When I first hung out the hummingbird feeders during a warm spell of late April weather I began to fear that none would find us.
A solitary male flew past the feeder without stopping to drink and I saw no other hummers for nearly a month.
About two and a half weeks ago we became aware of a hummingbird presence--a male and sometimes a female circling the feeder and then darting off as though humans in their space were too intimidating.
Slowly the birds became accustomed to us.
I could sit quietly on the east porch while the birds whirred in to the feeder, perched and sipped, then flashed across the lane to sit in a tree. The birds are so tiny that only by watching their swift flight would one discern their spot on a leafy branch.
As I have worked on the east side of the house during several evenings--potting plants for the entry deck, grubbing weeds along the retaining wall--I have heard the whir of wings above my head as the birds swooped down on the feeder.
This evening Jim and I witnessed a most astonishing display of hummingbird interaction which extended for an hour and a half.
There were five birds involved; three ruby-throated males and two, as we think, females.
I have read that juvenile birds of either sex can resemble the mature female, but given the earliness of the season, we suspect these were females.
We have observed hummingbirds at close range before, so their swift dives and pugnacious territorial maneuvers are no surprise.
Given the fierce dispositions of these tiny birds I have often remarked that it is a good thing they are not the size of robins--or crows--or bluejays!
This evening's performance was above and beyond any we have witnessed both in duration and fierceness.
Two males were interacting at all times, more often three males, diving, circling, reversing, hovering, all the while darting aggressively at each other.
Several times they came so near that I ducked, thinking one might fly into my face.
There was a very dramatic moment when one male rode the other to the floor of the porch, inches from my feet and proceeded to peck and flail his rival.
From time to time the females flew in, squeaking excitedly.
As though needing to refuel for the fray, a bird would try for a sip of syrup only to be knocked from the perch by the flying tackle of another.
The females when they joined the trio of males were as fierce, spreading their tail feathers in a hovering dance as though urging on the combatants.
Several cloudbursts of rain swept through during the hour and a half.
Torrents of water streaming from the roof did nothing to dampen the fighting spirits of the hummers.
Water sluiced from the barn roof, thunder banged in the distance.
When the rain briefly ceased a pale rainbow arched over the east field.
Storms come most often from the northwest, as did this one. The view from the west porch was a perfect setting for a gothic tale--grey skies and swirling mist.
Between showers the setting sun high-lighted every shade of green in the dripping trees across the lane.
The shower passed, the long battle of the hummingbirds began to lose intensity.
The weary birds landed to drink deeply with a minimum of hostility.
The air held a chill of coming night.
Coming inside at last, pottering in the kitchen I happened to glance out the east windows.
I always marvel how the sun setting in the west can throw such glorious color toward the east.
The thunderhead hung, scarcely moving, a great billow of fiery gold, topaz, melting into mauve and lavender.
As darkness settled damply outside the house Jim and I agreed it had been an entertaining and memorable evening.