Hi All 😊! For those of you new to us, the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society (NABS) is an informal group that focuses on birding in northern Alabama. We have been around since 1976 and are the only birding group in our area to offer a set of regularly scheduled trips each year. We visit a variety of areas across this part of the state, most of which are included on the North Alabama Birding Trail (NABT, https://alabamabirdingtrails.com/). We also have a Facebook group page, North Alabama Birdwatchers Society (NABS), where folks can join NABS, post pics, discuss birds and related subjects, etc. NABS is open to everyone, including beginners, and especially young folks with an interest in birds; there are no membership dues.
Protocol: The protocol for NABS outings is pretty simple. We convene at the designated time at our meeting spot (GPS coordinates are provided for most meeting spots), from which we’ll either drive (usually) or walk to our birding area. Typically, we hang around for 10-15 minutes after the meeting time before we depart, which gives us a bit of time to work out logistics, talk about where we’ll be going, etc. So, it’s best to be on time, for obvious reasons. Attendees are responsible for their own transportation, although there usually are opportunities to carpool and we’ll usually have a van for trips to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). There will be some trips for which carpooling is required, depending on attendance, given limitations on numbers of vehicles that can be taken into some areas we visit (see more detail below).
Guidelines: Our ultimate goal for any NABS outing is to give everyone an opportunity to observe (and hopefully hear) every bird species we encounter. That seldom happens, but we often get pretty close. Cameras are welcome too, although the emphasis is on birding. Our rules of etiquette are few but the ones we do have are important:
1. Be reasonably restrained, as to making noise (no dogs or unruly children);
2. While cameras are most welcome, please don’t let pic-taking disrupt the birding (see ultimate goal above);
3. Be considerate of others as to letting everyone get a chance to see and/or hear birds we encounter. It’s fine to wander around a bit, just be aware of and careful about getting out in front of the group, especially if skittish birds (such as waterfowl) might be caused to flush.
4. Use of song/call recordings to attract birds is up to the discretion of the trip leader. The focus of using such is tied to our main goal of giving everyone a chance to see and/or hear the species we encounter, especially uncommon or difficult-to-observe birds (e.g., Winter Wren). Beyond a certain point, recordings can become a form of harassment for the birds, thus they should be used sparingly. In particular, recordings should not be used around breeding birds, which can cause nest abandonment or even attract predators to a nest.
5. Above all, follow the guidance of the trip leader.
Advantages: By birding with NABS, you’ll have the opportunity to go out with experienced people who are familiar with the places we visit and who love to share their knowledge. NABS also provides greater access to certain areas where such is restricted, e.g., driving behind locked refuge gates at Wheeler NWR, or visiting the privately-owned Jones ‘Hawk Farm’.
Although the focus is on birds, NABS outings also offer opportunities to become more generally familiar with many of the beautiful and diverse natural areas characteristic of northern Alabama. The places we’ll visit provide excellent opportunities to observe, study, photograph and appreciate a variety of flora and fauna, including wildflowers, trees, insects, reptiles/amphibians, and mammals. Some NABS regulars have considerable knowledge of these other groups and would be glad to answer questions and provide information during trips.
Trip Times and Durations, Equipment, Weather: Almost all of our trips are on Saturdays. Please note that we have different meeting times, depending on time of year: Aug-Oct and April-May meeting time is 7 am, while Nov-March trips will meet at 8 am. In general birding is best, particularly for songbirds, early in the morning, especiallyduring warmer times of the year. Trips to Wheeler and areas that involve more travel (Shoals, Marbut Bend, Guntersville, etc.) typically last until around noon, others usually take 2-3 hours. Bring your binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, field guides, refreshments, bug repellent and rain gear, as needed. We seldom officially cancel trips; if the weather is bad (heavy rain) or dangerous (icy roads, severe storms) enough to warrant cancellation, we will send out an email notice the day before the trip.
Attendance Limits for Wheeler Trips: NABS now requires members to be on its email list to attend trips. This is the only good way we have to regulate trip attendance, which is necessary for some of our outings. For example, most of our Wheeler NWR trips involve travel into restricted areas (behind locked gates) of the Refuge, where vehicles are normally not allowed. When permission is granted for a group to go into restricted areas, the maximum number of vehicles allowed is 5, usually including a 15-person Refuge van. Minimum attendance required for a trip into restricted refuge areas is 8, with a limit of 20 attendees for NABS trips. For Refuge trips, on the week of each trip I’ll send out a reminder and you’ll need to let me know if you plan on attending. Some other trips may require carpooling to keep caravans to a manageable size (e.g., the Shoals, Guntersville).
Another thing that needs mentioning for this season is that Refuge facilities, roads, etc. are currently undergoing major renovations that may stretch well into 2023 and could affect some of our trips. This could result in the need to alter plans on short notice. We’ll keep you abreast of things as best we can.
*Finally, a note on COVID: We are required to follow CDC guidelines relative to covid when on Wheeler NWR. Given guidelines may change over time, I’ll be updating information in trip reminders, as needed. As of now masks won’t be needed outside. However, attendees should bring one, just in case, especially on Wheeler trips, given how crowded the carpooling may be, and that the Refuge may require mask wearing inside their van, depending on CDC guidance. Finally, those who are not vaccinated should not attend.