The Robert F Henry Lock and Dam on the Alabama River in northern Lowndes County is an essential element of any birding trip that incorporates the area between Montgomery and Selma. The habitat features make the site important: there are extensive grassy meadows – old field habitat – that terminate in weedy slopes that extend to the banks of the Alabama River. The dam impounds deep water to the east and rocky shoals below the spillway. There is a copse of mature shade trees bisected by a jeep trail. The mix of habitats produces an enviable list of birds virtually all year.
The optimum season for the grassy fields is winter: sparrows can be abundant, with Savannah, Song, Vesper, and a few White-crowned and Fox for good measure. From spring through early fall, you can find Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings here. Field Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Loggerhead Shrikes are permanent breeding residents. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks and Great Horned Owls are present all year, and Barn Owls often hunt the fields in the dead of night. American Kestrels are common from September through March, and this is a good spot to look for Short-eared Owls in winter.
The shade trees host Eastern Kingbirds, Orchard Orioles, and Eastern Wood-Pewees in the warm months, robins and waxwings in the colder months. Eastern Bluebirds and Eastern Phoebes are permanent residents. These woods are your best bet for migrant songbirds in spring and fall.
Gulls – predominately Ring-billed –may be seen around the dam itself in winter. Osprey (mostly spring through fall) and Bald Eagles fish infrequently at and below the dam, and wading birds and dabbling ducks (primarily in winter) can be found on the rocky shoals and in the shallows below the dam. This is one of the better locations in the vicinity for seeing both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned night-herons.
The brushy banks between the open fields and the Alabama River are excellent for Indigo Buntings, Common Yellowthroats, Palm and Orange-crowned warblers (migration and winter) and wrens (look for Sedge Wrens in migration, Winter Wrens around the riprap at the river) and for Swamp and Song sparrows in the cooler months.
Despite the variety of birds and habitats found here, the Henry Dam site is relatively compact. Parking is provided, as are picnic tables and a portable toilet. Park in designated areas and walk the edges of the fields, down the jeep trail through the patch of mature hardwoods, and down the concrete steps to the river’s edge to see all the birds possible here. You will likely be finished in 2 hours or less.
Directions: From I-65 in south Montgomery, take exit 167 and follow US-80 W for approximately 30 miles, turning right (north) onto Benton Road. In 2.7 miles turn left (west) at the intersection with Jones Bluff Road. Drive .6 miles, turn left at the “T” intersection and follow to the Robert F Henry Lock & Dam (.7 miles). Note that the dam is about 2 miles from Prairie Creek Campground, also located by Jones Bluff Road (CR-40).
GPS: N 32.318944 W -86.784617
Robert F Henry Lock and Dam
Alabama River Lakes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)