Amy Roberts: The birds and the bees
In the mountains, the temperature and the season aren’t always on the same calendar page. Anyone who has lived here long enough has seen snow in June or had to cover the tomato plants in July. I remember shoveling the deck one August, clearing a path to the grill. Summers here are as glorious as they are short and mercurial.
The transition from summer to fall is often a bit of back and forth — both physically and emotionally. Just like the hot sunshine-filled days are sometimes met with a nights of “wintery mix” moisture, there’s a corresponding juxtaposition with my feelings about the shift. While I don’t particularly love the heat, and fall is my favorite season, I can’t help but release a heavy sigh at the sight of the first crimson leaf, or feel a sadness putting the hummingbird feeders away.
I still have one straggler, so I’m still putting out the nectar. But the temperature is dropping and his lady friends have already flown south, so there’s little reason for him to stay much longer. I know he will soon begin his migration to Mexico and it will be eight months before I hear the distinctive aerodynamic whirring and high-pitched squeaks again.
This summer, more than any others before it, I was particularly entertained by the hummingbirds that visited my garden. Given how many of us humans spent more time at home and vacationed in our backyards, these tiny creatures likely benefited the most of all from COVID. At one point, hummingbird feeders had a two-week backorder on Amazon. If you spend any time watching these little rocket raisins, it’s easy to see why people hope to share time and space with them. Not only are they amazing pollinators, they’re also fascinating to watch due to their agility and speed and utterly amusing due to their personalities and behaviors.
Last fall I planted some of their favorite flowers — trumpet vine, bee balm, lupine and columbine — to attract them. Between those plants and my feeders, by late June the word was out and I had to fend them off while I changed the nectar.
I like to imagine what they shared while gathered around the feeders. Was it mindless “how was your weekend” watercooler talk similar to humans? Did they exchange pleasantries or gossip? Or was it more survival based; valuable information regarding a cat’s whereabouts? So basically, yes. I spent much of my summer personifying birds not much bigger than my thumb. Who says quarantining is boring?
A few weeks ago I was beginning to run out of storylines for them (there had already been multiple affairs, divorces and personal injury lawsuits), when suddenly Mother Nature introduced a few new characters to the plot. Actually, it was more like 100 new characters — Italian honeybees. I didn’t know they were Italian, they weren’t eating gelato or zipping around on vespas. But a friend of mine who is a bit of an aspiring apiarist came to assess the situation and confirmed their nationality.
It was a situation because suddenly there were a hundred bees swarming the feeders, hoping for a drop of nectar and several hovering and hungry hummingbirds who were too cautious to belly up to the bar. My friend told me someone within a 2-mile radius of me was keeping the bees and this particular breed was known for being docile and an excellent honey maker.
Docile was an understatement. These bees were practically domesticated. Perhaps they were drunk from the sugar water, but I could pick them up and move them to a flower or gently scoop them away from the feeder without painful repercussion. Though it was a bit like moving my dog to the other side of the bed. Within seconds they were back in the spot I didn’t want them in.
After a few days of this, fearful my feathered friends would fly away for good, I ended up setting out saucers with nectar for someone else’s made-in-Italy bees. The bees liked this much better as they could drink the sweet juice with ease and, with the feeders devoid of bees, the hummingbirds preferred the new arrangement as well. I had to double my sugar-water batches, but it was a small price to pay to ensure my garden stayed abuzz.
The cooler evenings and temperature swings mean both insect and bird will soon be gone. And while I love autumn in the mountains, I can’t help but be a little sad about their pending departures. Maybe I can get them all to stay with some pumpkin spice-flavored nectar.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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Columnist Tom Clyde has been unable to nab a ski reservation so far, so instead he’s catching up on all the important animal-related news going on in the world.