Sunday, January 18, 2009

Annas & the Paperwhites

So I was talking to my friend Cynthia. She and I have been sharing the joys and obsession of having Anna’s hummingbirds in our gardens this winter. I’ve spent time at her house and together we have watched the birds at her feeders, starting to get a sense for the individuals that grace her yard. There’s at least 3, and probably more.

Cynthia loves her hummingbirds and only gives them the best. She uses organic sugar to make their nectar ( and they do seem to prefer it). She uses glass feeders rather than plastic: she doesn’t use plastic for her own food, so why use it for hummers?

She is also a superlative gardener: a Master Gardener in all senses of that phrase, so it makes sense that already she is plotting a large hardy fuschia hedge, and other plants for the winter hummingbirds.

A few months ago in the cold depths of winter, she planted the bulbs of paper whites: a kind of highly fragrant narcissus that you can encourage to bloom by planting early, and keeping in the warmth of your house. In the last week her paperwhites bloomed, filling her house with white flowers and fragrance. She decided to put them outside on her day off and share these flowers with the Annas she loves.

Now, you’ve probably all seen those scenes of shark feeding frenzies in PBS nature specials during Shark Week? Well, Cynthia ended up with an Anna’s hummingbird feeding frenzy. Hummers kept zipping through, very excited, very fast. Some stopped to feed, but there was a lot of activity they didn't stay long. Cynthia said they flew by so fast they were a blur- hummer warp speed. There was probably a lot of hummer chatter. It’s as if the hummers were throwing a party to celebrate the first flowers of spring.

When she told me about the frenzy, we spent some time talking about it. It makes sense that while hummers can get through winter on sugar water, it must be fabulous to be able to have that first real drink from a real flower, with real nectar, full of complex flavor. We laughed at how hummers are so tuned in to their environment, and especially the excitement and energy they brought to these new items on the menu. But then we thought about how humans are: back in the days I could eat chocolate, if someone showed up eating a glorious truffle, I would immediately hone in on her, ask her where she got it, and plan to get some myself at the earliest opportunity. Hummers and humans: not so different after all.

Photo:  Jessicafm CreativeCommons

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