ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Marc Parnell, an accomplished ornithologist, was born in Greenville, North Carolina, but flew that coop and now resides in Ohio. In February, Parnell released “Birds of Alabama,” one of many birding field guides he has in print.
’Birds of Alabama” offers a unique experience for beginners, intermediate and advanced birders with a bird identification system that Parnell created himself.
“My book ‘Birds of Alabama’ features a unique approach to bird identification that I came up with, a birding-by-comparison approach, and that is actually really helpful for novices and intermediates. What it does is it sorts all the most common birds in Alabama from largest to smallest, and it helps you identify birds that you haven’t seen before by comparing them to those which you already know,” said Parnell.
While field guides are a great asset for beginner and intermediate birders to use, Parnell believes his field guides also have something to offer for advanced birders like himself.
“There’s so much information in this guide that wouldn’t be in other field guides, and so much that’s specific to Alabama, so I think advanced birders who are interested in getting a more detailed or nuanced portrait of each individual species would also find it very worthwhile,” said Parnell.
Parnell offers an introductory look at what beginning birders need to get out into the field and start studying birds. He believes a pair of binoculars is one of the most important items in a birders toolkit and that it should be one of the first purchases for beginners.
“For someone who just bought my book, I have a really helpful introductory section in there that talks about what birding is and how to sort of get started. I’d say a good starting point would be to buy a budget pair of binoculars. They are really indispensable in the field, and given that most birds are somewhat skittish, they don’t allow you to come up and pet them, so to speak. Binoculars allow the birds to come closer to you without really actually being that close,” said Parnell.
Parnell has written field guides for states and cities, but he sees something special in Alabama and the Tennessee River Valley.
“Three points for me about Alabama that pop in my head would be, first of all, the Tennessee River and its tributaries, such as the Elk River. They offer numerous niche habitats for a variety of waterfowl. You’ll have deepwater areas in the center of the river channel, you’ll have marshes that have maybe some weedy growth on the edges, and then you’ll have wetlands adjacent to the river and small tributaries,” said Parnell. "This accommodates a wide variety of different feeding habits that different waters will have. So you’ll be able to see a wide variety of different species, and you don’t really get that in a lot of places in the country.”
Parnell discovered his love for birding as a child in North Carolina.
“I’ve been interested in wildlife and nature from a very young age. I remember from when I was 3 or 4 years old, I received my first field guide. It was actually a field guide to reptiles and amphibians. Soon after that, I was really quite in awe of the fact that there could be hundreds of different species of various animals in the 10 to 20 miles even just surrounding my house. So I went out and started exploring, and once I started really getting deeply entrenched in nature and hiking and just trying to observe what I could, I grew deeply captivated with birds and their gift of flights,” said Parnell.