Hiking with Hailey: Birding in Alabama’s Black Belt

Hiking with Hailey: Birding in Alabama's Black Belt

NEWBERN, Ala. (WSFA) - Connecting with Birds and Nature; it’s not just the name of Chris Joe’s company, it’s exactly what he does!

Nestled just outside of Selma in the heart of the Alabama Black Belt, Joe’s property, called Joe Farms, extends 200 acres. When he offers events like Saturday’s Kite Bonanza, it draws crowds from across the state.

“We started that event last year, where we had our first Black Belt birding tour,” Joe explained, “and that kind of sparked a lot of things and what we’re doing today. What we’re doing is just having a hay cutting demonstration to let people see and observe [the birds].”

“I was a part of the inaugural event last year, so when I saw that Chris was throwing this on Instagram, I decided to just pop up unannounced and show love,” added Jason Ward, a science communicator and host of his own birding show, ‘Birds of North America.‘

But, this isn’t your typical birding trip where guests sit quietly and watch from afar. Joe’s experience can sometimes bring the birds up close and personal.

“We have Mississippi kites and swallowtail kites that frequent this area during the summer, and in the process of cutting hay, it’s almost like an attraction to them because while we cut the hay, the insects come up from the ground, out of the grass,” said Joe. “Then, the birds eat mid-flight, so they don’t grab one, perch and sit down. They take it on the go and they keep flying.”

A flock of wood storks fly over Joe Farms. Birds are attracted to the bugs brought out by cutting hay.
A flock of wood storks fly over Joe Farms. Birds are attracted to the bugs brought out by cutting hay. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Attending events like the Kite Bonanza reminds Ward of why he enjoys birding.

“It’s a scavenger hunt. You go out each day and you just never know what you’re truly going to see,” he said. “It’s hunting without the gore. For little kids, it’s Pokemon Go filled with real animals. So, it’s that aspect of it that I like.”

Not only does Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours share the wonder of the birds that call the Black Belt their home, but it also shows a different side of the South.

Selma is known for Bloody Sunday and the fight for voting rights, but Joe adds, “we want to show that there’s more to the South, in that part of the state, than just the Civil Rights movement.”

And, since Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours is one of the only black-owned birding companies, it shows that birding is truly for everyone.

“People always ask me what kind of advice I’d give to young birds, young birds of color, or young black birds who wants to get into a hobby like birding. And the first thing that I tell them is to find your flock,” said Ward. “What Chris Joe and the Joe family here is doing is providing space for people to find that flock. It’s really great to see people who look like I do and who grew up in neighborhoods like I grew up in connecting and getting together, and hopefully ushering in the next generation into conservation and birding.”

“A lot of them need to get back outdoors and we just tried to spread the word about what we’re doing here and hopefully others can catch on and come see what we do,” added Joe.

So, if you have some time, grab a pair of binoculars, get outside and check out those birds chirping in your trees. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

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