MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama is a wonderful place to bird, with a diverse number of species available for birders in virtually every season of the year. In the spring and fall, for example, Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan peninsula offer some of the best opportunities to see warblers and other migratory birds in all of North America. In winter, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and nearby Lake Guntersville are alive with a wide variety of ducks, White Pelicans, Snow and Ross's Geese, thousands of Sand Hill Cranes, and even a few rare and endangered Whooping Cranes. Smaller but still inviting birding sites are peppered throughout the state.
There are so many opportunities to bird here that Alabama state government needs to focus on capturing a larger share of the almost $40 billion that U.S. birders spend on equipment and birding-related travel each year. That is already happening to some extent, with the development of the Alabama Birding Trails System as perhaps the best example.
But Alabama faces a hurdle if it wants to full take advantage of the economic opportunity that birding tourism could afford the state. While birding is alive and well in many areas of the state, there are "birding deserts" here and there where reliable data on bird species are hard to come by.
EBird is fast becoming the go-to place for researchers and everyday birders alike to get information on where and what time of the year to find certain birds. But while there are thousands of birding reports for popular birding destinations such as Dauphin Island and Wheeler, there are many counties in Alabama where bird reports are much too rare. (To see a past column on eBird in Alabama, go to: http://www.wsfa.com/category/245234/ken-hares-natural-alabama)
Consider this: Just five counties in Alabama -- Mobile, Baldwin, Madison, Jefferson and Montgomery -- have almost exactly half of all the 95,000 birding checklists from Alabama on record on eBird. There are two factors at work here, of course. First, birders like to go where there are interesting birds, and the hotspots mentioned above are in three of those counties. Second, there is the population factor (people and birds). More people equals more birders equals more birds seen and reported.
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So Mobile County has more than 13,000 eBird checklists on record and at the other end of the state Madison has almost 12,000. But at the bottom of the chart are Fayette County with just 25 checklists all-time, Lamar County with just 33 checklists, Choctaw with 58, and Conecuh with 53. All told, there are probably 16 to 18 counties where bird species are seriously under-reported. (Numbers are as of February 2017.)
That skews not only the science of birding, which is coming more and more to rely on data from eBird, but the opportunities of these areas to attract birders.
Recognizing this issue, the leaders of the Alabama Ornithological Society are currently working with representatives of eBird to develop strategies to get more birding reports from these under-reported counties. That could include organized field trips to some of these counties, and possibly such things as contests to encourage individual birders to check out these counties. Stay tuned for future developments. In the meantime, go bird in Fayette or Lamar counties and put your lists on eBird.
AOS SPRING MEETING
While we're on the subject of AOS and Dauphin Island, let me mention that Kevin Karlson, the author of several books on birding and a professional nature guide, will be the featured speaker and lead several field trips at the Alabama Ornithological Society's spring meeting on Dauphin Island April 21-23.
Karlson, who also is a noted wildlife photographer, is the co-author of "Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds" and "The Shorebird Guide," as well as two photography books on birds.
Karlson will join with another professional wildlife guide, Andrew Haffenden, to lead several field trips during the three-day weekend. Haffenden, who often leads field trips around the world, makes his home on Dauphin Island and is an expert on the birds found there.
Karlson will hold a workshop on Friday evening on identifying birds by impression and on Saturday evening will present a program on "Birds on the Wind -- the Miracle of Migration."
To see a schedule of activities, to join AOS or to register for the meeting, go to: http://www.aosbirds.org
See the attached photo gallery for this week's photos, all taken in the past month. They include Bald Eagle nestlings, a White Pelican, a Kestrel, and others.
-- The Birmingham Audubon Society has a wide-ranging slate of programs and field trips on tap, including an upcoming nature walk to the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge in Bessemer -- one of the smallest and most urban national wildlife refuges in the nation. The trip is free and will be March 10 from noon until 1:30 p.m.
The society's Audubon Teaches Nature programs are ongoing at Oak Mountain State Park. These are wonderful educational programs on a variety of nature issues. The next scheduled program will be Mysteries of Bird Migration on March 19 from 2-4 p.m. These programs are either at the Alabama Wildlife Center or the adjacent Oak Mountain Interpretive Center.
The programs are free, but there is the usual fee for entering the park.
For details on these and other events, go to: birminghamaudubon.org
-- The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society is one of the most free-wheeling birding groups around, with meetings aimed primarily at getting out into the field. Non-members are welcomed on NABS field trips. For details, go to: http://www.northalbirding.com/
Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at email@example.com. To see past columns, go to: http://www.wsfa.com/category/245234/ken-hares-natural-alabama