by Paul H. Franklin
Aldridge Gardens is a 30-acre former private home, lake, gardens, and grounds, conveyed to the city of Hoover in 1997 and converted to use as a botanical garden. It features an abundance of Snowflake hydrangeas – a selected variation of the state’s official wildflower, the Oak-leaded hydrangea. Don’t rush through the parking lot. A lot of birds occur here. From October-April, the trees in the parking lot may have hordes of Cedar Waxwings, juncos, “Myrtle” Warblers, and maybe some Purple Finches or Pine Siskins. Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Northern Cardinals, and Blue Jays are common permanent residents. Inside the gates, the property features a mature canopy consisting of many large Loblolly pines and an assortment of oaks and other hardwoods. Nuthatches and woodpeckers (including Pileated) are common to fairly common throughout the Gardens.
Walk the paths around the front portion of the property. The best time for serious birding attention here is during migration, particularly after the passage of a low-pressure weather front, as low pressure and precipitation tend to cause migratory birds to take refuge in substantial woodlots, like Aldridge Gardens. The Aldridge family’s former home is in the center of the property. There are restrooms and a limited vending here. Beyond the home is an attractive lake, circled by walking trails. To the left (north) of the home are a couple of small man-made waterfalls. Cute, and they may attract birds to drink and bathe, particularly in dry weather. Continue the north portion of the loop and pass into the natural area. This is the best area for birding in the Gardens. Work the unpaved paths and for warblers, wrens, and sparrows in the scrubby second-growth nearest the path. This is an excellent spot for Palm and Orange-crowned Warblers in migration and (occasionally) in winter. Grey Catbirds and Eastern Towhees are permanent and conspicuous in this part of the property. Eastern Bluebirds are especially common here. The tree line to the back of the natural area can be very productive, both for resident birds and migrants. At the end of the natural area, walk up a small incline and scan the lake for swallows and martins in the warmer months, or the occasional duck, grebe, and coot in the colder months. Down the hill to the east is a grassy, weedy area for the lake’s overflow. This grassy area and the trees beyond it can be quite birdy. The trees tend to have breeding Yellow-billed cuckoos from spring-fall.
Continuing the loop around the lake, the path enters into a hardwood upland area. Although this area has not been as productive as other portions of the property, keep your eyes open. As you approach the main home, there is a boat house that always has Eastern phoebes in residence.
There are several forks and options on the trail system. Spend time and explore. Wander and wonder at the density of the birdlife here. Aldridge Gardens is a bird-rich site that should only improve in the numbers and variety of birds present over the coming years as more planting takes place and as the habitat continues to mature and naturalize.
Directions: From I-65 and I-459 in Hoover, AL (Jefferson County), take I-459 west to exit 13B. Bear right at the exit onto US 31. IN .4 mile, turn right onto Municipal Drive. In .6 mile, turn right (south) onto Lorna Rd. Turn left (east) in .3 mile into the Aldridge Gardens parking lot.
There is abundant dining, lodging and shopping in the vicinity.
GPS: N 33.386563 W 86.794782
Aldridge Botanical Gardens
3530 Lorna Road
Hoover, AL 35216