The August birding doldrums are almost over and soon Alabama birders will have a host of migratory species passing through or wintering in the state to whet their interests. In fact, there already are regular sightings of shorebirds and scattered reports of migrant warblers showing up on eBird reports from around the state.
That also means birding organizations in the state will soon ramp up their field trips, and I strongly urge beginning and casual birders to consider joining one or more of these groups in the field.
When I started to seriously bird three years ago, perhaps the smartest step I took was to go on several field trips led by experienced birders. There is no substitute for getting instant feedback in the field on bird identities, both from the trip leader and from the other knowledgeable birders on the trip.
It's a great way to spot birds as well. When there are 20 or more sets of eyes looking through binoculars or spotting scopes, the chances of missing a hard-to-spot bird go down dramatically. Are you a new birder who hasn't invested in a spotting scope? No problem. Sharing views of birds through scopes is part of the tradition of field trips.
It's also a great way to find really good birding locations. There are at least a dozen really productive birding sites that I often return to on my own that I first learned about on trips with the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society, the Alabama Ornithological Society or the Birmingham Audubon Society -- all groups that I have joined.
Often, in fact, organized field trips with such groups can be the only way to see some good birding sites. Most birding groups, including all three mentioned above, have developed relationships with private landowners or wildlife refuge personnel that allow them access to birding areas that otherwise would be inaccessible.
Most birding organizations welcome non-members on most of their field trips free of charge -- although if you go on trips regularly it is only polite to join. All birding groups with which I'm familiar have very modest membership fees.
The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society, as its name implies, focuses on the northernmost tier of counties in Alabama. It also focuses on field trips. NABS probably has the most aggressive list of trips of any birding group in the state, with 30 trips on tap between September 2017 and May 2018. Even though it means getting up well before dawn and driving from Montgomery to North Alabama, I hope to make 4-6 NABS trips in the coming nine months. The NABS website is: www.northalbirding.com
The Birmingham Audubon Society also has many field trips each year, and several of them are well out of the Birmingham area. Despite its name, Birmingham Audubon is really a statewide organization, supporting ornithological research around the state. It also has several outstanding seminars on nature and birding during the year. Its website is: birminghamaudubon.org
The Alabama Ornithological Society is also involved in supporting research efforts, and is the keeper of the state's official state bird record lists through its arm, the Alabama Bird Records Committee. (You can print out a copy of the official bird list at the society's website.) AOS field trips are usually built around its three regular meetings each year -- in October and April on Dauphin Island, designed to take advantage of the great birding on the island during spring and fall migration -- and in January at different birding sites.
AOS is also known for its outstanding expert speakers at its meetings. For instance, AOS just announced that at the meeting on Oct. 13-15 on Dauphin Island, Dr. Frank R. Moore, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Southern Mississippi University, will speak on bird migration, as well as lead a field trip to Fort Morgan. Other field trips during the weekend will be led by Andrew Haffenden, who leads birding trips around the world and who makes Dauphin Island his home.
The AOS website is: www.aosbirds.org
Some regional groups associated with the Alabama Birding Trails System also occasionally lead field trips in their areas. You can find out about those at the Alabama Birding Trails website, and the site also has a calendar of events that includes many other bird-related field trips, seminars and classes. The website is: alabamabirdingtrails.com
So as birding heats up this fall and as temperatures cool down, I urge you to get outside with some of these great groups. Make some friends, get a little mild exercise, see some wonderful birds and just have a good time.