Fall means football for many Alabamians. There’s another recreation, however, that makes Alabama the place to be in September and October.
Approximately 600,000 resident birdwatchers and birders, plus more visiting the state, will be following hundreds of species traveling through Alabama on their way to South and Central America for the winter.
This time of year, birders track weather forecasts for conditions favorable to movement of warblers, flycatchers, vireos, buntings, and many other species passing through Alabama for just a short time. This is also the season when birdwatchers are loading feeders in hopes of attracting migrating visitors to their backyards. Birdwatchers buying seed and suet together with birders purchasing equipment and paying for travel spend more money on their recreation than any other group excluding hunters.
From the migrating bird’s eye view, the 48,000 acres of land and water in Alabama’s state parks offer habitat—and food-rich landscapes important to their journey south. Email alerts began within the past few weeks as migrating songbirds arrived in Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham and other large tracts of undeveloped land. If it’s not raining, you’re likely to see someone wearing binoculars in any of our state parks over the next several weeks as they try to add new birds to their life list.
Because we live is such a biodiverse state, we’re fortunate that some migrating birds stay in Alabama for the winter along with our resident or year-round birds. If you’ve never visited Lake Guntersville Park to see bald eagles soaring overhead on a brisk winter morning, add it to your bucket list. If you’ve never watched a wobbly juvenile osprey atop a five-foot-wide nest, call the Gulf State Park Nature Center for the nature walk schedule. And, if you’ve never sat on top of one of the magnificent rock formations in Desoto State Park to listen to rustling leaves and pileated woodpeckers in the distance, make your reservation now.
We’re lucky to have state parks located near where we live, work and play, but also in differing habitats important to birds and other wildlife. The land and water we share with wildlife in Alabama’s parks are a great illustration of the important connection between conservation and recreation.
Birders are among the four to five million users who pay fees each year that provide 80 percent of the funding needed to operate Alabama state parks. This funding should continue to be dedicated to our parks ensuring our access to recreation and continued investment in conservation. Amendment 2 will ensure that the money earned by state parks is used to operate state parks.
On Election Day, I’ll be taking the sidewalk into my neighborhood community center but in my mind I’ll be walking my favorite state park trail as I vote yes for Amendment 2. A word of warning to anyone that may be following me—I’ll be looking for red-headed woodpeckers and nuthatches as I enter the building. Just ignore me and walk around. Or join me. We’ll have plenty of time before the polling place closes.