MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Beginning Alabama birders struggling to identify a migrating warbler can find plenty of help from fellow Alabamians -- right on their computer.
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Last week I focused on "in person" birding resources in Alabama -- birding groups such as the Birmingham Audubon Society and the Alabama Ornithological Society, birding classes at your local community college, bird walks sponsored by groups such as the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society or groups associated with the Alabama Birding Trails project, and seminars sponsored by such organizations as the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park.
I highly recommend that Alabamians who want to get serious about birding take advantage of these in-person resources. There is no substitute for a bird walk led by an experienced birder to learn about birds -- and to add new birds to your life list. Second best as a learning experience is an ongoing class or even one-time seminars led by experienced birders.
But even if you take advantage of the many knowledgeable birders here in Alabama, chances are you still will turn occasionally to the internet for information on birds.
So where to begin? Right back with many of those same groups I suggested last week. In addition to chances to learn through field trips or classes, most also have excellent web sites with information about birding in the state.
Birmingham Audubon (birminghamaudubon.org) and the Alabama Ornithological Society (www.aosbirds.org), for instance, have extensive information on Alabama birds and birding. Every would-be birder should print out the checklist of Alabama birds on the AOS site. New birders should make a point of reading "A Beginner's Notebook" on the Birmingham Audubon site. The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society (www.northalbirding.com) also has good information on its site.
Another great state resource is Alabama Birding Trails (alabamabirdingtrails.com). This is the go-to spot to learn about places to spot certain birds at certain times of the year in Alabama. It gives directions and details on what can be found at 270 sites from the Tennessee state line to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi line to the Georgia line.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (www.outdooralabama.com) is not just about hunting and fishing. It also has lots of information on non-game wildlife in the state, including birds.
Perhaps the most important site on the web for most birders is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu), a nonprofit organization operated by Cornell University. Go there, type in a name, and see a selection of photos and a description of the locations and behavior of a bird. But there's more. In addition to photos of the bird in which you're interested, the Cornell site also has photos of birds most often mistaken with that bird.
If you get serious about birding, consider joining Facebook. On Facebook, you can look at a variety of pages and groups that focus on birding and nature in Alabama. Most of these are "open" or public groups, meaning you can look at their posts without joining the group. But to get full value, I recommend joining, which allows you to post photos of birds to get help in identifying them or to find out more about them.
Here are a few Facebook groups those interested in birding should check out:
-- Once again, start with Birmingham Audubon, AOS and Alabama Birding Trails. In addition to their regular web pages, each has a Facebook page as well.
-- The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also has a great Facebook page called Outdoor Alabama.
-- Definitely consider Birding Alabama, a Facebook group with more than 1,400 members. This is a great place to see daily posts of birds that members are currently seeing around the state, and to post your photos to get help with identification.
Other groups are more specialized. Alabama Wildlife and Nature Photography is a hotspot for those with a special interest in the photography side of birding and other fauna and flora in the state. Bald Eagles of Alabama is a great group that tracks eagle sightings around the state, with lots of photos. Alabama Naturalist has some birding, but specializes in snakes, lizards and other animals -- but don't go there if you don't like snakes; it's not for you. Others, however, will find it fascinating.
One Facebook group that I highly recommend for birders everywhere is "The Facebook Bird ID Group of the World." Go there, post a bird photo, and you will quickly get ID help from knowledgeable birders. What you won't get is a quick ID. This page specializes in helping you find the answer through questions or hints. The idea is that you learn best by using your field guides or the internet to narrow the ID. Then post what you think it is. If you're right, you'll get confirmation and maybe even an "attaboy" or "attagirl". If you're wrong, posters will nudge you in the right direction. Sometimes a debate will break out among even experienced birders, but in most cases the answer usually works out -- assuming the photo is good enough. Those debates can be great learning tools.
Pardon me for a personal plug: You can access past Natural Alabama columns at: www.wsfa.com/category/245234/ken-hares-natural-alabama. I'm no expert, but I do try to consult experts in doing these columns.
That is just a small sampling of resources for Alabama birders on the internet. If you have other favorites, drop me an email at email@example.com and I will check them out and perhaps mention them in future columns.
-- Alabama Ornithological Society spring meeting, Friday-Sunday, April 15-17, Dauphin Island. The meeting is timed to coincide with peak migration along the Alabama coast, Noted ornithologist Dr. Kimball L. Garrett is the keynote speaker.
-- Owl Prowl at Oak Mountain State Park, Friday, April 22, 7-10 p.m. The Oak Mountain Interpretive Center and the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park will co-host the event, which will start at the Alabama Wildlife Center in the park at 7 p.m. The event will start with a viewing of captive owls at the Wildlife Center, which rehabilitates injured birds. Then participants will seek to find Wild Barred, Screech and Great Horned Owls. No fee for the event, but the usual park fees will apply.
-- Baby Bird Season, Sunday, April 24, 2 p.m. Part of the Audubon Teachers Nature series at the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park. This one should be great for kids and adults alike. No charge for the program, but the usual state park fees apply. Come early, bird the park and tour the Alabama Wildlife Center, which rehabilitates and releases back into the wild injured native Alabama birds.
Ken Hare is a veteran newspaper writer and editor who now writes regularly for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.