Saturday, September 29, 2007

Still Dark Autumn Morning

I am up early on this quiet autumn morning. The wonder is that it finally really feels like fall, though the season has been upon us for a while now. Though the days have been hot and far too dry the aster's royal purple, the honeylocust's golden leaves and the white pine's russet needles all point to the coming end of the growing season. Fall is a peaceful, melancholy kind of time and yet it is always tinged with the hint of as-yet-unknown possibilities. Whether because of all the years spent in school or the awareness of the avian and Monarch butterfly migration, this time of year, in some ways more than spring, feels like a time of new beginnings.

It really is a time of new beginnings for the lingering Monarch butterflies that are still here. Yesterday there were still a handful on the asters and Mexican sunflowers, though I could not tell whether they were recently hatched or are moving through from places unknown, all on their way to Mexico. The ruby-throated hummingbird youngsters are still moving through as well, taking nectar from the red and blue salvia and the native honeysuckle vines. So far we are still seeing several each day, though the time of migration is soon at its end. Some of these little ones appear as though they still need a significant amount of feeding and fattening up, as they aren't carrying much in the way of extra weight yet. Many, however, have the characteristic little protruding tummies and fat stores needed to carry them through their long flights. These late immature hummingbird migrants do not tend to use the feeders still left hanging, but take nectar solely from the flowers. The best guess is that because they are from remote, unpopulated northern areas, their mothers did not introduce them to feeders as fledglings and they did not learn to recognize feeders as a food source. They take in plenty of nectar from the flowers they find in our yard, however along with the tiny insects that make up such an important part of their diets If they make it through the long migration this fall and back north again next spring, through their breeding season and into their fall migration next year, they will be stopping in at our yard again at the end of next summer on their long journey south.

Another summer is ending and it has been one of learning and enjoying what has come my way, even as we have coped with heat and drought once again. Now each day seems as a gift, especially because I know that winter will soon follow on the heels of this wonderful autumn season. One of these nights the insects will be stilled, the frost will descend and I will look in vain for color in the landscape. But for now, the cricket and katydid chorus is in full swing, many of the trees have not yet started their fall display and I am still watching hummingbirds. I couldn't ask for more.

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