Fall migration is getting into full swing. There are many locations throughout Alabama that are genuine hotspots to watch as our feathered friends head south for winter. With 270 sites along all 8 of Alabama Birding Trails, what locations should you pick? While there are many more locations that you might find amazing, here are just a few of our favorites.
Cherokee Rock Village: With a vantage point overlooking Weiss Lake like this, you can’t beat the opportunity to do some hawk-watching. The ideal time to hawk-watch in Alabama is from mid-September through late November, but many of the raptors breed locally and soar over the ridge throughout much of the year. In addition to the great views of hawks, you’ll see spectacular views of the lake and all of the surrounding area–with lots of beautiful fall color.
Cheaha State Park: Use the well marked scenic pull-outs on the Talladega Scenic Drive on the way to the park to scan the skies for soaring hawks, especially in autumn. Mount Cheaha is Alabama’s highest point, and it is one of the southernmost locations to find a number of the state’s more interesting breeding birds, such as Blue-headed Vireos, Cedar Waxwings, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Additionally, Cheaha State Park is located in the middle of the Talladega National Forest so the area consists of vast tracts of undeveloped forested land, and these woodlands provide nesting and wintering habitat for a wide variety of birds, as well as providing corridors for spring and fall migrants.
The Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary consists of 164 acres of largely maritime pine forest with several miles of trails. It is one of the first areas of migrant bird landfall. Passerines prefer the oak grove of the old Banding Area to the extreme east end of the Campground Trail and the south boundary of the swamp along the Dune Edge Trail. Several of the trails lead to Gaillard Lake, in which may be seen a variety of turtles, occasionally an alligator and both passerine and wading species. Swainson’s Warbler is regularly found at the Banding Area and Black-whiskered Vireo may be found there occasionally. In addition, a Painted Redstart was seen here in spring 2011, which accounted for the second state record.
Bellingrath Gardens The entire 900-acre complex is a bird sanctuary and there is an observation tower overlooking the Fowl River and salt marsh. Although good year-round, birding potential for neotropical migrants increases during the spring and fall months. Cruises through the waters of the Fowl River aboard the Southern Belle are available March through November.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens: One of the best and most-visited sites for songbirds in the Birmingham area, particularly in spring and fall migration. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens should be high on the “must-see” list for anyone interested in birding in the Birmingham area. Concentrate on the more-natural northern end of the park, especially the Bog Gardens, the Kaul Wildflower Garden, the Fern Glade, and the paved trail loop that begins between the Wildflower Garden and the Fern Glade. The southern portion of the Alabama Woodlands trail and the Garden for Southern Living can also be rewarding.
Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge offers some of the best birding to be found in Alabama. The entire refuge is a patchwork of open fields, marshes, and impoundments bounded by Lake Eufaula to one side and mixed woods on the other. Begin your visit with the Wildlife Drive, which winds through pine woods, grassy fields, and marshy areas. Although parts of the Drive are closed in winter, it is good for waterfowl, sparrows, and raptors in winter, and grassland species and some waders in the warm months. The nearby Houston and Kennedy Units, composed of marshes and sloughs and the lake itself, can be accessed by foot or bicycle, and are first-rate for wetland songbirds and waders, including bitterns and waterfowl in winter.
Fort Morgan is a birding paradise. Many vagrant species find their way to this favorite birding spot, which can equal Dauphin Island in excitement. In fall, hundreds of migrating hawks can be seen moving west over the Fort. Winter produces many waterbirds and sparrows. There are restrooms at the ferry landing and at the museum, plus a snack bar at the ferry landing. Bird checklists are available at the museum.
Kymulga Grist Mill was built around 1860 for grinding both wheat and corn. The covered bridge, spanning Talladega Creek, was built the same year, The park is primarily a wooded area, with walking trails through the woods and along the creek. Protected from disturbance for more than 70 years, over twenty-five varieties of hardwood trees have been identified, including the largest Sugarberry tree in Alabama and the largest cluster of White Oak trees east of the Mississippi River. The park is a migrant magnet in spring and fall. Work the stream and the adjacent woodland trails in the early morning and late afternoon, when bird activity is at its peak and when migrants are arriving or departing.
These are just some of the locations along the eight Alabama Birding Trails that should get you excited for fall and grabbing your binoculars! For some of the best birding hotspots during different seasons, be sure to read our “Birding Hotspots” article. Now get out there and enjoy Outdoor Alabama!