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Black Belt Birding Festival showcases the natural beauty, cultural diversity of west Alabama

Birding enthusiasts from across Alabama and the Southeast will be flying to Greensboro and the surrounding area later this month for the Second Annual Black Belt Birding Festival, and there’s still time to join this growing celebration of nature.

Hosted by Alabama Audubon, the event on July 29-30 spotlights the diverse varieties of birds that flock into the state’s rural Black Belt region, particularly during the summertime. It is part of the Alabama Audubon Black Belt Birding Initiative, which works to bring the economic and environmental benefits of bird-based ecotourism to rural west Alabama. Founded in 1946, Alabama Audubon is the state’s leading nonprofit promoting bird conservation as well as understanding and awareness of birds, their habitats and their place in the natural world.

“Over time, we’ve learned that the Black Belt region, especially Greensboro and Hale County, is a hot spot for many of the birds that draw the interest of bird watchers throughout the region and nation, and that’s why we’re so pleased we can host this birding festival there,” said Chris Oberholster, development director, Alabama Audubon. “The Black Belt is already well known for hunting and fishing, as well as its civil rights and Native American sites. But now we want to get the word out about the many varieties of birds that make their habitat in the Black Belt.”

Oberholster said the region features a mix of habitat, from open prairie grasslands to forests to bottomland swamps, giving festival attendees the rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of many species of birds. Within about a 50-mile radius of Greensboro, they could spot swallow-tailed and Mississippi kites, scissor-tailed flycatchers, great egrets, painted buntings, wood storks and bald eagles, just to name a few of the birds that inhabit the area.

Space is still available to participate in many of the festival’s paid field trips and workshops. For more information or to register, click here. The registration deadline is July 15, but the public is also invited to a variety of free events connected to the festival.

Shannon Harney has been an avid bird watcher for five years, but it will be her first time to attend the festival.

“It will be a neat opportunity because there are not a lot of areas where you can see this wide range of birds so close to Birmingham,” said Harney, an environmental sustainability specialist at Southern Company. “The festival will be a big deal for birding and the Black Belt and hopefully a big deal for the entire state.”

Harney said she is especially excited about seeing the birds that make their home on some of the local farms.

“This could be my only opportunity to get into these private spaces,” she said. “If I were to go by myself, there are acres and acres of land, and I would not know where to begin. Having an expert birder with us who not only knows how to identify the birds, but how to look for them – that makes all the difference.”

Last year’s festival was a sellout with more than 170 participants, some traveling from as far away as California, Michigan, New York, Texas and South Carolina, said Oberholster. The Alabama Power Foundation was among the supporters of last year’s event.

With more than 100 birders already signed up for the weekend, this year promises to draw an even bigger crowd.

“For the past few years, we have seen an increased interest in the Black Belt Birding Festival and we are excited that it brings so many visitors to our area,” said Alabama Power Community Relations Manager Susie Harris. “This festival allows us to showcase a beautiful part of Alabama’s historic Black Belt region, but it also helps to boost our local economy. Our local businesses traditionally see a huge increase in sales during the festival weekend. It’s really a great event for our area.

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 Greensboro resident. “Bringing in this new stream of ecotourism revenue is just another way to bring dollars into the Black Belt, as well as promote this unique and interesting area, which has so much to offer.”

This year’s festival will feature many of the most popular field trips from last year, along with some new additions. The weekend will kick off at 5 p.m. Friday, July 29, with a free event at Lyons Park in Greensboro featuring entertainment from renowned Alabama blues musician Earl “Guitar” Williams. An expo featuring local artists, informational booths hosted by area conservation and environmental nonprofits, and a variety of food trucks fill out the evening’s activities. Other free events include a birding field trip around downtown Greensboro for beginners on Saturday morning and visual arts programming.

As for the paid events, they are being offered on an “a la carte” basis, allowing participants to select those that especially pique their interest.

One of the paid highlights will be a field trip to the Joe Family farm. Longtime cattle producers, this multi-generational family has expanded their business to include birding tourism. Other paid events include field trips to Perry Lakes Park, the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Trial Area and Payne Lake Recreation Area; a keynote presentation by Rashidah FaridTuskegee University wildlife ecology professor; and a morning driving tour hosted by Birdability, an organization focused on making birding accessible to those with mobility issues.

The day will end with a nighttime visit to Talladega National Forest to see endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.

“It will be a long day, but the great thing is 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 participants to come prepared with plenty of drinks and snacks, insect repellent, sunblock and rain gear, and to wear shoes that can get muddy. Of course, all participants should be sure to pack their camera and binoculars.

“We are so excited about the festival,” said Oberholster. “We have already received a strong, positive response from nature lovers and birders nationwide, and hope that the event will grow bigger and better every year.”

Learn more about Alabama Audubon and its many activities at alaudubon.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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