tv. I know it's Fall because the hummingbirds are back. Not for good mind you, not at all. They're all on the road, headed to Mexico for the winter. Not a bad idea if you ask me, but I can't travel as light as they can.
I've had my feeder hung up for months now. I'd see one, two perhaps in a day if I was lucky. A solitary little grey and green flash would stop, drink, then be gone. Every weekend I'd go out on the front porch, take down the feeder, dump out the old liquid, clean it good, refill it and hang it back up. One cup sugar, four cups of water, and just a tiny splash of red food colouring to make it appealing, then back on the nail it'd go. To be mostly ignored.
Until this week that is. Something in the air told them it was time, and suddenly my front porch is an absolute dervish of activity. Tiny bodies flashing through the air like lightning, and constant squeaks and peeps and chittering calls eek their tinny way through my window. I look up one day and there's nothing. The next day there's four at a time. The next day there's so many flashing, dancing bodies I can't even begin to count them. I count them now by how often I have to fill the feeder. Two cups of sugar water are gone in less than 8 hours now, and I'm at peak capacity. I know this because they're piling up two at a time on the feeder flowers--one standing on the perch, another flying, both with their long beaks deep in the sugary goodness.
And the fighting? I never knew something so tiny, so inexpressibly impossible could be so violent! Males crashing together, issuing outraged squeaks and chirps at each other, tangled together so intensely that they both fall to the soft grass, then separate to fly up and do it again, hammer and tongs, only pausing long enough to get a drink to refresh, then back at it again, while the females struggle with each other to fill their bellies before heading back out, many hundreds of miles left to go.
I'm told that if you hang a feeder out once you have to do it forever if you want to keep your birds. They remember, you see. If a feeder is there one year they'll come looking for it every year, every time they're in the area. If it's gone one year you won't see them again. That saddens me, and yet it makes me glad, too, to think that the little tiny dancers in the air that I feed this year will be in the crowd next year, having remembered this place.
I also love that they're so very unconcerned with my presence there. They're hungry, and they know that I'm so huge and slow that there's no way I could possibly HOPE to touch one, much less harm one. I stand with my camera pointed at the feeder, not three feet separating me from the tiny swirling motes of green and black and grey and they are utterly oblivious. When I take down the feeder to fill it the air is filled with angry chittering, and more than once I've had a bird begin drinking its fill as I'm still trying to hang the feeder back on its nail.
The doves that feast at my seed tray every day? They scatter like sheep before a wolf at the slightest provocation. If they see me move through the big windows that front my desk they're gone instantly. A quickly-shifted pile of papers will put them to flight. The hummingbirds? Not even the explosive flash of my camera bothers them anymore, and me moving around only sets them to stirring in a faster frenzy than before, like silt stirred up from a river bottom as a fish passes, quickly settling again.
Tiny, and so improbable. So beautiful, and so irrepressibly self-assured. How can I not love them?
The whole Flickr set can be found here--too many to post. *s*