Storms for hours during the night and long after midnight it was still steadily raining and flashing. Great phosphorescent moments of shadow and tree motion, sometimes you could see the streams of rain inside the sudden light. The lightning took over sometime in the early morning hours, blending with the fireworks that originally drove my speckled dog deep under the bed after dark on this fourth of July weekend. Having both fireworks and lightning in the same night is truly the dark hell of this dog’s dreaming. I should have stolen her up into my bedsheets and held her ears. I didn’t. I snuck out before dawn and made coffee. Watching the light come up outside, I went to the website in Brazil where they were going out with a mobile camera to find some birds in a park-that-I’d-never-heard-of far away south. It seems extraordinary that they make the effort. It was sponsored by the young man I know only as Luck2105 who has set a camera up in his back yard and where he lures the Brazilian avifauna with bananas all year: Red-necked Tanagers and Green-headed Tanagers. Extraordinary things to have coming to your bananas. Caciques and Bananaquits. There is no sound recorded while they wander the Brazilian countryside with their notebook computer and camera. They look happy. I do hear my own bird noises outside instead. My local Broad-winged Hawks are talking over some shaky images of Lapwings. The morning Cardinals call over some Silver Teal. The Carolina Wrens and Indigo Buntings talk to me through the glass. A Blackish Rail runs across an open field in faraway Brazil. My world is all misty and moist. The black dog sleeps to my left. What I want to see is a hummer.
Wife asleep, I get my hummingbird feeders up and hang them one by one out front beside the porch. I wait each year until about this time to put them up. The flowers outside on this morning are all happily watered from the rains. My wife is neutral to occasionally impressed with hummers but she loves to fill the yard with flowers. For her own sake. And for mine. The hummers have already been coming to her flowers the past few weeks. I try and point them out whenever we are there for a quick visitation. Often she will look up after it is gone and smile even if it is only at the ghost of its coming. Right now a Hackberry Emperor butterfly is up early and active. It comes to the porch and flexes its wings. There is nothing fluttering out on the butterfly bush. The Indigo Bunting nest failed there inside this great purple-bloomed shrub this year. This great shrub is taller than I am. I can see the empty bunting nest. A week or more ago now the hatchlings disappeared. Into the gullet of a snake or a crow, I do not know. Just gone. One must accept the failure of small things. They were beautiful before they vanished.
It is about two hours after the feeders are up that the first male hummer appears. And these hummingbirds are still miracles every time I see them. I want to give him a little shout out for just being here. This is the first male Ruby-throat I’ve seen at close range this year, in my yard anyway. I ventured to Panama over a month ago now to chase the other hummers there. I went there after our local migratory Ruby-throats had abandoned Panama. I did see some beautiful hummers but my own Ruby-throats still seem to sing closer to the heart, like some deeper truth. It is our one species of these miracle hummer machines. We have about 18 species in the US, mostly in the southwest and west. (If you’ve forgotten.) Once you move as far south as Panama you have over 50 species. And when you reach the northern Andes Mountains in Ecuador you have over a hundred species. That is the very blast zone of hummers. Thank goodness for the Anna’s and Rufous and Ruby-throats which worked their way over time to our northern expanses to nest and stay with us for our summers. Oh for more to have pushed north. But perhaps I am greedy. Africa, Australia, Europe: they have no hummers. None. They are birds of the Americas.
Luck2105 has a hummer feeder as well in southern Brazil. The bananas he just seems to place on the bamboo fence posts in his yard. He throws a papaya in now and then for color. You can catch his hands at work replacing fruit sometimes. The hummer feeder is your standard red plastic four-holer with two of the plastic yellow flower/baskets missing. The first time I got a view of the hummingbird feeder when he wheeled over to it, there were five or six large hummers coming to it. The motion of everything jerks slightly with the framerate of this distant imaging versus the framerate of fast hummers. Luck is a fast typist and he quickly zips off the names of the hummers coming and going. The common one now, two months before the September breeding season there, is the Sombre Hummingbird. Its beautiful Latin name is Aphantochlora cirrochloris. It trades places with Glittering-throated Emeralds, Amazilia fimbriata, and Violet-capped Woodnymphs, Thalurania glaucopis.
My local male checks each of the feeders, sampling from the different nectar holes like there might be more than one flavor of sugar here. I suppose in real flowers the taste is varied. So it is not an unreasonable thing to think inside the supercycling, overheated mind of a hummer. He perches a few times but mostly zips away in dopplered wingnoise to some higher tree perch between his rounds of nectar checking. Already he is no doubt watchful for any other hummer invaders in this new sugar territory. Few birds are as aggressively territorial as these hummers. I personally think the western Rufous is even worse, more agitated in its possessiveness. This one seems positively stoic in comparison.
