Saturday, September 7, 2013

Blame it on Rockport

Rockport, TX, the "charm of the coast," is known for many things but possibly the best of their many festivals is the HummerBird Festival. The first thing a lot of people notice is that this festival is not called the Hummingbird Festival, although much of the festival does focus on the fall migration of Ruby-throated and other hummingbirds. But the festival also features activities and opportunities for novice and experienced birders who have an interest in the many other birds that live year-round or migrate through the Coastal Bend of Texas. And there are hundreds of species in the area!

My first experience with the festival was also my first experience with Rockport. Jim and I took a short vacation to this coastal town we had heard so much about during our early years in Texas. We were charmed by the town. Then I walked out of the hotel to be surrounded by hummingbirds! I was amazed. I had no idea that we had decided to visit during the height of the fall migration. Nor did I know that it was HummerBird Festival weekend.

As it happened, I was fortunate to have an editor at Charlesbridge who wanted to publish my book when I wrote one. And I had a friend who illustrated children's books with beautiful fabric art and the editor wanted to work with her also. We just needed to come up with a topic. After pitching around a few ideas, we weren't coming up with anything.

Then I walked out of that hotel on that weekend in 2007. Surrounded by hummingbirds, I could actually see the light bulb go off over my head. Hummingbirds were interesting and beautiful and colorful and they were a perfect match for fabric art. But I didn't want to write a book that was essentially just another biology of the birds book. While pondering what could make my book different, I remembered from my anthropology classes that the Hopi, Zuni, and other First Nations people had stories and mythology about the hummingbird. So I set out to match facts about the birds--what they eat, where they live, their migration, etc.--with pourquoi stories that explained the same facts from a cultural perspective. That idea, germinated in Rockport during the HummerBird Festival, became Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. So blame this publishing event on Rockport!

Back to the Festival. 2013 will be the 25th year for the festival. Last year I was delighted to be invited to be a presenter. I don't consider myself to be an expert by any means but it was a lot of fun talking about mythology and symbolism of hummers with avid birders. The other highlight of the festival is being able to go to private homes with gardens that attract a lot of hummers. I was able to take photos up close as dozens of hummingbirds hovered and whirred nearby. A few locations also have banders catching hummingbirds in order to attach very tiny bracelets on their legs so that scientists can study migration patterns and other factors.
We are learning more about hummingbirds all the time. This bander was checking the gender and age of the hummer he's holding, giving us a great view of the southbound end of the bird. Yep, that is a hummingbird hiney!

This year I'm volunteering in the HummerMall, a huge area with vendors selling everything hummingbirds and birding. I've got my eye out for a good pair of binoculars and a sign that says "Hummingbird Way" for my garden. I'm also planning to attend a couple of sessions on birding on the coastal bend and developing a hummingbird garden. But the thing I'm most looking forward to is the field trip to Fennessey Ranch. I'm so looking forward to this that I'm willing to be up and at the bus site by 6:00 a.m.! The ranch has over 3,500 acres devoted to birds and birding with blinds set up for photographers. So expect photographs in the next blog posting. Lots of photographs!

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