|Pileated-woodpecker at Audubon SHS
photo by ptWalsh
In fact, the first tour of historic homes, as announced in the April 22, 1934, issue of the Times-Picayune, was a Bird Fete planned by the women of West Feliciana to honor Audubon and his wife at Greenwood, home of the Frank Percys, with a presentation of scenes from his life, plus historic homes open “for inspection,” and a colonial ball. Noted historian and author Stanley C. Arthur of New Orleans was master of ceremonies, and Audubon relics, including portraits, prints and letters, were on exhibit at the local library, sponsored by the Drama-Library League. Its successor, the Audubon Pilgrimage, began in 1972 and for four decades has attracted visitors to St. Francisville to revel in the history.
The gifted writer Danny Heitman wrote a small gem of a book entitled A Summer of Birds cataloging Audubon’s time at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville, and some of the area’s most popular special events have been birding-oriented. The Audubon Birdfest, a wonderful weekend of birding tours through the woodlands guided by experts, was put on hold after an expensive television camera went overboard with its operator while canoeing in the Cat Island Swamp, but the Hummingbird Festival continues to be popular.
|Music at the Birdman
photo by ptWalsh
On Saturday morning the festival continues at two private gardens, where vendors offer hummingbird-attractive plants and where hummingbird biologists Linda Beall and Nancy Newfield capture and band birds, giving visitors the rare opportunity to observe the tiny creatures up close as they are being weighed and measured. The banding sites are the homes of Carlisle Rogillio on Tunica Trace and artist Murrell Butler on Oak Hill Road, both of which usually attract dozens of hummingbirds.
The Hummingbird Festival has traditionally been held in July, but recent years have attracted fewer and fewer birds, so this year’s festival has been moved to the weekend of September 12 and 13, when there should be an abundance of migratory hummers on their way south for the winter. Hopefully the local weather will be more comfortable for festival attendees as well as the little birds.
And so St. Francisville’s Summer of Birds becomes its Summer of Arts, for after all Audubon’s Summer of Birds was all about art as well. The local umbrella arts agency, Arts For All, is hosting three July activities at Birdman Books & Coffee that promise to be creatively stimulating even in the sizzling summer heat. The fourth annual Songbird Music School, for ages 18 and up, on July 12 and 13, is a full weekend of classes in banjo, mandolin, guitar, voice, fiddle and dobro, providing small instructional classes as well as opportunities to play acoustic music together. Intended for beginners through seasoned performers, the instructional and collaborative workshops are designed to help musicians sharpen their skills or perhaps learn an entirely new instrument. Saturday sessions are geared to each participant’s skill level, leading to Sunday afternoon’s performance. For information on instructors, programs and registration, see http://songbird.felicianalocal.com. A Young Songbirds Music Camp for ages 10 to 18 follows July 14 to 18 at Birdman in the afternoons.
|Painting by Walter Waters|
So visitors will just have to wait until September for the Hummingbird Festival, but in July there’s music and art at the quirky local venue known as the Birdman; how fitting is that!
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season, and spring is definitely the season for spectacular bloom. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations some weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
|Hummingbird on Flower
photo by ptWalsh
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society’s museum and tourist information center at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224 or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).