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Master Naturalists: HummerBird Celebration events offer excitement

Sept. 22, 2011 at 4:22 a.m.

Hummingbird banders trap birds attracted to caged feeders.  Once caught, a bird is slipped into a soft mesh bag to prevent injury.  Banders remove each one from its bag, weigh it, measure its length, check its gender, and estimate its age by examining its beak and -- on females -- the wear on tail feathers.  Worn tail feathers tell banders it's an adult female who has incubated a brood of eggs.  At fall banding, the amount of body fat is checked to see how prepared the bird is to fly the long distances to Mexico or Central America, where hummers winter.

By Paul and Mary MeredithHummers were, of course, the main topic of interest at the HummerBird Celebration in Rockport, Sept. 15-18. Professionals who deal with hummers, expert birders, wildlife photographers, artists who depict hummers, volunteers who work with hummers shared their ideas, experiences and knowledge during the celebration.

Among the variety of activities at the celebration, fans of butterflies and other birds of Texas and its Gulf Coast also shared their ideas, experiences and knowledge. Participants in a butterfly session (led by Ro Wauer, formerly of Victoria) toured a butterfly garden after their regular session.

Wildlife photography classes aided those working to photograph hummers, butterflies and other wildlife by demonstrating techniques and sharing knowledge they can use. Sessions on optics, especially binoculars, explained how to achieve desirable results, as well as the effectiveness and tradeoffs of optics' characteristics for activities such as birding and viewing butterflies. And experiences of a birder who devoted a year to birding, and increased her total number of species sighted to over 700, intrigued those at the celebration. HUMMINGBIRDS SEEN AND UNDERSTOOD BETTER

The celebration event that probably generated the most excitement occurred at one of the "Hummer Homes." Hummer Homes are locations where celebrants were welcomed during the celebration to view some of the many hummers who migrate through Rockport and other Texas Gulf Coast areas on their way to, or from, their winter homes. The Hummer Home of particular interest in this situation had 30 feeders out for the birds. Each feeder regularly had 15-20 hummers feeding at it. The general rule for the total number of hummers (including the unseen ones in the area) estimates that a total of 1,800-2,000 hummers were at that Hummer Home. WESTERN BULLIES

Two other celebration events involved hummers called "Western bullies" - rufous, broad-tailed, and Allen's hummingbirds. These species are not nearly as common in Texas as ruby-throateds, for example; but they are sighted in some western parts of the state. A group of experienced Texas birders volunteers to document their presence - including where they are spotted, when they arrived, and when they left, as well as supplying a photograph to verify the sighting. The data that the volunteers provide gives a reliable record of such species' presence in Texas. In order for data about such sightings to be useful in public databases, photographic documentation must be provided with the location and times of arrival and departure. ONE GREAT RESULT OF 2011 HUMMERBIRD CELEBRATION

You can bet folks will be at the 2012 HummerBird Celebration.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.

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