hummingbirds — know as the jewel of the Americas — will kick off a new program series Thursday for the Southside Bird Club, presented by expert John Spahr.

There are about 350 species of hummingbirds in the world and all are confined to the Americas. This unique family of birds includes the world’s smallest bird.

The amazing flyers are able to hover, and some are capable of more than 80 wing-beats per second. As the only birds capable of flying backward, they have some of the most elaborate and beautiful feather adornments of any birds, with many males exhibiting brilliant iridescent colors on their heads and throats.

Spahr’s first encounter with “hummers” was as an 8-year-old roaming his neighborhood Pennsylvania meadows. He’s remained fascinated by these creatures ever since, has read about and studied them extensively, and has seen more than 200 species in his travels throughout the Americas.

Southside’s own “ruby-throat” is a common warm-weather visitor in Virginia from its winter range in Central America. This annual journey requires an 18- to 20-hour non-stop flight across 500 miles of open seas across the Gulf of Mexico.

Spahr, of Staunton, will discuss many other aspects of the “hummers” and share some of his knowledge and fascination with these flying “jewels” in his image-intensive presentation.

Spahr’s avian interests began in his early teens when he joined his first bird club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The interest level remained moderate during the next few decades as he focused on formal education, family and profession. However, during the past 35 years this birding avocation gradually grew from the casual to the serious and, at times, the extreme.

He is a longtime member of the Augusta Bird Club and has served as field trip leader, program chair and vice president. Spahr also has been involved with the Virginia Society of Ornithology for decades, having served as president, a member of the Virginia Avian Records Committee and the Conservation Committee.

Spahr enjoys bird watching in the varied habitats Virginia provides, from the coastal salt marshes to the lofty western mountain ridges. He’s travel extensively abroad to see and learn about birds on a global scale. These travels have taken him to most of the countries in Central and South America, several Caribbean islands (including Cuba), Southern Africa, Eastern Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Borneo, Bhutan, India, Antarctica, China, Tibet and Thailand.

Spahr trained as a physician. After a 30-year career with Augusta Health, he retired in 2009.

In his first year of retirement he conducted what’s known as a birding “Big Year” in North America, logging more than 90,000 miles by plane, car, boat and on foot in a quest to see as many bird species as possible in. This included multiple trips to Alaska, California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, New England and Canada. He accumulated more than 700 species during this adventure, a feat accomplished by only a dozen others at that time.

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