North Alabama Birding Festival set for May 4-6
Special to the Enquirer
Flowing lakes, serene mountains, and wooded surroundings, these are the types of settings that create a natural habitat for many different bird species. Located in the heart of all of this is the town of Decatur, home of the new North Alabama Birding Festival.
Set for May 4-6, the North Alabama Birding Festival offers a free day-long birding EXPO with children’s activities, craft workshops, and live wildlife demonstration; nationally known speakers; guided field trips; and other art exhibits and presentations.
With the purpose of introducing children and adults of all ages to birding and wildlife in general, organizers of the festival take learning and fun to a new level. The free expo offers various workshops and activities designed for children and adults at the riverside Rhodes Ferry Park in Decatur. Lined up for the 2007 festival are exhibits, activities for children, a raptor demonstration, and a book signing by James T. Felder and Charles Seifried. Together, Felder and Seifried produced Alabama Canyons, an in-depth guide to Bankhead National Forest.
Workshops on Saturday include dissecting owl pellets, constructing a birdhouse, carving a bird decoy, landscaping to attract wildlife, and Birding 101. Attendees will also have the opportunity to see and learn about various raptors. A licensed raptor expert will present a bald eagle, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, an eagle owl, and a falcon and will share their expertise on the basics and the handling of these types of birds.
Other ongoing activities throughout Saturday consist of a photo and art contest with prizes, nature and wildlife coloring contests, a hiking staff carving demonstration, and more.
Children will also want to rise early on Saturday morning for their own field trip walk to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers 34,500 acres of naturally preserved woodlands and features one of the South’s largest educational centers for waterfowl and wildlife study.
Located adjacent to Rhodes Ferry Park is the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites which will host the Birding 101 workshop as well as the Wildlife and Audubon Art Exhibit. Displays and exhibits will be provided by Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource, Audubon Society, Alabama Extension System, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge and Association, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Adventure GPS, Wild Birds Unlimited, Tennessee Valley RC&D, and other various artists.
For an up close look at the different species in their natural habitat, choose one of the guided field trips to be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday’s trips include a driving tour to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge for an opportunity to see many waterfowl’s species such as ducks, geese, wading geese, and other migratory birds. An introductory five-hour workshop with CEU credit is also offered on Friday. Especially designed for 4-H leaders, teachers, naturalists, and scout leaders, participants will receive the Flying Wild Educational Activity Guide containing activities designed to teach youth about conservation of wildlife and ecological systems.
Maybe a day-long excursion to Guntersville for a chance to see Bald Eagles in their natural habitat is your passion. This driving tour also heads to the mountains of Lake Guntersville Sate Park where spring migration should be at its peak. Friday night ends with a Catfish and BBQ Social, two of North Alabama’s finest cuisine, where representatives from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services are slated to speak about the avian influenza monitoring program. In conjunction with the dinner, attendees can bid on items donated by area artists and businesses during the Silent Auction. The Social and Silent Auction will be held at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites.
Saturday field trips consist of several different outings to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area for some of the best shorebird habitat in the area and a chance to see waterbirds, migrant and resident songbirds, and sparrows.
Or, select from a combination driving and walking tour to Monte Sano State Park and Hays Nature Preserve in Huntsville in search of migrant warblers, vireos, flycatchers and others by mountaintop and floodplain woodlands.
Located north of Huntsville and just a short drive away is the Thomas Agricultural Research Station with access to grasslands and agricultural lands associated with Alabama A &M University. This tour takes birders in search of grassland birds, including the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Or, head west to the Shoals for a tour of a variety of habitats and a variety of migrant and resident birds. This tour consists of Joe Wheeler State Park, Town Creek Marsh, Leighton Ponds, dams along the Tennessee River, Key Cave NWR, and other sites as time permits.
North Alabama is home to many scenic streams and waterways ideal for exploring by canoe. If this is more your speed, Saturday’s canoe trip goes in search of floodplain woodland birds such as Prothonotary and Swainson’s Warblers, Acadian Flycatchers, Belted Kingfishers, Ospreys, herons and egrets.
How about a nighttime excursion for owls and bats? The Owl Prowl and Bat Boogey tour heads to Sauta Cave NWR near Scottsboro and promises an exciting evening for participants. Witness the magnificent spectacle of hundreds of thousands of gray bats as they emerge from the cave and head out for an evening hunt. This area also offers opportunities for seeing and hearing Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, and, if we are lucky, a Barn Owl.
Field trips to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and Swan Creek Wildlife Management area are also offered on Sunday mornings. There is a small fee associated with the field trips and pre-registration is required.
The husband and wife team of Euyless and Aurora Holcomb will also speak on their craft of carving and painting. These wildlife carvers have won numerous awards including the Ward World Wildlife Competition and Best of Show at the Southern Wildlife Festival and some of their works will be on display for the public to view.
Visitors will also want to check out the North Alabama Birding Trail while in north Alabama. In 2005, the North Alabama Birding Trail made its debut and is quickly becoming a favorite among bird watchers from all over the United States. Fifty sites in eleven north Alabama counties offer a chance to see a bald eagle soaring above or the magnificent spectacle of hundreds of thousands of endangered Gray Bats as they emerge from a cave, the rare Cerulean Warbler, and the state’s only population of ruffed grouse.
The birding trail is divided into three loops. The Northwest Loop contains 15 sites in The Shoals and Bankhead National Forest areas. Located in the heart of the Tennessee River Valley, the Central Loop travels to 17 sites around Athens, Decatur and Huntsville.
The Northeast Loop journeys to the most mountainous portion of the state with 18 different sites extending from Bridgeport and Scottsboro to Guntersville and Fort Payne.
For more information or to request a festival brochure, contact the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 350-2028 or visit their website at www.decaturcvb.org and click on the Birding Festival icon. To request a visitor’s guide to the North Alabama Birding Trail, call 866-23VISIT or download a copy at www.northalabamabirdingtrail.com.