In the afternoon I take my own still camera out and make a round of the property. The Red-eyed Vireos talk incessantly. It should have been Vireo incessantous for the Latin name. The Summer Tanagers sing in several directions, our constant companions in July. By the creek, the Waterthrush comes up chipping and disappears downstream. A Mocha Emerald, the dragonfly with the hummer name, floats over the water, doing his own territorial maneuvers, not for nectar, but for sheer airspace I suppose.
At Bell, after the night's rains the day’s steam is building. A Racerunner, the lizard, rattles the leaves along the trail. The local Chats and an Acadian Flycatcher keep my sonic company there. More dragonflies abound. And along the trail I pass the remnants of an absolutely huge orb weaver web. I nearly walk around without stopping but the strands are so impressive I follow them up to find the big female Araneus in her leafy hide. She mostly works at night like most of her kind. Often these girls build a new web each evening. I am betting she keeps these gigantic main securing lines for as long as they last. They look like they could support a small antenna. I may have disturbed her afternoon nap. I am impressed with her.
At a shaded spot among all the other shaded spots a darker dragonfly comes by and settles up under the vines. Always a sign of something interesting when a dragon dangles vertically. And I can see this is a River Cruiser. Unusual enough to see one stop. They are extremely fast animals. Only on these cloudy, rainy days do they seem to think about stopping. And only a few times have they ever stopped near me.
Walking outside at the end of the day, I check the hummer again and he checks me. Across the drive out front a crow settles into a pine top and makes a new crow noise. Something almost doglike, a two noted burring cough. The crows are molting feathers in the wings and tails right now. They look more ragtag than usual. Beyond the crows, more clouds have played across the hilltop this late afternoon. And the light is bouncing off layers going in two directions. Baby blue sky peaks from between the coming and the going buffs and grays. All the light everywhere seems muted beneath the dusk cardinals and the last gnatcatchers of the day. Driving back from Bell earlier I had suddenly decided to count the days. And I mean all the days, personally. I find I am on the eighteen thousandth six hundredth and seventy first day of my life. I am amazed at all the days I have forgotten. Dusk light seems to make these kinds of thoughts turn over in the head. Should I not remember more days of fading light? Have I paid enough attention truly to the hummingbirds? Recently, I have been trying to learn all the Central American and Ecuadorian hummingbirds. In a kind of preparation. Some later pilgrimage. Perhaps around day nineteen thousand or so. One who loves hummers should go where they can astound you in their numbers and their shapes: Metaltails and Sunangels, Emeralds and Woodnymphs, even Avocetbills, Sylphs, and Thorntails. One wants to leave the job and the day-to-day life and just go suddenly to places with zinging densities of hummingbirds. To mark the days I suppose. And I can count up moments in the head where I encountered specific hummingbirds. A Lucifer at Big Bend. The Purple-crowned Fairy that danced over the water in Belize. An Anna’s over the coastal shoreline of Oregon. Luck2105, when told by one of his viewers that they had started dreaming of birds after watching his bird channel, said that he dreamt some nights of new birds coming to his feeders. So these things do make an etch mark somewhere in the head. And not just in mine. And so does the light between the storms and all this blue at the end of the day. After a night, anyway, of lightning and partial wakefulness, of restless dogs, and dreams, that at this moment, I can't quite define.
Will I remember day 18,671? More than most, I think, now, with some effort.
Is one crow in the top of a pine tree all that is necessary on a given day? I don't know. When the days edge up past twenty thousand or more, I think I will want a crow. Or maybe just the sun through the trees where the crow has been. Who knows? Maybe just the smell of freshly rolled pine needles in the hand from the tree where the crow has been. Things lead on to other things. Thoughts jump like framerates in a distant country.
I think of the beautiful Thomas Feiner song “For Now”.
“Getting close by going far away, going far by staying here.
If all fails, all fails, let the clock strike upon this resting hour, for now.
Make another footfall in the flow of things. When you go, you go.
Looking up from the rush of things in the point of life that is now.”
One crow crashing into the top of a pine, one hummer coming over to hover above my red coffee cup, one spider stretching her tight lines across my path, a dragon sheltering in the dark just here, right here.
Today. For now.
Click HERE for the Brazilian birds.
(Just go see a Red-necked Tanager, if not a hummer.)
(to contemplate contributing money by Paypal to Luck's banana and papaya fund. He uses a ton of bananas a year. We get a hundred or a thousand Brazilians trying to bring dreambirds to their yard and it will stop alot of condo builders and dozers. Tell him Dragonfly sent you.)