by Judy and Don Self
Alabama birders have long enjoyed birding the Jackson Water Treatment Ponds (see page 65 of A Birder’s Guide to Alabama, Porter editor, 2001). But we only recently stumbled upon two additional gems located just 3.5 miles to the west of the treatment ponds. Parker Lake and Kimbell Lake are owned by the City of Jackson and provide public access to some of the finest bald cypress and tupelo swamp habitat in the area.
Directions to Parker Lake: From the intersection of US Highway 43 (mile marker 59.6) and Alabama Highway 177 in Jackson go 1.1 miles south on Alabama 177, turn right onto the unpaved road after the Parker Lake RV Park sign, go past the RV park and through the gate to the parking area at the boat ramp.
Description: Birding around the RV parks and boat ramps in the spring and early summer can be productive, but canoeing or kayaking these lakes will introduce the birder/naturalist to a habitat that most folks never get to visit. Paddle slowly though the twilight of the dense tupelo and bald cypress swamps that surround these lakes and you’ll hear the distinctive songs of Great Crested Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Parulas, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers and Common Yellowthroats.
During the nesting season, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers fill the air with a cacophony of calls and drumming. Barred Owls, with their “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” call, may be heard at any time of the day. And be sure to listen for the distinctive two-syllable “Na-ha” call of the Fish Crow.
Great Egrets and Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, on the other hand, perch quietly on the weathered stumps and snags of ancient cypress uttering their raucous calls only when your approach forces them to take flight.
Red-shouldered Hawks and Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites may be seen soaring above the lake or foraging for insects and lizards in the tree tops. While a variety of butterflies, dragonflies, turtles and even alligators are fond of sunning themselves on the roots and buttresses of the trees.
During winter, spring and early summer, it is possible to canoe/kayak from Parker Lake to Kimbell Lake and other smaller lakes. In late summer and fall and during periods of drought, this may not be possible. The maze of interconnected lakes can be tricky to navigate, especially on cloudy days. A compass or GPS is recommended for those who want to explore the more remote areas.
Directions to Kimbell Lake: From Parker Lake, return to Alabama Highway 177, turn right (south) and go 0.6, right onto the unpaved road after the Kimbell Lake RV Park sign, go 100 feet and turn right into the RV park. Access to Kimbell Lake is at the back of the RV park.
Parker and Kimbell Lake Access: Free, open from 6:00 am until dusk
Parker Lake N 31° 30.675’ / W 87° 55.164’
Kimbell Lake N 31°30.334’ / W 87° 54.777’
Contact: City of Jackson Parks and Recreation
PO Box 1096
Jackson, AL 36545
Amenities: Parking, Camping (RV hook-ups), Canoeing, Fishing
Directions to Jackson Water Treatment Ponds: From the intersection of US Highway 43 (mile marker 59.6) and Alabama Highway 177in Jackson go 1.8 miles south on Alabama 177 to its intersection with Clarke County Road 15 (Depot Road), turn right (south) onto Clarke 15 and go 1.5 miles to the intersection with Clarke County Road 2 (Gainestown Road), turn left (east) on Clarke 2 and go 0.2 miles. The water treatment ponds and unpaved parking area are on the left (north) side of the road.
Description: The ponds are surrounded by a tall chain link fence and a spotting scope is recommended though not a necessity. Purple Gallinules, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons and Wood Ducks are regulars along the dikes separating the ponds. Watch the willows in the southern pond for Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Black Terns and Swallow-tailed Kites may be present in late summer. American Bitterns are winter residents. During migration, all of the eastern species of swallows are reported to visit these ponds.
Water Treatment Ponds Access: Free
GPS Coordinates: N 31° 29.406’ / W 87° 52.785’
Amenities: Handicap access, Parking