Monday, April 7, 2008

Carroll Adams, Damien Simbeck, Debi Bradford
The Bay Hill Conservancy's "Birding 101" presentation by TVA Watershed Representative Damien Simbeck Sunday afternoon, April 6, was fun and well-attended. Damien gave an audience of 20 a delightfully informative PowerPoint presentation on how to attract songbirds to our yards and neighborhoods. Birds need the same thing people need - cover for housing and protection, food and water.

Damien outlined various available seeds, and the type of seed that attracted various birds, and informed us about specific seed that's a complete turn-off to songbirds. Fruits and hummingbird nectar were discussed, as well as meal worms and suet.

Carroll Adams conducts a short meeting before Damien's presentation

Interesting Hummingbird Facts:

When the hummingbirds migrate to Venezuela they lift off during nightfall, fly 36 hours straight and lands on the coast of Venezuela without stopping. When they land they must feed immediately, and they look for the color red. The reverse is true for migrating north - when they reach the coastline at the Gulf of Mexico they look for red, and some cities ban the hanging of red towels, red sheets, etc., because it will confuse the birds and they could starve. You CAN hang red towels up to attract them if you have feeders close by, so to attract them. Our own Red Buckeyes that line our banks naturally (I have a ton!) attract hummingbirds. They're an excellent native shrub or small tree. The hummingbirds will be here soon!

It's not necessary to purchase nectar for hummingbirds. A simple 1 to 4 mixture of sugar and water is all that's required. 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. NO MORE THAN THAT, or it would harm the birds. Also, do NOT use soap to clean feeders. Just water. If you need to use something, use SALT as an abrasive and rinse well.

The audience is fascinated


Damien showed the various styles of bird houses and was very entertaining with stories of his and his volunteer's experiences in the field checking bluebird houses. He gave us a good tip for keeping House Sparrows (who will kill bluebirds, btw) out of bluebird houses, and said that bluebirds do NOT like the condominium kind of arrangement. They want their own nest with lots of space around them. If you plan to put up more than one bluebird house make sure they are spaced at least 200 ft. apart.

In addition to the houses one can buy, natural cover is necessary for protection as well as nesting. Native plants provide the best of everything for birds - protection, cover and is usually a food source with berries and/or fruits. Damien gave us a list of native plants that would attract songbirds, and informed us about several non-native plants that are becoming intrusive, like privet, Bradford pears, mimosa and - just added to the list - nandina.

Brown Thrasher Nest in a Locust Tree on our bank

Interesting Fact

We were fascinated to learn that the invasive privet is the direct cause of the change in our American Robin's migration pattern. They used to migrate following a food source, but they love the privet berries. Now that privet is becoming a primary understory shrub the robins no longer have the driving need to migrate as their food source remains year round.

Baltimore Oriole Nest in my tree

Male Cardinal enjoys black-oil sunflower seeds


Damien's PowerPoint show ended with photos of all manner of birds we can attract to our yards. Most are found right here nearly every day, or migrate through during their season.

We laughed at Damien's description of the "Lord God" birds - the huge Piliated Woodpeckers and over sized Fox Sparrows. just had to be there, folks.

We learned that White Breasted Nuthatches will only climb down trees and a Brown Creeper will only walk up trees. Mockingbirds will repeat a song multiple times while a Brown Thrasher will only repeat a song twice. Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks were seen at feeders last year thanks to the early killing frost, because that frost killed their primary food source - new green buds. House Finches were originally native to the western US, but bird smugglers were caught with hundreds of cages of them in New York, so they released the "evidence" into the wild, and now they're everywhere. Purple Finches do NOT like House Finches. Damien has seen Baltimore Oriole nests along the Tennessee River made of fishing line. Those were just a few highlights.

Damien Simbeck

Damien grew up in Lawrence County, Tennessee. His father, a high school biology teacher, was an avid naturalist and taught Damien to know and appreciate the plant and animal life around him. He joked about being born with binoculars around his neck. Damien attended the University of the South, then the University of North Alabama where he received a Bachelor of Science in professional biology. He received a Master of Science in Zoology from the University of Tennessee. His primary field of study was aquatic biology including fish taxonomy and biogeography.

Damien has a dream job, imho. He is employed as a Watershed Representative for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which means his office is usually lit by sunshine, he gets to count birds, and walk in fields and forests, and along riverways and streams. The occasional snake doesn't seem to bother him. He probably has some bad days, but then again...he gets to play outdoors and meet interesting people and see fascinating things. No doubt Damien will will scoff at my description of his job!

Female Bluebird poses for her portrait

Damien works with volunteer organizations to reduce the spread of invasive species on TVA properties, and has become one of the area's leading bird watchers. He is a member of both the Tennessee and Alabama Ornithological Societies and serves on the rare birds record committee for AOS. He is active in the Shoals Audubon Society, leading several field trips each year to watch birds in North Alabama.

Thank you, Damien, for coming to Bay Hill Village and delighting us with your birding knowledge.

1 comment:

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Thanks for Damien. Debi, you are an incredible note taker! Wow! The birding seminar was fantastic and informative. I especially liked the thought of the hummingbirds arriving right as the Coral Buckeyes are blooming- the precision of nature is fascinating.