They start to gather a couple of hours before sunset, when the shadows start to lengthen and the light takes on that late afternoon glow. Sometimes there’s a line-up on the pool fence, sometimes it’s a couple of stalwarts clicking their claws at the feeding table. When I appear the tension ratchets up. As I pour the juice into the two bowls a couple of the bolder ones will sidle up, one red eye fixed on me, to steal a sip before the crowd arrives. But they’re already gathering, landing just outside my field of vision in a flurry of sound. I step back and there’s a rush, everyone trying to get their beaks into the juice. They drop down from the fox tail palm above the table, or the trees on either side where they’ve been waiting patiently. Bossy boots and his missus try to claim both bowls as their own, but while it works for small groups, the pair is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
The din is incredible, a cacophony of screeching that reverberates in my head. There’s more than thirty birds trying to reach two bowls of juice. They argue, push, shove, take off for a break or try to fit in, a sea of heaving green backs and golden wings. The light from the lowering sun is at just the right angle to make their wings shine golden, like bad impressions of angels. Drops of apple juice sparkle in the air. I swear half of it isn’t drunk at all. There are too many birds, too close together, so we toss out other enticements – apples cut in half, or a slice of multi-grain bread. That gives them something else to fight over, and lessens the crush at the table.
Sometimes one smarty-pants sends up an alarm signal and they take off in force, only to return in minutes as they realise it’s a false alarm.
It’s over in ten or fifteen minutes. The juice is gone. Some hopeful souls bend over to look under the table to see if more is forthcoming. Others repair to the bird bath for a drink of water or a splashing soaking. Yet others return to the trees for a preen, with each couple doing that hard part at the back of their partner’s neck.
As the warmth of the day fades they’ll leave in groups of six, or four, or two, heading North to the trees along the foreshore or the major road, where they’ll roost for the night. There are a few more raucous fly-bys with their mates, a bit more pushing and shoving for the best roosting spots. Then after the last light has drained from the sky, the noise ceases for another night.
It’s time for the bats to venture out.