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2018 Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration


2018/10/04






By Nancy and Tommy Brannon

[view ALL photos here]

What’s the best place to learn all about hummingbirds, as well as a lot of other types of animals and plants? At Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, just north of Holly Springs, Mississippi, at the annual Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration. This year’s event, September 7-9, 2018, featured special guided photography bird walks with Audubon naturalists and hands-on coaching from Canon photography experts sharing tips on how to capture great bird photos. Canon’s representative, Durys Photography of Nashville, TN had a booth showcasing their cameras, lenses, and binoculars.

Southeastern Avian Research sent experts to examine, measure, weigh, and band hummingbirds at two stations. Here folks could get up close looks at the tiny birds, feel their fast heartbeat, and some got to hold one in their hand when the bird was ready to be released.

There were plenty of large birds to be seen, too: owls, hawks, and a turkey vulture. Darcy Evelhoch and Annie Griggs with the World Bird Sanctuary presented “Raptor Awareness: Live Birds of Prey.”

Did you know we almost lost the American Bald Eagle, symbol of our nation, to pesticides? Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, told the real-life story of how bird populations across the country were suffering as a result of the widespread application of the synthetic pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which was being widely used to control mosquitoes and other insects. Carson reported that birds ingesting DDT tended to lay thin-shelled eggs, which would break prematurely in the nest, killing the unhatched birds and resulting in marked population declines. The problem drove Bald Eagles, as well as Peregrine Falcons and other bird populations, to the brink of extinction, with populations plummeting more than 80 percent.

Dr. Cathy Shropshire gave a portrayal of Fannye A. Cook, a pioneer among scientists, conservationists, and women who was the driving force behind creating the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission (now the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks).  She founded the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; she led the push to create a system of wildlife management areas and to protect the Gulf of Mexico’s barrier islands; she catalogued Mississippi’s flora and fauna; and spent her life researching and teaching.

If you want to have birds, you need native plants on which they depend for food and housing. John Rowden spoke on the importance of native plants for all birds, especially hummingbirds, and how to create a bird-friendly yard of garden. Utilizing Audubon’s native plants database [www.audubon.org/native-plants] you can type in your zip code and get a list of plants native to your area and the types of birds they attract. Strawberry Plains had plenty of these native plants to choose from at their plant sale.

Got milkweed? You’ll definitely want some in your yard and garden. It’s the plant on which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. These eggs develop through the larva and pupae stage until the newly emerged adults will fly further north to a new patch of milkweed and lay their eggs. An exhibit that fascinated visitors, both youngsters and adults, was the display of Monarch butterflies in the Hummingbird and Butterfly Information tent next to the Davis House. Dr. Holley Muraco has been collecting Monarch eggs, then letting them develop into the caterpillar and pupae stage. She had the innovative idea of tying the pupae with dental floss to earring wires so they could be hung in a display case for visitors to see. In perfect timing, the butterflies began emerging from their pupae during the festival, so visitors could see “new born” Monarchs! Given a few hours to get stronger, folks could watch one up close and personal on a piece of sponge (dipped in Gatorade) at the end of a stick. When they were ready, the Monarchs took flight. Everyone was awed at the sight of these delicate, colorful butterflies!

Holley also brought Tomato Hornworms (the bane of gardeners!) for petting. Actually, the children (and their parents) enjoyed holding them and feeling them tickle their palms. She was answering a child’s question about what they do on the tomato plants. Holley told the group of children that the only things they do is to eat and poop. The children replied in unison with an emphatic “Ewyoo!”

Visitors could also learn about the Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar, which feeds exclusively on the Passion flower vine, and other fascinating butterflies native to the mid-south. There are several kinds of hummingbirds, other than the Ruby-throated, that can be seen on occasion in the mid-south. They include the Rufous, Anna’s, Allen’s, Black-chinned, Calliope, and white-eared hummingbird.

Tammy Greer, Ph.D., member of the United Houma Nation and an associate professor of psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi, spoke about the historic and current Native tribes in the mid-south area, and the native plant and material cultures (e.g. baskets, dress, tools) of Mississippi tribes. She described the historical and current uses for native plants among Southeastern American Indians, and told their Native stories, including those about our ancestral relatives the hummingbirds.

Bob Tarter, of the Natural History Educational Company of the Midsouth, entertained audiences with a variety of animals. Familiar animals included a raccoon and a red fox. Not so familiar animals included an African Pixie Bullfrog. After telling the audience about this amphibian, he approached one young lady and asked her to kiss the bullfrog to see if it would turn into a Prince. When the kiss did not result in the transformation, Tarter surmised that it was because she wasn’t a Princess either.

Terry Vandeventer is annual favorite with his “down home Mississippi snakes.” This year he convinced a number of youngsters to help him hold up a very large snake. He introduced the audience to the region’s poisonous snake, the Copperhead, and said that most people are bitten by Copperheads when they are trying to kill one. So, don’t want to be bitten? Don’t try to kill one. Just leave it alone, and stay a cautious three feet away.

In addition to the many educational activities and displays at the festival there were 19 arts and crafts vendors, where one could talk directly with the artisans about how they produced the many useful and beautiful items. Some of the items available were: artisan soaps and Angora wool from Dry Hollow Farm; hot/cold packs from Colorful Creations; natural herbal supplements from New Life Herbs; pottery from Snow Lake Pottery; bird feeders from Wild Birds Unlimited; wood workings from Burton’s Sugar Farms; natural honey from Wolf River Honey; Chow Chow from Garden Fresh; metal artwork from Cranford Creations; rusty birds from Moon Lake Designs; photos from Jon Graham Photography; hand carved walking sticks from Everything’s Better With A Stick; glassware from Midtown Glassworks; decorative crystals from McNeil Minerals; Eco Art from Creative Metal Recycling; beaded bags from The Bead Bags; copper signs and artwork from Copper Creations; and nature-inspired paintings by Robin Whitfield.

The annual festival is a great opportunity to learn about the natural world in which we live and on which we depend for survival – and share with a multitude of fascinating creatures and plants. Look for this festival in September 2019 just after Labor Day. There are plenty more events going on at the Center throughout the year. Find more information at: strawberry.audubon.org and on facebook at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.

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