Gunter Hill Park and Campground lies just 15 minutes and a world away from I-65 and the bustle of downtown Montgomery. At Gunter Hill, paved roads lead serenely through tall pines and mature hardwoods draped with Spanish moss, terminating at the banks of Catoma Creek, a backwater of the Alabama River. The entrance road is bordered by a thicket to the north (right) and an open area with a few tall pines on the left. The sightlines are excellent on both sides, though the thicket houses far more birds. This is a good place to see kinglets, Catbirds, and Palm Warblers in the cool months, and White-eyed Vireos, Chats, and Indigo Buntings in the warmer months. Towhees and Field Sparrows are constant residents. Look for Common Ground-Doves at the edges and in clearings.
After passing the gatehouse at the main entrance, the park road forks, offering two loops: the Antioch and Catoma loops. The Antioch Loop is a relatively direct path to the river, the paved park road passes beneath a canopy of mature pines and bottomland hardwoods. The understory is moderately thick, apart from one open patch to the right (east) almost immediately after passing the gatehouse. This area and the open field beyond are the best locations for Northern Bobwhites; look for Wild Turkeys in the early mornings and late afternoons. You may see soaring hawks and vultures over the fields, as well. After passing the open woods, the woods thicken, and shortly you’ll see picnic areas and camping slips. There are numerous species of warblers and vireos in the woodlands here, as well as Summer Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and Great Crested Flycatchers.
To the right, find access points to view the water. There may be kingfishers and wading birds at any time of the year, and a few ducks, coots, and grebes may be seen here in the fall and winter. The road terminates on the banks of the Alabama. There is an excellent overlook here among the picnic tables, providing nifty views of a shallow backwater, where waders and “tip-up” ducks (in season) can be numerous. The woods are a good location for breeding bottomland songbirds – Northern Parulas, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Look for Winter Wrens near fallen timber and in brush piles in the cool months.
Go back toward the entrance and take the Catoma Loop for a different experience. Park to the side of the road near the bridge and check the trees and the water below for Acadian Flycatchers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Swainson’s Warblers. Drive on and you’ll find a dirt road intersecting the paved road. Walk the path of the dirt road to see Indigo Buntings, Field and Chipping sparrows (and others in winter). The paved road continues to the south and southwest, providing excellent views into the bottomland woods along both sides of the road. Good songbirds abound here, and watch for turkeys early and late in the day. You might even stumble upon Eastern Screech-owls and Barred Owls.
The road leads to a large open campground area. There is a meeting facility ahead on the right. If you follow the road to the right, another bridge affords more chances to spot Eastern Phoebes, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Acadian Flycatchers, and American Redstarts. To the left (north) is a good view of the Catoma Creek. The park road winds through the campground. The pines here are replete with Pine Warblers and Brown-headed Nuthatches all year, and many Yellow-throated Warblers in spring and summer. Sparrows appear in the cooler months to join the resident Eastern Bluebirds, Carolina Wrens, and Brown Thrashers as they forage around the campsites.
The north portion of the Catoma Loop follows a bluff overlooking Catoma Creek, and there are several spots to pull off the road, park, and survey the river for waterfowl, Ospreys, gulls, and the like in their appropriate season. The woods to the south side of the campground are productive for a good woodland mix of birds. Look for Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes in the coldest months and White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed vireos from spring through fall. This is yet another strong spot for migrant songbirds – much cover and abundant food.
Gunter Hill Park is one of the state’s undiscovered gems. The park is fully staffed and well-maintained. The level of birding is very good on all but the hottest days of summer, and a half day here should produce an impressive list of species for birders of any skill level. This must-see site is only minutes away from I-65 and close enough to Montgomery to ensure adequate amenities for any visitor needs.
Directions: From I-65 in south Montgomery, take exit 168 and follow West South Boulevard westward for .5 miles, then West Boulevard for a further 2.1 miles. Turn left at Ashley Road, and in .7 miles turn left again onto Old Selma Road. Stay on Old Selma Road for 4.3 miles, turning right at Booth Road (CR-7) at the sign for Gunter Hill Park. The park entrance is on the left in .6 miles.
GPS: N 32.358811 W -86.454819
Gunter Hill Park
561 Booth Road
Montgomery, AL 36108