by Paul H. Franklin
Sanders Ferry Road in Tuscaloosa County begins innocently enough. It appears to be nothing more than a suburban road and remains so for more than 2 miles. About ¾ of a mile after Sanders Ferry Road forks off from Black Warrior Road, habitat changes ensue, signaled by the presence of a small swamp on both sides of the road. In winter, this wetland attracts Song and Swamp sparrows and Winter Wrens. In the warm seasons, there are Common Yellowthroats, Prothonotary Warblers, and on the north side of the road, Swainson’s Warblers. Keep an eye out for interesting wading birds here, as well. Green Herons are regulars, and both night herons put in appearances from time to time.
After the wetlands, the south side of the road opens up into an extensive agricultural field and the road turns to red clay. The best places to park are the aprons around several oil derricks. On the south side of the road, expect to see meadowlarks, Field Sparrows, and from April through September, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and Dickcissels. Barn and Rough-winged swallows hawk insects over the fields, and Mississippi Kites, which nest nearby, may also be seen soaring over the fields during this period. From September through March, American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes are often seen perched on the power lines or hunting the fields. You can find Lark Sparrows in some years. Winter brings a number of sparrows: Savannah, Song, and Vesper in the fields. White-throated and a few White-crowned sparrows are found in the pine woods, along with Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and perhaps a few Palm and Orange-crowned warblers.
To the north side of the road, opposite the field, is a gorgeous stand of second-growth loblolly pines, with an understory of grasses, forbs, and shrubs. These woods are terrific for pinewoods and scrub birds. You’ll spot numerous Pine Warblers and Brown-headed Nuthatches. In the warmer months, expect to see Prairie Warblers, Chats, White-eyed Vireos, Field and Chipping sparrows, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, Northern Bobwhites, Wild Turkeys, and some Bachman’s Sparrows.
On the margins of the field and woods, look for Great Horned Owls, Chuck-will’s-widows, and American Woodcocks at dusk and beyond.
Retrace your steps on Sanders Ferry Road, and in approximately ¾ of a mile, turn right on Black Warrior Road. This stretch is rather heavily traveled, but there is considerable payoff for taking this fork. There is farm and field habitat in abundance, and a sod farm on the west side of the road. You will see numerous bluebirds, phoebes, and kingbirds in the fencerows and on the wires, a few Loggerhead Shrikes, and American Kestrels (mostly winter). Northern Harriers are present from October through April, and the sod farm often has sandpipers and plovers on the short grass and exposed mud. Look in the fencerows for Lark Sparrows, Dickcissels, and in migration, Bobolinks and Grasshopper Sparrows. The common hawk here is the Red-tailed.
Directions: From I-20/50 in Tuscaloosa County, take exit 68 (Fosters), and merge onto Joe Mallisham Parkway, headed north. In 1.9 miles, turn left (west) onto US 11/43, and in 1.2 miles turn right on 52nd Sreet. In .9 mile, turn left (west) onto Sanders Ferry Road. In approximately 2.5 miles, bear right at the fork to remain on Sanders Ferry Road.
GPS: 33.1645525 -87.6788507