The Black Belt Birding Festival showcases the natural beauty and cultural diversity of western Alabama
Birdwatching enthusiasts from across Alabama and the Southeast will fly to Greensboro and surrounding areas later this month for the second annual Black Belt Birdwatching Festival, and it’s still time to join in this growing celebration of nature.
Hosted by Alabama Audubon, the July 29-30 event highlights the diverse varieties of birds that flock to the rural Black Belt region of the state, especially during the summer. It is part of the Alabama Audubon Black Belt Birding Initiative, which aims to bring the economic and environmental benefits of bird-based ecotourism to rural western Alabama. Founded in 1946, Alabama Audubon is the state’s premier nonprofit organization that promotes bird conservation and understanding and awareness of birds, their habitats, and their place in the natural world.
“Over time, we have learned that the Black Belt region, particularly Greensboro and Hale County, is a hotspot for many birds that attract the interest of birdwatchers across the region and nation. and that’s why we’re so happy we can host this birding festival there,” said Chris Oberholster, Director of Development, Alabama Audubon. “The Black Belt is already well known for hunting and fishing, as well as for its civil rights and Native American sites.But now we want to raise awareness of the many varieties of birds that make their home in the Black Belt.
Oberholster said the area features a mix of habitats, from open grasslands to forests to lowland swamps, giving festival-goers the rare opportunity to spot many species of birds. Within about 50 miles of Greensboro, they might spot swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites, scissor-tailed flycatchers, great egrets, painted sparrows, wood storks and bald eagles. white head, to name a few of the birds that inhabit the area.
Wood storks are among the bird species found in Alabama’s black belt. (Greg Harber)
The swallow-tailed kite is among the bird species found in Alabama’s black belt. (Greg Harber)
Birdwatchers will flock to western Alabama for the second annual Alabama Black Belt Birding Festival. (contributed)
Places are still available to participate in many paid outings and workshops of the festival. For more information or to register, click here. The entry deadline is July 15, but the public is also invited to a variety of free festival-related events.
Shannon Harney has been an avid birdwatcher for five years, but this will be her first appearance at the festival.
“It will be a great opportunity because there aren’t many areas where you can see this wide range of birds so close to Birmingham,” said Harney, environmental sustainability specialist at Southern Company. “The festival will be a big deal for birdwatching and black belt and hopefully a big deal for the entire state.”
Harney said she was especially excited to see the birds taking up residence on some of the local farms.
“This might be my only opportunity to enter these private spaces,” she said. “If I had to go alone, there are acres and acres of land, and I wouldn’t know where to start. Having an expert birder with us who not only knows how to identify birds, but also how to look for them – makes all the difference.
Last year’s festival sold out more than 170 attendees, some from as far away as California, Michigan, New York, Texas and South Carolina, Oberholster said. The Alabama Power Foundation was among the supporters of last year’s event.
Attendees enjoy the first Black Belt Birding Festival. (contributed)
Birdwatchers gather for the first Black Belt Birding Festival. (Matthew Grcic)
The Alabama Audubon Black Belt Birding Festival gives attendees access to family farms where many birds can be found. (contributed)
Bird watchers enjoy a visit to the Joe Farm. (Matthew Grcic)
A group of ornithologists on an expedition during the first Black Belt Birding Festival. (contributed)
With over 100 birdwatchers already registered for the weekend, this year promises to draw even bigger crowds.
“Over the past few years, we have seen increased interest in the Black Belt Birding Festival and are thrilled that it is bringing so many visitors to our area,” said Susie Harris, community relations manager for Alabama Power. . “This festival allows us to showcase a beautiful part of Alabama’s historic Black Belt region, but it also helps boost our local economy. Our local businesses traditionally see a huge increase in sales during the festival weekend. It is truly a great event for our region.
Tim Higgins agreed that local residents are proud to welcome so many visitors to the Black Belt region.
“We don’t have a lot of industry outside of agriculture here,” said Higgins, festival coordinator for Alabama Audubon and a resident of Greensboro. “Bringing in this new stream of ecotourism revenue is just another way to bring in dollars for Black Belt, as well as promote this unique and interesting region, which has so much to offer.”
This year’s festival will feature many of the most popular excursions from last year, as well as a few new ones. The weekend kicks off at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 29 with a free event at Lyons Park in Greensboro featuring entertainment from famed Alabama blues musician Earl “Guitar” Williams. An exhibit featuring local artists, information booths hosted by area conservation and environmental nonprofits, and a variety of food trucks round out the evening’s activities. Other free events include a birding tour around downtown Greensboro for beginners on Saturday mornings and visual arts programming.
As for paid events, they are offered à la carte, allowing participants to select those that particularly pique their interest.
2021 Alabama Audubon Black Belt Birding Alabama Audubon Festival on Vimeo.
One of the paid highlights will be a trip to the Joe family farm. Long-time livestock producers, this multi-generational family has expanded its business to include bird tourism. Other ticketed events include field trips to Perry Lakes Park, Mr. Barnett Lawley Forever Wilderness Testing Area and Payne Lake Recreation Area; a keynote presentation by Rashidah Farid, professor of wildlife ecology at Tuskegee University; and a morning driving tour organized by Birdability, an organization aiming to make birdwatching accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The day will end with a night tour of the Talladega National Forest to see endangered red cockade woodpeckers.
“It will be a long day, but what is great is that we will have outdoor events in the morning and evening, and indoor activities during the hottest part of the day,” said Theresa Nabors , Alabama Audubon Program Assistant. She urged attendees to come prepared with plenty of drinks and snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen and rain gear, and to wear shoes that can get muddy. Of course, all participants should make sure to bring their camera and binoculars.
“We are so excited about the festival,” Oberholster said. “We have already received a strong and positive response from nature lovers and birdwatchers nationwide, and we hope the event will grow and improve every year.”
Learn more about Alabama Audubon and its many activities at alaudubon.org.