Birding on the Baileys
“I was never the same after seeing that bird…It’s not easy to explain, but you can almost feel something shift in your guts after seeing a bird like that for the first time, like you will be drawn to see as many sights like it as you possibly can for the rest of your life.”
As the popularity of the Baileys grows, so do the countless activities one can enjoy on the trails. Located in the heart of the Wayne National Forest, the Baileys Trail System has no shortage of beautiful wildlife certain to take visitors’ breath away. The Wayne’s NatureWatch program, for example, is specifically dedicated to the viewing and conservation of plants and animals in our area. With the promise of abundant fauna and flora to be found in the Baileys, yet another group arises to bring tourists to the trails: bird-watchers. Birders come in search of the many species of majestic birds that take flight in the rolling treetops of the Baileys Trail System.
The birding community is a vast community of people across the globe who come together to share their passion. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, about 50% of Americans consider themselves to be bird-watchers, comprising an industry worth a staggering $41 billion annually. Growing the birding community in Athens would bring countless tourists and increased business to Southeast Ohio.
Joe Brehm, Director of Rural Action’s Environmental Education program, stresses the importance of wildlife and birding in the community. Recounting the story of the moment he fell in love with birding while on a canoe trip down the Missouri River, the vivid colors of a Bullock’s Oriole flashed before him. “I was never the same after seeing that bird…It’s not easy to explain, but you can almost feel something shift in your guts after seeing a bird like that for the first time, like you will be drawn to see as many sights like it as you possibly can for the rest of your life.” Brehm, and others like him, are lured by the surprise in store for bird-watchers, explaining, “You never know what you’re going to see out there, which is why birding is exciting every single time.” While hiking the Baileys Trails throughout the year, Joe has noted countless species of birds, including Blackburnian Warbler, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. Even in the otherwise dreary winter months, birds light up the trails with their colors and songs. Brehm has noted iconic species such as Dark-Eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler!
Another dedicated birder from Athens, Nandini Stockton, has quite the unique definition for bird-watching. She describes birding as “an activity about being present, listening and observing, leaving the chaos of the human experience and coming back to nature and focusing on these beautiful and cheerful little feathered gifts.” She stresses that birding truly has something for everyone, whether one chooses to focus on the beauty of nature itself, or the scientific aspects like data collection, species present, or migration patterns of the various populations. This is especially true for bird-watching on the Baileys because, as Stockton explains, “The Baileys Trail System is nice because it takes you through a variety of habitats and it’s a great way to connect people to nature in a variety of ways.” Much like Brehm, Stockton expresses excitement in the influx of birders traveling to the Baileys. “I immediately share the info with other birders who will race from whatever they are doing to get a glimpse or hear the voice of this rare gem in our area,” she said.
Casual bird watchers, too, are also coming to the Baileys to see the sights it has to offer. Lindsay Rist, a nature lover and conservationist describes the Baileys as “a great resource to get people connected with nature,” and hopes it will give people a better understanding of the wildlife that shares space with humans. Rist raves about her experience at the Baileys Trail System, where she spotted one of her favorite birds, the Scarlet Tanager, while jogging with a friend. “We got a great look at it, even without binoculars. It felt like the bird was showing off for us. We were both so excited, and it was cool to share that experience with her.” Rist, feeling that more locals might appreciate the beauty of birds in Ohio, started her own group–Women’s Birding Basics. She expected a small response, but was overwhelmed when more than 25 women agreed to meet with her to talk birds. Her goal for the group is for members to gain the confidence to go out and explore on their own in search of birds, and she believes the Baileys will be an excellent asset for them.
The bird-watching community is a unified group of people who come together to share a passion–whether they are casual birders or experts, everyone has a place. With the biodiversity at the Baileys, and dedicated birders working to bring new members to the art of bird-watching, the trail system is sure to bring an influx of travelers from all over the country to discover the majestic and beautiful feathered friends that inhabit the green forests and wetlands of Southeast Ohio.
Written by Alexis Medley
Featured Image, Scarlet Tanager, Courtesy Nandini Stockton