Photo Credit: C & G Goss
So you like to be out in nature, taking in the fresh air, smelling the flowers, and feeling the sun on your skin? You enjoy the peaceful serenity of it, and maybe it is your exercise outlet also. You may be a hiker, runner, boater, kayaker, or an explorer who just likes to get out and see what treasures you can find in the beautiful outdoors. However, what if I told you there is another awesome hobby you can enjoy simultaneously? If I told you that hobby was birding, I would probably get two reactions.
The first would be the intimidated reaction. To be a “birder” sounds so official. It can sound as if the only ones who get to wear that title are those who have studied ornithology in school for many years, or those who went through years of scouting and literally earned a patch proclaiming them as a birder. It sounds like something that requires special underlying knowledge and probably a lot of travel. An actual birder is probably a person who travels the globe in search of that one rare bird, right? You probably also have the mindset that there is a lot of special equipment involved. If you are already intimidated by the hobby, you are also going to go ahead and already assume that equipment is going to break the bank.
The second reaction I would get would be those that already know they are a birder. If you are out in nature already, and enjoy watching birds when you see them, you are a birder. If it makes you smile to sit in the backyard and see the birds that show up for happy hour at your birdfeeder, surprise-you are a birder too. When I asked Sarah Randolph with Alabama Audubon how she defined birding, she said “Birding is simply the act of watching or listening to birds, or the appreciation and wonder of birds.” You can do this anywhere-even at your own home. So congratulations, if you are one that is already out enjoying the great outdoors in other ways, you are officially a birder also, because that just comes with the territory. You now get to go ahead and add birder to your list of credentials too.
No matter what category you fell into, we want to share with you just how easy it is to be a birder, and give you a few of our tips to get the most enjoyment out of this awesome hobby.
Find A Great Place to Watch Birds
You can do this anywhere-even at your own home. However, if you do want to get out and hit some areas that have been identified as great areas to see birds, there are plenty that await you. In the Lake Martin area, we have the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail. This particular birding trail actually has 40 sites across 9 counties-that’s a lot of exploring for you! It covers everything from Alabama’s highest mountain to the shores of Lake Martin. You can see cool birds in these areas anytime of the year, but it will vary some by the season. Bald Eagles and Osprey soar over the lake year round, and lots of ducks tend to hang out on the lake when the weather turns a little cooler. Warblers come in droves each spring and fall, and you will see swallow-tailed kites in the summer. There is never a dull moment when it comes to birding in the Lake Martin area. Russell Lands has a naturalist that offers presentations and guided nature tours. Keep an eye on their schedule of events to see when these events are happening. Make sure to keep an eye on the event schedule for Wind Creek State Park also, as they too host educational sessions about birding and guided nature walks. Alabama Audubon also hosts field trips throughout the state.
Getting The Right Gear For Bird Watching
The first, and easiest place to watch birds is at your own home, so the first gear to get would be a couple of strategically placed bird feeders. Make sure you have them in spots where you can easily view them from far enough away. If your birding adventures take you out in nature, you may also want to have a good pair of binoculars. If you see that you enjoy waterfowl or shore birds, you may consider at some point investing in a good scope for viewing. A good field guide is also helpful to be able to identify birds that you see. You can grab one at a local bookstore or even download one on your phone.
I think the best way to get started with anything is to just get out there and do it. If you are outdoors anyway, take the time to be more observant of what is around you. By slowing down and paying attention, you will hear the melodic tunes of new feathered friends that you may have previously missed out on as you were in a hurry and less aware of your surroundings. I’m a hiker, but I’m definitely not the hiker who is trying to see how fast I can complete a trail. I’m the hiker who is easily distracted and will stop if I hear my favorite jam. In the forest, my favorite jam tends to be the song of the bluebirds. I usually hear them first, and then will find them playing and putting on a show. So my best advice is to slow down, be very aware of your senses of both sight and sound, and remember 3 important words-Just Look Up!
Learn To Identify Birds
We mentioned the field guides that show pictures of birds so that you can identify them by sight. I do suggest having one of those with you. However, many times you will hear a bird before you see it, and it is totally possible to be able to identify it by sound as well. If your friend yells your name from the other side of the room, chances are, you know who it is before you see them. You have learned their voice-and you can learn the voices of your new feathered friends too. The Merlin app has a great song ID tool that you can use. Alabama Audubon also has many courses throughout the year, including some that incorporate bird melodies into them.
Checklist of Alabama Birds
Alabama has quite a bit of diversity in the habitats that are offered to birds, and because of this, there are over 400 species of birds that can be found here. There is plenty to see without going far, and once you start seeing more, you may want to keep up with your finds. The Alabama Ornithological Society has a checklist of birds that you can see in Alabama.
We wish you the best on your bird watching journey! To learn more about getting started birding, check out Alabama Audubon and Alabama Birding Trails.