Alabama Brothers Redesign Family Farmstead Into An Apex Birdwatching Destination

By Candace Dantes

Christopher Joe, AL, wearing a blue t-shirt that says “Make Farming Great Again” and light blue jeans leaning on tractor equipment. Christopher Joe, AL, wearing a blue t-shirt that says “Make Farming Great Again” and light blue jeans leaning on tractor equipment.

One curates the farm experience. The other renders the moment from his canvas.

Brothers Christopher Joe, 39, and Timothy Joe, 41, are in the business of birdwatching – from a few creative lenses. “It’s therapeutic and really relaxing,” said Christopher, an early birder, professional wildlife photographer, and owner/operator of Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours LLC.. “This work on our family farm makes me whole.”

A profile photo of a type of brown crane sitting in water.

The Joe Farm hosts seasonal ag events. The Winter Birding Tour contributes to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count – the nation’s longest-running community science bird project. | Photo by Christopher Joe

Christopher launched his agritourism plan in 2018. A move to help sustain The Joe Farm, which is the sibling’s 200-acre Black Angus cattle operation in Newbern, Alabama. Nuzzled within America’s Black Belt Region. Six years later, Christopher’s land conservation playbook worked. Attracting world-traveling birders to the property. Earning a feature on National Geographic TV’s “Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper.”

In Cooper’s documentary, the lifelong birder and host of the show travels the United States to talk with experts like Christopher, who appears in Episode 6. Viewers can watch to understand the sentimental value of the farm and bird retreat that journeys back to the mid-1800s. The farm protects vintage homesteading structures, pastures as far as vision allows, and a charming creek. The farmstead is where a melange of main attraction birds – the Swallow-tailed Kite, Summer Tanager, and Wood Stork – vacay at the property throughout the year.

Interestingly, the official Alabama Ornithological Society state list documents 420 bird species. Up to 178 species are known breeders, including 158 species regularly breeding in the state. Around 174 species that regularly winter, and 80 species that migrate through “Alabama the Beautiful.” All to say: “We see and hear a lot from nature around here,” said Christopher, today a district conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Originating from agriculture, Christopher knee-jerk decided to major in it. The third-generation farmer earned an agribusiness management degree from Alabama A&M and set out to redesign ancestral land over time. His farm and birdwatching tour idea stuck, and local impact followed. Christopher helped increase Newbern’s travel and tourism footprint; introduce more youth to innovative land stewardship careers; and redefine what rural entrepreneurship is in a digital-driven economy. “I never knew birdwatching was such a big deal,” the agriculturalist said, “but with the variety that visit our farm, this agritourism opportunity just made sense.”

Timothy Joe, wearing a brown shirt standing behind a canvas stand painting bird life at The Joe Farm.

Self-taught visual artist Timothy Joe painting bird life at The Joe Farm.

And as the family’s feathered friends fly in and out of the area, Christopher’s older brother Timothy uses a combination of soft pastels, gouache, oils, and watercolors to seize these drumming, whistling, and chirping subjects. “I produce two-dimensional representational visual art,” said Timothy, who shares Christopher’s title as a third-generation Black Angus farmer, birdwatcher, and hiker. “The love for the outdoors comes natural to me.” Timothy’s credentials extend to self-taught artist and instructor. His first-ever canvas at age 4: grocery store paper bags he collected when the family lived in the rural town of Greensboro, Alabama.

A painting of an abandoned shed by Timothy M. Joe.

“The Abandoned Shed” by Timothy M. Joe.

The seasoned artist works full-time as a NASA employee in Huntsville. He teaches his art style both online and in person. “There’s so much beauty and craftsmanship in God’s creation that I cannot help but to document on canvas, panel, or my art journal,” Timothy said. He reserves an art journal solely for birds and nature with observation notes. When time permits, Timothy solo exhibits, gives art talks, performs live painting demos, and mentors up-and-coming artists across the Southeast. Often interworking his Alabama farming lifestyle, Deep South wildlife, rural landscapes, and Black Belt culture into his artwork.

A photo of Farmer and photographer Christopher Joe connecting with birds and nature tours.

Farmer and photographer Christopher Joe of Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours. | Photo of Christopher Joe by Candace Dantes

“The borders of what an artist can be is now limitless,” said Timothy. “It’s about creating what moves you, not chasing fads to increase your popularity and sales.” When Timothy reconnects with Christopher at the family farm, it’s time to bring out paintbrushes and binoculars. During 2019, Christopher invited birdwatchers nationwide to their Deep South destination. Timothy offered art walks that blended birding, nature conservation, and agriculture education about the land. Since then, annual foot traffic to The Joe Farm now reaches close to 500 guests, bright-eyed and binocular-strapped to participate in customized birding events.

A photo of a brown bird with a black stripe around its neck standing in the grass overlooking the water in the background.

Birdwatchers travel around the globe to view the farm’s fluttering attractions. | Photo by Christopher Joe

Hosting seven major tours each year, the brothers stay booked and busy. Timothy sells original handmade art, watercolor journals, and bird prints. Christopher guides tractor tours from his 18-foot trailer along 6-mile-long nature trails. Occasionally, he pit stops so guests can bird ID while he captures deep-focus, still-life photos of birds in action. “Our tours are literally for everyone,” Christopher said. “The trailer has a spring-loaded ramp for wheelchairs and other needed accommodations to explore bird life.” The first 2024 birding tour with the Joes is slated for Saturday, April 13.

Then, the biggest birding fair of the year takes place the first Saturday in August: Black Belt Birding Festival in Greensboro, Alabama. In partnership with Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours at The Joe Farm, the Alabama Audubon Festival celebrates a motley selection of bird populations, history, and culture from the region. Strengthening ecotourism in rural Alabama. “You don’t want to miss it,” Timothy said. “The rare Swallow-tailed Kite, along with the Mississippi Kite, can be seen at The Joe Farm. These specific birds migrate from as far South as locations like Central America.” For live bird updates and more avifauna art, follow Christopher @birdandnaturetours and Timothy @timothymjoeart on Instagram.

Woman wearing a black shirt and a black hat leaning against a fence with her hand on her hat, posing.

Photo by Tiffanie Page

About Justin’s contributing writer: Candace Dantes is a fourth-generation cowgirl and award-winning communicator based in the Georgia Black Belt Region. Currently, the print-to-digital journalist serves as communications director for national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro She previously served as a project manager of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant project and content creator for Wrangler.