by Paul H. Franklin
Foster Loop Road in Tuscaloosa County is a mixture of paved and dirt road that terminates at US 43/11. The visitor will see farm and field habitat, roadside scrub, the bridgework below I-20/59, pine plantations, croplands, open mature pinewoods with Bracken fern understory, a wetland with a dark, dense understory, a thick Cypress and cattail swamp, clear-cut with scattered oil derricks, mixed all-age woods, a Cypress swamp/lake, and rural private yards. A tremendously varied bird list naturally follows this almost infinite variety of habitats. You just have to see it for yourself.
The road begins innocently enough. There are power trails, then open, plowed croplands. Indigo Buntings, Gray Catbirds, and White-eyed Vireos (spring to fall) are abundant along the edges. Numerous Palm Warblers are present in late fall and some linger through the winter. Eastern Towhees, Carolina Wrens, Brown Thrashers, and bluebirds are also present in good numbers here, as well as wherever similar habitat is found along the loop. The open fields are hunted by Red-tailed Hawks throughout the year, Mississippi Kites from April to August, and Northern Harriers and American Kestrels from September to March. The open fields are hunted by Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls at night. Note the irrigation rigs in the fields. When they are in use, wet areas form in the fields and shorebirds may be found frequenting these wet spots. In summer, Mississippi Kites often congregate here, soaring and sailing over the fields in groups. They can put on a show for onlookers when the fields are being harvested as they dive after prey stirred up by the machinery below.
The loop road passes beneath I-59/20. There is a successful Cliff Swallow colony under the overpass. Look for the clay jug nests – some quite low – on the support structures of the overpass. The nests are active from late March through early June, and the birds linger in the area until August.
The fields are soon bounded by more open scrub. Expect to see Prairie Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, towhees, Field Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, buntings, and White-eyed Vireos. Eastern Kingbirds and shrikes are found in the fencerows here. Soon, a cornfield appears on the right side of the road. After the harvest in the fall, this is a good area for Bobwhites and Wild Turkeys.
Pass through a pine forest – Pine Warblers and Brown-headed Nuthatches are common here, along with Red-headed Woodpeckers. Proceed toward a dense wetland on the left side of the road. Swainson’s Warblers breed here, though sight lines are poor. American Bitterns have been seen in this wetland.
Next up on the loop is a more open Cypress swamp. The swamp is present on both sides of the road, though viewing is easier to the west (right). Prothonotary Warblers are generally present and active both low and very close to the road from early April through September, as are Orchard Orioles. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Common Yellowthroats are here all year, albeit in small numbers in winter, and in winter look for Winter Wrens and Swamp and Song sparrows.
The road continues through both pine and mixed hardwood forests. The general mix of woodland songbirds is present, plus six species of woodpeckers – all but the Red-cockaded. Note that Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are absent from May through early September.
Follow the loop; whenever there is an option, the loop road is the right turn. Eventually, Cypress Lake is visible (though due to the thick roadside vegetation, only somewhat or slightly so by late spring through early fall). The lake attracts Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets throughout the year. Look for an assortment of waterfowl – ducks, Pied-billed Grebes, and coots – mostly in winter. Scan for Wood Storks and other waders, particularly in summer and fall. Red-shouldered is the common hawk here, and you can find them year-round.
After Cypress Lake, the fireworks are almost over. After another right, Foster Loop Road continues through a community of small individual homes on half-acre to slightly larger lots. The scattered shade trees here have a mix of the usual suburban songbirds (cardinals, Blue Jays, Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, mockingbirds, chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Brown Thrashers, etc.)
The Loop Road then rejoins US 43/11. Sanders Ferry Road is just 5 minutes away to the right if more nearby birding is desired, and I-59/20 is less than 5 minutes away to the left.
Directions: From I-20/59 exit 71 in Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County, ample visitor services available,) proceed west on I-20/59 for 9.3 miles to exit 62 (Fosters). Exit right (NW) onto CR 10 and follow for .6 mile to the traffic light and service station. Turn right onto US 11/43 and continue 1.9 miles. Turn right on Foster Loop Road.
GPS: 33.1144207 -87.66420