Neely Henry Dam on the Coosa River offers great opportunities to observe a variety of water-loving birds. Winter brings gulls (mostly Ring-billed, some Bonaparte’s and Herring, rarely Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed, etc.) and a few Forster’s Terns, primarily over the deep waters above the dam. Colonies of Barn Swallows and Cliff Swallows build their mud nests on the dam structure, and activity is intense from late March to September. This is also a peak time to observe large numbers of wading birds. A nesting colony of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets is shared by a sizable number of nesting Black-crowned Night-Herons. Green Herons are local breeders here as well. Late summer may offer sightings of Little Blue Herons, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, dispersed from their nesting territories after the breeding season. A few shorebirds may appear in the shallows in spring, late summer, and fall, joining the ubiquitous Killdeer. Osprey put in regular appearances from late March to early November. Belted Kingfishers are permanent, though most numerous in the colder months.
There is a small trail that leads south from the parking area. It provides a look into some shrubby edge habitat and is productive for Song and Field Sparrows throughout the year. Indigo Buntings, White-eyed Vireos, Hooded Warblers, Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and others appear in the warmer seasons. Wood Thrushes, Summer Tanagers, and Kentucky Warblers call from the deeper woods, and Yellow-breasted Chats and Common Yellowthroats are regular sights here.
Return to Highway 144, turn right (east) and follow across the dam (there is absolutely NO safe pullout here) to the first right turn. This paved road dead-ends at a security gate. Along the way, you will pass an expanse of short-grass with scattered pines. Chipping Sparrows, Pine Warblers, and Brown-headed Nuthatches are common in and near the pines. Look for pipits and (rarely) Horned Larks in winter, with the possibility of spotting a few shorebirds around water in migration.
GPS: 33.7843409 -86.0525796
From I-20 in Talladega County, take exit 168 (Lincoln/Talladega [fuel, food, lodging available]) onto AL 77 N. Follow AL 77 for approximately 14.5 miles, turning left (W) onto AL 144 in St. Clair County. The dam is 1.2 miles ahead. The road to the parking lot for the observation area is .1 mile ahead on the left (S).
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