James D Martin Heronry Overlook

Appalachian Highlands | Etowah | Best Seasons: Spring, Winter

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The James D Martin Heronry Overlook provides a rare opportunity to observe an active heron rookery, without risking disturbance to the colony.  Located at the southernmost edge of James D. Martin Wildlife Park, the heronry is protected from disturbance by its location on a small island in an extensive backwater of Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River, despite its proximity to I-759 and Gadsden Mall.  Dozens of Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets are present on their nests from March through late May or early June. After that, the heavy traffic of adult herons bringing food to their older nestlings adds additional interest for the rest of June and early July.

Black-crowned Night Herons and Double-crested Cormorants also nest on the island in smaller numbers. Green Herons nest in good numbers in the dense thickets along the shoreline.  A sandbar at the southern end of the island plays host to a few shorebirds in addition to the Herons. During migration and late winter, watch for loafing gulls and terns here. Dabbling ducks, such as Gadwalls, and Northern Shovelers may be present in the shallows around the island. Outside the nesting season, the trees serve as roosts for Cormorants and hunting perches for the occasional Bald Eagle.

The Overlook is situated on the shoreline at the southernmost point of the lake, and is accessed from the Mall Parking lot.  A short walk across the grass takes you to the best vantage point, beneath the canopy of a large oak tree on the shore, which provides welcome shade in warm weather. With or without a spotting scope, this vantage point provides an endlessly fascinating opportunity to observe the nesting behavior of these normally wary birds.  Additional birding opportunities are offered by the thick tangle of vegetation to the left of the overlook, which often conceals Green Herons as well as a variety of songbirds.

Directions: From I-59 near Gadsden (Etowah County), take exit 182 onto I-759 East. Remain on I-759 for 5.5 miles, taking exit 4B to US 411 N. From US 411, pass the entrance to westbound I-759 and turn left into the Gadsden Mall. Follow to the left to reach the SW corner of the mall’s parking lot, and walk to the water’s edge to see the heronry on the large island to the lake.

GPS: N 33.992726  W -86.011151

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