Bird watching event draws record crowd

Published 1:47 pm Monday, May 20, 2019

On Saturday morning, around two dozen people flocked to Old Cahawba Archaeological Park to take part in a bird watching program led by Don and Judy Self of the Alabama Ornithological Society.

The fowl gazers gathered beneath a tree, alongside tables topped with field guides and books, in an otherwise empty field and listened to Don Self explain the basics of bird watching.

Don Self instructed those in attendance to listen as birds rattled of their songs in the distance and he began naming them off – throughout the day, the watchers were able to identify more than 20 species by their songs and had the opportunity to glance at half of them.

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“I think folks had a pretty darn good time,” Self said, noting that Saturday’s group was the largest since the program launched about five years ago. Nobody threw any rotten eggs or tomatoes, so that’s always a good sign.”

After a brief overview, the bird watchers were split into two groups – those ready to take to the woods and look for birds and those who needed a little more practice.

As the older crowd took to the woods, Judy Self began working with those who stayed behind to practice looking through sighting scopes at a hand-built display of birds stuck across the field from where the newcomers were stationed.

Among those who stayed behind for more training were Girl Scouts from Sweetwater and Boy Scouts from the Fultondale-Gardendale area.

“For the folks who are coming in and just starting out, we’ve always found that it’s difficult for beginners,” Don Self said. “It has proven to be a pretty successful approach for the young folks.

Don Self said the program relies on “guided discovery,” which provides all the necessary resources for a new bird watcher to begin identifying fowl, and basic questions about the birds’ color, size, bill shape and more.

“Those are the things that a person can successfully answer simply by referring to the bird that’s out there in front of them,” Don Self said. “It makes them a better observer of the bird.”

For his part, Don Self believes Saturday’s nature excursion was a success and he looks forward to teaching another batch of up-and-coming bird gazers soon.

“There’s a lot we’ve learned in our years of bird watching and sometimes you can pass on a little bit of that and maybe smooth out the road of learning how to identify birds and enjoy them,” Don Self said. “We enjoy messing around with birds and always like to have a project to keep us off the streets at night. This is one of those that does and it’s always nice to have the young folks come out.”