One of the more interesting aspects of a birding trip to Rocky Branch Park is the drive in from AL 216 – the Old Birmingham Highway. Rocky Branch Road passes through acres of interesting second-growth habitat, with a good selection of birds. In the warm months, expect to see Chats, Prairie Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, White-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, and Gray Catbirds. Winter brings a mix of sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and possibly Palm and Orange-crowned warblers. Red-tailed Hawks, Field and Chipping sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Bobwhites, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Flickers, and American Goldfinches are present year-round.
Upon reaching the park, habitat diversity decreases dramatically. The park abuts Holt Lake, a deep-water impoundment on the Black Warrior River. The park itself is comprised of winding roads cutting through steep, wooded slopes. There is a bit of lake frontage from which you can scan the water for Belted Kingfishers, Bald Eagles, and Osprey over and around the lakefront. Look for waterfowl and perhaps a few gulls or a Forster’s Tern in winter. The woods are mature and dense. Exercise caution before birding from the edges of the winding roads. Expect to find a decent selection of woodpeckers, including Pileated and Hairy, and in the appropriate seasons, warblers, featuring Pine, but including Kentucky, Hooded, Black-and-white, and Worm-eating. Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and Yellow-throated Warblers are nesting species in the trees nearest the lake. Red-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos are found in the taller hardwoods. There are several miles of hiking trails to explore as well.
Otherwise, a general mix of woodland birds occurs here, with breeding birds including Summer Tanagers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Orchard Orioles.
Perhaps the best time of year for a visit to Rocky Branch is during migration. The combination of extensive scrub along the entrance road and the mature forest and the presence of water should attract an impressive number of species on a good spring or fall day.
GPS: 33.2729919 -87.4158324
US Army Corps of Engineers (Mailing address)
11911 Holt Lock and Dam Road
Cottondale , AL 35453
Much of the birding activity is found along the drive into the park, so birding from the passenger seat (and driver's seat with caution) is accessible. Restrooms provided are accessible. The trail into the woods is not accessible.
From I-20/59 in Tuscaloosa County, take exit 79 and merge onto US 11 N (University Boulevard east). In 2.9 miles, turn right on Prude Mill Road, then in .9 mile, turn left onto CR 32 (Keene’s Mill Road). In .5 mile, turn right onto AL 216 (Old Birmingham Highway). Follow CR 216 for 6.3 miles to the intersection with CR 132. Turn left on CR 132 (Rocky Branch Road), which leads to the park.
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