By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

As if on cue, a majestic bald eagle soared in the brisk wind above the 5 Rivers Delta Center Saturday as the participants of the Beyond BOW event gathered to share a meal at the outdoor pavilions.
The eagle sighting kicked off an afternoon of learning and adventure for 35 ladies who signed up for classes to hone outdoors skills or teach them new ones.The regular Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) events occur each spring and fall at the Alabama 4-H Center near Columbiana.
The regular BOW eventis a three-day workshop packed full of opportunities to learn about the outdoors in a fun, non-threatening environment. The workshop, designed for women ages 18 years or older, offers hands-on instruction in courses that include backyard wildlife, rock climbing, camp cooking, map and compass, camping, mountain biking, shooting sports (pistol, rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, as well as gun safety), fishing, hunting, canoeing, nature photography, nature crafts, archery, ATV handling, bird watching, motor boat handling, and more.The Beyond BOW events are mini versions of the regular event that can be held in different parts of the state that have certain facilities.
The one at 5 Rivers Delta Center in Spanish Fort included kayak fishing, bird watching and nature photography. A beekeeping course was originally scheduled but had to be cancelled.While some of the ladies had been in kayaks before, there were a few newcomers to the sport, including Nancy Williams of Theodore. She took advantage of the guidance and tutelage of about a half-dozen members of the Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association to paddle her first kayak.“My husband and I have a canoe, and we have taken a canoe trip,” Williams said. “
My son just bought a kayak. I have never had the opportunity to experience a kayak, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn from the teachers here.“It was a little windy, but it was still a lot of fun. It also gave me more experience under those conditions under the watchful eyes of the teachers. Now I can bring my husband, and we can get in the canoe and paddle the Delta. He’s wanted to do that for some time now.”Williams said the fact that 5 Rivers is smack dab in the middle of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s vast biodiversity gave a little bit of pause.“The hardest part was getting over the fear and getting into a kayak with an alligator next to you,” she laughed. “But it was a beautiful experience. The alligators were swimming around quite a bit when we were paddling into one of the bayous.”
While most of the ladies were from south Alabama, there was one person who traveled quite a distance to participate. Kathy Watts of Vidalia, Ga., said a friend from Alabama (Margaret Hines) convinced her to try a BOW event.“
She had been telling me about the BOW classes and how great they were,” said Watts, who caught a largemouth bass during the outing. “I’ve had a kayak for about a year, but I wanted to learn how to fish out of it. I learned how to set it in the wind so you can maneuver in the boat. And you can maneuver into places that you can’t get with a fishing boat.“
It was just so much fun because you’re right there with the fish. And the fish I caught actually tugged the boat and pulled me with him a little bit. I can’t imagine catching a big redfish because it would have dragged me all over that bayou.”
Watts said everything Hines told her about the BOW experience was true.“It’s just been totally fun,” Watts said. “No. 1 was the friendliness of the people, from the time Sylvia (Payne, BOW coordinator) greeted us when we walked in the door, to all the women who have done BOW events before. They’re like a big family. Having never been around them at all, I feel like I’m leaving with friends.”
Connie Easterling of Mobile was also intrigued about the BOW adventure and the Beyond BOW event fit her needs perfectly. She was interested in the bird-watching class.“ I had a friend who did the three-day event a couple of years ago and she said how much she enjoyed it,” Easterling said. “I checked into it, but I wasn’t able to be away that long. I’d never really done any bird-watching before other than what came in my yard or the egrets along the creek.“ Joel (Borden) was an excellent instructor. He taught about the birds in the area. We listened to different calls. We learned how to identify some of the birds. We saw a bald eagle when we got here. Then we saw an osprey, red-winged blackbirds, different types of sparrows and bluebirds. We saw frogs, lizards and wildflowers, too.”
Easterling also said that while many ladies come with friends, it certainly isn’t necessary.“Some people wait until they can have a friend come with them instead of stepping out on their own,” she said. “I recommend you just come alone, because you will make friends. If you don’t have a group, just come alone.”
Susan Lee of Fairhope said the cancellation of the beekeeping class turned out to be an unexpected blessing. She instead went to the nature photography class conducted by Billy Pope, Outdoor Alabama’s staff photographer.“I had originally signed up for beekeeping, but the photography class was so incredible,” Lee said. “Billy made it easy to understand. You didn’t feel inadequate because you didn’t know the information. I’m glad the other class didn’t work out, because I’ve had this really nice Nikon, but I really didn’t know how to use it because I didn’t understand the manual settings. It was foreign language, basically. I looked at my pictures after we got back, and I was able to get what I was trying to shoot. This was well worth the money.”
One particular log in the middle of 5 Rivers was loaded with shelf fungi, which made perfect subjects for the photography lessons.“I got a couple of shots of the fungi that turned out really well,” Lee said. “It was a study in how I could manipulate positions and camera settings to get a certain picture. When the light got more intense, I had to change this or that to get more color to come out of the fungus. That was really a big study for me, but it started to make sense. It started clicking.“
I used to wonder why I couldn’t shoot a good picture of a sunrise or a sunset. I’d have these streaks or whatever. Now I understand why I couldn’t take those pictures. I didn’t have the settings correct. Now I can do that. I’m an outdoors person and love to take pictures. Now I can go another step and take the photographs I wanted to originally, where I’m in control and not the camera. Now I know the difference.”As the ladies gathered to wrap up the day in the Delta, there was one overwhelming question:“Can we do this again – tomorrow?”
PHOTOS: (By DAVID RAINER) With the Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association’s assistance, the women involved in the Beyond BOW event at 5 Rivers Delta Center got a chance to paddle and fish parts of the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Danny Adkins, president of the MBKFA, gives a lesson in tying fishing knots before the ladies launched the kayaks. Outdoor Alabama photographer Billy Pope gives the women signed up for the nature photography class a lesson in changing light with a diffuser to enhance the photo. Shelf fungi on a downed log were used as a close-up subject for several of the ladies.