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By Thomas Joa
TUSCALOOSA– When most people watch birds, they don’t realize that they are actually taking part in one the countries newest fads, birding.
Birding, the observation of birds in their natural habitat, is one of the fastest growing hobbies in modern America. In Alabama, there are over 270 birding sites that cover eight regions across the state. 28 of those sites fall along the West Alabama Birding Trail. The trail runs through Bibb, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marion, Pickens, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties. The West Alabama Birding Trail, which was established in 2012, is one of the most desired birding locations in Alabama.
“I’d like to work the [birding trails] that are on the western side of Alabama,” Herb Lewis said. “Whatever is along the Warrior River and in those areas where there’s swamps and lowlands, that’s an area I’d try to go to if I was going to be in that region.”
Lewis, a retired engineer who lives in Huntsville, has worked extensively with the Huntsville Botanical Garden on designing and building their own birding trail. Lewis said he has always had a passion for birding and that it has only grown as the years have gone by.
“I started Birding when I was eight years old,” Lewis said. “When I retired I got more serious about it because I hade more time to start watching them.”
Lewis said he believes the enjoyment of birding is expanding and that people are finding the joy in watching their behavior and seeing the variety of birds. Lewis said the sites along the Alabama Birding Trail are some of the best spots one can pick.
The West Alabama Birding Trail was established with help from the Alabama Tourism, the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Birmingham Audubon Society.
According to Candace Skelton, the community development and tourism project manager for the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, tourism is an important economic factor for the state of Alabama.
“Birding and outdoor activities for people who like the softer outdoors, not just hunting and fishing, but actually watching wildlife, we think is going to have a really big trend coming further into Alabama,” Skelton said. “We are trying to connect more people to birding because we think it will have an economic impact on the state.”
Skelton said that the state of Alabama offers a lot of tools for birders and makes it really easy for people looking for spots to go birding. Skelton said that the people of West Alabama have been positively impacted by the birding trail.
“I think it has caused people to recognize the natural beauty in our different parks,” Skelton said. “It has caused locals to pay attention to the gems that they have around them that they might not have known before.”
The state has supported the growing popularity of birding by creating and improving the birding trails across Alabama. Kenric Minges, the committee chairman for the West Alabama Birding Trail, said Alabama offers a lot of resources for birders. Minges said that there are a lot of people who don’t even realize they are birders.
“Birding encompasses people sitting out in their backyard looking at the Mockingbirds and Robins,” Minges said. “You don’t have to be a serious person that has the $2,500 binoculars looking for the Black-crowned Night-Herron. If you like looking at Pigeons you’re a birder.”
Minges said West Alabama is a great place for birding because it provides a wide variety of habitats for birds. Minges said that while he doesn’t consider himself a birder, he still finds enjoyment in watching birds.
“I’ve never worn knee socks and shorts pants and worn a campaign hat with a vest on it with binoculars and walked around the woods. ” Minges said. “ I’m one of the worst people at identifying birds that you’ll ever meet. I like to look at birds and I always have. That’s just pleasant to me.”
For more information on the West Alabama Birding Trail, visit their Facebook page or their website, http://alabamabirdingtrails.com/trails/west-alabama.
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