by Paul H. Franklin
Alabama’s burgeoning catfish industry carpets Hale County with a vast number of shallow ponds. And that multitude of ponds presents a vast amount of perfect habitat for some very interesting birds. Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Belted Kingfishers are present all year. Beginning in March, Purple Martins, Barn Swallows, and now Cliff Swallows arrive as nesting species; Tree and Bank swallows are spring and fall migrants here.
When ponds are dry or water levels low enough to expose significant banks, shorebirds can be found in any season, though most common in spring and fall. White-rumped Sandpipers are a specialty in late May to early June. When shorebirds are present, look for Peregrine Falcons. Black Terns are impressive to watch as migrants in late summer. From late June through fall, long-legged waders become abundant – Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, Cattle Egrets, and especially Wood Storks. A few pairs of Least Bitterns nest in areas where there is significant vegetation, particularly cattails, at the pond edges.
Winter brings a variety of sparrows – Savannah, Song, Swamp, perhaps Lincoln’s or a rare LeConte’s — along with House and Winter wrens, Wilson’s Snipe, American Pipits, and perhaps Rusty Blackbirds on the margins.
More types of birds can be found on fences and in fields near the ponds. Expect to see Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Dickcissels, Lark Sparrows, Loggerhead Shrikes, and rarely, Grasshopper Sparrows. In winter, kestrels are found on the power wires and on snags, and Northern Harriers course the fields and pond edges. In the croplands near the ponds, expect to spot Vesper Sparrows in and around the short-grass or plowed fields.
Some advice: There are three major north-south roads here and several east-west roads. Move around; try several ponds. Keep in mind that these ponds are private property; do not trespass, and never impede the operations. Most owners and catfish farm personnel are very pleasant and helpful. Please be likewise: a little consideration and respect goes a long way toward a pleasant experience.
From Greensboro in Hale County (fuel, food and lodging available), proceed south. There are three primary southbound state highways (AL 69, AL 25, and AL 61) from Greensboro. Any of these will pass by numerous catfish farms.
GPS: 32.565709 -87.5989846