Idle Hour Park once housed a zoo and an amusement park. With those endeavors now closed and evidence of their past existence (largely) removed, Idle Hour Park and Moon Lake now constitute one of the better birding locations in Phenix City. The park consists of two distinct units: Moon Lake with its surrounding walking path and thin woods and the Idle Hour Natural Area and its 1-mile walking trail through and beneath mature woods on the eastern side of the park.
The Moon Lake sector can be good for spotting wintering waterfowl when the park is otherwise relatively quiet. Look for diving ducks (Buffleheads, Ring-necked, Ruddy, and a few Canvasbacks) and for visiting geese to drop in on the resident herd of Canada Geese. The occasional Tundra swan may appear, as well. Rafts of Coots and Pied-billed Grebes are always present from November through February. Look for Belted Kingfishers perched near and flying over the water and for wading birds around the shoreline. Herons and egrets are most common in late summer and fall. Swallows and Purple Martins can be found easily from March through September.
The woods around the lake are not especially productive, though the mature pines on the northern side of the park do provide a home for a healthy population of Brown-headed Nuthatches. Pine Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, and Eastern Phoebes are always present here, and the understory often has Chipping Sparrows and juncos in the cooler months. Do bird the pine-forested ridge in spring and fall, as you can find migrants here, particularly after the passage of a weather front.
As the broad-paved path turns to the east, the woods thicken and the understory and midstory fill in. Look to the east for songbirds in the dense woods. This is the sort of habitat where White-eyed Vireos are found in the warm months and Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the cooler ones. Expect to see a broad variety of birds here. This is far and away the best edge habitat in the park. A little further ahead at the northeastern corner of the lake lies the entrance to the Idle Hour Natural Area. There is a 1-mile gravel walking trail that loops through this area. you should spot decent numbers of songbirds here. The loop is a good place to seek out migrant songbirds in spring and fall. Breeding birds feature Red-eyed Vireos, Summer Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and Great Crested Flycatchers.
The walking trails to the east of the Natural Area wind along under a canopy of mature trees, mixed hardwoods, and some pines. This may prove to be the best location in the park to spot migrants, as the thin mid-story and open understory allow good sightlines into the rich canopy.
For those birders in or near Phenix City, Idle Hour Park is a required stop. Remember that the park has different sectors: scanning the lake for waterfowl and waders takes only minutes, but the extensive trail system requires at least two full hours to explore completely.
GPS: N 32.498578 W -85.011481
Idle Hour Natural Park / Moon Lake Park
900 Airport Road
Phenix City AL 36867
Parks and Recreation (Mailing address)
1500 Airport Road
Phenix City, AL 36867
The park has a system of trails, some paved, others gravel. In addition to the trails, there are good access points to view the river in search of waders and waterfowl, particularly in winter months.
From the intersection of US-80 and US-431/280 in Phenix City (Russell County – food, fuel, lodging available) proceed north on US-431/280/80 for .8 miles, and merge right onto Phenix City North Bypass and continue for 1.1 miles. Take the Summerville Road exit and after a right at the exit, turn almost immediately left onto Airport Road. In .3 miles turn left on 13th Avenue, and the park is on the right.