MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Sometime, somehow, I became a birder.
I didn't mean to become a birder; it just sort of happened. But if you're going to become addicted to birding, Alabama is a great place to catch the bug.
Birding (it's birding, not bird watching; birder, not birdwatcher) is addictive, and like many an addiction, it sneaks up on you.
I've always loved the outdoors. Julie and I often build our vacations around the national parks or other natural attractions. We've driven and day hiked all over Maine trying to photograph moose, sat for hours in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park hoping for a wolf or grizzly to show itself, ridden rickety buses around Denali National Park to see grizzlies and Dall sheep, and spent untold time on the coasts of Maine and Campobello and Grand Manan islands in Canada staring through binoculars just to catch glimpses of humpback and minke whales offshore.
Along the way we've admired and photographed birds as well. But except for the big raptors (eagles, hawks, etc.) birds have been a nice appetizer; the bears and whales and moose were the main course.
After retiring from the newspaper business to work part-time for WSFA, I started to spend more time on my exercise bicycle on our back porch in a typical residential area of Montgomery. After a while, I put up hummingbird feeders, and before long started to photograph the hummers that showed up. Then I added seed feeders to attract other birds. Then one day, I started to keep a list of these "backyard birds." I didn't realize it then, but that's all it takes to be a birder.
It's surprising how many different birds you can see in a residential backyard in Alabama. There are the obvious ones -- robins, cardinals, blue jays, house finches, brown thrashers and lots and lots of mockingbirds and house sparrows. But there are lots of not-so-obvious ones as well -- red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-tailed Hawks, nuthatches, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Flickers, Mississippi Kites, Eastern Bluebirds -- I've seen all those, and many more, from the comfort of my back porch.
If keeping up with the birds in your backyard was all you ever did, you could have a satisfying hobby in birding. For many people, that's as far as it goes.
But a few months ago, I decided to get a little more serious. First, I added several new references to the ones I already had. If you're going to have just one bird field guide, I'd recommend Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of North America. But I have three other general birding field guides now, plus one that specializes in Alabama birds; one on the birds of Maine and one on New Brunswick, Canada, where we vacationed this fall; plus one that focuses on Southern birds of prey; and finally, one on wood warblers. There are also great online sites to help identify birds.
I also joined the Alabama Ornithological Society, a great group of knowledgeable birders who help do some serious research on birds in the state.
But what really got me hooked was a Facebook group called Birding Alabama. The group has about 1,200 members, and many of them share photos of birds throughout the state. Looking at what others share is a great learning tool for new birders. And if you're struggling with an ID, others can pitch in to help. The back-and-forth discussion of IDs sometimes gets lively, but when done right it is a marvelous teaching tool. I even belong to a similar group based in Maine, where we vacation every three years or so.
But I remain a novice. There are serious birders throughout Alabama who can recognize more birds just by hearing their call than I can by sight.
Over the next few months, I plan to do regular columns on Alabama nature. Some may touch on other nature-related issues -- Alabama paleontology, for instance, another interest of mine, or Alabama animals. But most will be on birds, and most will have lots of pictures to accompany them. You may have seen one I have already written on the return of the endangered Whooping Crane to Alabama or one on Operation Migration in the state.
I am no expert on any of these issues, and don't pretend to be. But I know some experts, and how to reach others.
This month I'm featuring photos of Backyard Birds -- a small sampling of birds that I have seen in my residential backyard here in Montgomery. I hope you enjoy the photos and the column. Mobile users click here for the slideshow.
Contact Ken Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback appreciated.