Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hmmm!! - or Hmmm??


That is often the sound one makes when pondering - as in “Hmmm!! I wonder if that is true”. If ‘Hmmm’ really was a word, I suppose it would be one of those onomatopoeic words, don’t you think? Hmmm?? Hmmm, I had not thought of that!!  See, it can be used either in the guise of a question, or in a declarative form. Enough of that; on to the matter at hand – humming birds!

On April 10th, I stopped by ‘Wild Birds, Unlimited’ to see my friend, bird-watcher (and fellow-countryman), Les. He was not there that day, so I inquired of the lady-in-charge about hummingbirds. I had it in my head that they were ‘about’ in the period May to October, so was curious as to when I should put out the hummingbird feeders in my garden.

She told me that they after ‘wintering’ in Central and South America, they return to the place of their birth (as salmon do – except of course that they swim and the humming birds don’t) and that they should appear (in St Louis) on or about April 15th. The ‘bird-lady’ showed me a map of North America on which was plotted their northward migration, indicating sightings just south of here on April 9th.  Encouraged by this news, upon arrival at my house 30 minutes, I was making the ‘nectar’ for my little returning prodigal hummers of last year. “Will they arrive on the 15th, I mused. Hmmm!!”

One cup of sugar to 4 cups of water; No honey or artificial sweeteners’ is the prescription for the nectar. The alchemy completed, I gave the feeders another cleansing of whatever contaminants they may have picked up in the garage since last October, and hanged them on the hooks where I could see them from my kitchen table. Here is one of them – against a backdrop of the blooming Bradford Pears.

The second feeder is 30 feet away - on the other side of a silver birch, whose buds were still as tightly closed as a politician’s mind is entertaining expressing anything with honesty. Hmmm!!   

You can imagine how utterly shattered I was when I retired to my bed on the night of April 15th – with ne’er a sight – nor a sound – of my prodigal feathered friends!

The next day, which happened to be my birthday [now that I am well past my prime, they seem to come more frequently than in years gone by – though the gifts do not] I was pleased to catch sight of a lone ‘ruby-throated humming bird’ – Archilochus colubris – at the second feeder.

Though the preceding photo is remarkable, it is not one that I took – nor can a single photograph ever capture the majesty of these creatures. The iridescence of that throat-color is unbelievable; from one angle it may be barely noticeable, but as the bird pivots, it can be as if a neon-light was just turned on.  
What happened next is, well – ‘for the birds’! 

No sign of my little hummer at all during the following two weeks!  What is up with the dopey bloody thing? He finds his way back here all the way from Central or South America, takes a nap overnight in some nearby tree and cannot find his bloody way back into my garden again?  Hmmm!!

I guess it is possible that he was ‘not from around here’ – and was just passing through on his way to some other dude’s garden up in Michigan!  OK – I’ll not begrudge him the drop of sugary water he sipped en route. I just wish he had warbled some message to all those following him; something like “Old fart needs help – he cannot remember the words either – please come and help him hum *. Turn left at St Louis – go up the Missouri River.”    

* In spite of the (bad) joke: ‘They hum because they do not know the words’, the humming sound is NOT a vocal sound, but as noted in an audio in this site – HUMming birds - is the sound made by the 53-beats-per-second of their wings!  

In another of the websites I pulled up to learn more of these creatures, see (1) below, I discovered that the arrival date was given as ‘about April 25th. Eureka; there was hope! So maybe my ‘prodigals’ were neither tardy nor ‘bird-brained’ after all [well, of course they are the latter, but you know what I mean!]. So, I eagerly awaited the passage of the next nine post-birthday dawns. Lo (forget about ‘behold’), not a twitter or a hum! [I’ll address the eerie absence of virtually all other birds during this time span – in a later blog]. No, my feeders were emptied, rinsed, refilled and re-hanged – twice!

Finally! On the morning of April 29th, what should appear among the now leafy twigs of the silver-birch, but a humming bird!  It did not appear to have a ruby throat, but its iridescent green back and long beak were a welcomed sight. It perched on the feeder for a minute, flew back into the tree – great camouflage – and in 5 minutes, was gone out of site. Faith not dashed, I looked again in the late afternoon when I returned home, and there it was – again!  Was it the same one, or another – Hmmm??   Will it (they) come back daily – until October – as they had last year. I hope so; time will tell. I saw one again again today – this one definitely had a ruby-throat.

For more on the ‘How tos’, the ‘Whats and the Wheres’ of humming birds, begin with one that contains the northward migratory progression maps for the past several years,  then see these other websites, 

1)      Hummingbirds in Missouri  

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