The afternoon temperatures climb into the nineties, thunderstorms sprout and rise into the stratosphere every afternoon, flowers are blooming, we eat every meal outdoors and the hours of daylight still seem as long as they did a month ago during the summer solstice. But nature’s only constant is change and change is coming.
The first harbinger of winter arrived today.
Feisty, beautiful, a delight to watch; we had our first Rufous Hummingbird of the year today. Rufous Hummingbirds migrate further than any other bird species, if you compare the length of their bodies to the length of their migration. They leave their Mexican wintering grounds in late February and early March headed for places as far away as Alaska where they will breed in the long Arctic summer days.
By mid-July they are on their way south, following the Flower Trail of the Rockies. When the alpine flowers begin to bloom the small Rufous follows. Fiercely territorial, the males arrive at flowers and feeders determined to drive away all other sentient beings.
There isn’t much we humans can do to help our longer-term Hummingbird residents from the Rufous onslaught. The only thing we’ve tried that worked with a modicum of success is to select one feeder and fill it with stronger syrup. (3 parts water to one part sugar rather than our ususal four parts water to one part sugar.) Sometimes, the Rufous will select that feeder and spend all day long protecting it while the others feed in peace at all the other feeders. But sometimes not.
Each migrant, weighing as much as 3.5 grams, may stopover for a week or two but soon it will be on its way. Older Rufous Hummingbirds are usually home on their wintering range in Mexico by late August or early September. Juveniles arrive a few weeks later.
It is a joy to see them. But look, out there, just over the horizon; winter comes.