Beware of bullies in the backyard!
Warning … this is going to be one of those “C” columns where C doesn’t mean ‘cuff, but rather it represents “conglomeration,” a mixture of topics that might stretch from the icebergs of Iceland to the tropical beaches in the Caribbean … but as promised in the last ‘cuff, no politics!
There has been a bully in the neighborhood for several days. In fact, there have been two bullies. As I watched them out the back window, they demonstrated what bullying really is. The sad part is there is nothing that can be done, or that I want to do, to convince them they overstepped the bounds of decency, consideration and caring — traits that are found in the rest of their families, and in most of the human race. They operated in a complete contrast to what the rest of the neighborhood demonstrated. Sound bad? Yes, but honestly it must be part of the DNA of these two who were fulfilling a trait that has served for who knows how many generations.
I must explain a bit: The Evans household has two feeders in its backyard. Filled with sugar water, the feeders have been visited by hummingbirds for more years than can be remembered. For several years, sometime in April, the feeders have been visited by a single hummer. I call him scout because he perches on a metal hanging basket frame and then goes from one feeder to the other — just waiting, perhaps. A few days later, another hummer makes an appearance and he immediately swoops, dives and charges through the air, chasing the interloper away. It’s unbelievable to see him in action. This continues until a few days later when a small flock — if that’s what you call a bunch of hummingbirds — arrives and begins feeding at the red stuff. The bully bird stays in action for an hour or two — at least it seems that way — until that interloper disappears. Peace and harmony settle in, and watching the whirring wings and darting aerobic tiny bodies is a regular pastime. Refilling the feeders becomes an almost daily chore.
But this year … suddenly, without notice, the flock disappeared. The feeders remained full — and soured. The feeders were replaced with smaller amounts of the nectar. An occasional hummer would stop by, sip a bit and then take off into the big somewhere. Just as suddenly, two of those delicate birds appeared. One sat on a limb near one of the feeders and the other became a positive lookout on a high limb near the other feeder. They ignored each until … until about a half dozen of the tiny winged creatures arrived. Immediately, the two became the “terrible two” as they swarmed the yard, guarding the feeders while chasing the wouldbe diners away.
This bullying continued for several days until — you guessed it — that whole flock disappeared; and now, in early October, the feeders contain small amounts of that red sweet stuff which hopefully will provide a meal for hummers who stop by on their way south. I hope the bullying is over. Though it is fun to watch, it stretches the imagination on how to help the hungry hummers at least get an occasional meal.
I’m tempted, when it’s time to close up shop and place the feeders on the shelf, to consider leaving them there next April. Wanna bet that will happen? My DNA says “feed the birds” even if only the bullies arrive. What would you do?
Changing direction: The “C” stands for cicada. Remember those big insects which screeched noises from treetops? And when one would fly by your head, it sounded like a small airplane. (Sometimes I get a little carried away). Can’t you just almost hear or imagine their squealing songs as they stroke their wings or legs, or however they create that eerie rasping sound? Their singing has always been a part of the hottest summer evenings. Several of them sawing their fiddles together could sound like a symphony orchestra — well, maybe not exactly. In the good old days, kids would search tree trunks for crispy skins the insects left as they shed the 17-year-old garments. Weren’t they sometimes called locusts or just “screechy bugs”?
Remember how robins would gather on the lawns in early evenings trying to spot one of those creepy looking bugs (insects) as they crawled toward a tree trunk to climb or even a sturdy grass plant? Once in a while, one would probably get lost and end up on a window screen to molt and grow glassy wings before taking off into the sizzling summer evening. There are several varieties of cicadas, some which are called 17-year insects. No wonder they screech. Wouldn’t we all screech after being cooped up in the rock infested Ozark soil?
The big question is, did you hear many of these locusts this year? Were the treetops silent? Weren’t the robins having a hard time finding a meal? And grasshoppers? Wasn’t there a mighty slim pickin’ of those fish baiters this summer? How about webworms? And armyworms? Oh yes, I think “Bill” mentioned a crop of those critters a few weeks ago.
Moving on, there seemed to be a good supply of fireflies this year, even those which soar higher in the trees, flashing their lanterns while searching for a mate. They usually arrive later in the evening. Do kids still catch ‘em and put them in jars? Is that why we called them jar flies? I wonder if you caught a couple today, would your hands still be sticky and have a sharp bitter odor? Remember, didn’t it taste pretty bad if you got it in your mouth?
That’ll do for this ‘cuff. We didn’t make it to Iceland or the Caribbean, but we have to add one more bit of nature news. Remember, a ‘cuff a few months ago said a late frost killed all the sweet gum balls (hooray) and the buckeyes. There is an absence of sweet gum balls (hallelujah), but a double handful of buckeyes have fallen from the top of our buckeye tree. I even beat the squirrels to a few of the shiny arthritis curers. Isn’t that why some folks carry a buckeye in their pockets? It might be worth a try. Old timers used to swear by it — that and a copper wire bracelet. So, till next time and later … enjoy these beautiful autumn days, marvel at the colorful hills and the unmistakable odors that autumn brings. Maybe by next ‘cuff, at least a part of the political carnival will be over. Don’t hold your breath.
Dodie Evans is the former owner and longtime editor of the Gravette News Herald.