The Walter F. George Lock and Dam is a vast reservation offering a sampler of southeast Alabama birding habitats at several different locations. There is the Lock and Dam complex at the Georgia state line, with deep water for winter birds and a sod farm next door for shorebirds – the best such site in the Wiregrass region. Then there are four additional recreation areas, all open woods with water frontage, for woodland songbirds and a few waders. Add in the farm and field habitat along the drive from Eufaula and this adds up to over 25 miles of interesting and diverse birding through 3+ seasons.
Start at the Lock and Dam. Where the entrance road forks, take the right (south) fork through middle-aged hardwoods sheltering migrants in spring and fall, to a boat ramp offering views over the inlet and across the state line into Georgia. There are Prothonotary Warblers, American Redstarts, Acadian Flycatchers, and Northern Parulas here in season. Look for Anhingas in the trees; Common Moorhens breed around here. In the cooler months watch for rafts of dabbling ducks. Return to the entrance road and turn right. The road passes through a Pecan orchard where Mississippi Kites are local nesters. There are many woodpeckers, and a good range of breeding and wintering species, including Eastern Wood Pewees, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, and Orchard Orioles. The open woods have excellent sightlines, and are another good spot for migrants. Continue along the entrance road and the woods soon open into acres of short-grass lawns. Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds and several species of swallows fly sorties from the power lines in the warmer months. Eastern Phoebes are more numerous from late September through March. Eastern Meadowlarks are fairly common in the grassy field. Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the weedy, wet northern edges of the field and often forage with Common Grackles in the open fields, where in winter they are joined by American Robins and occasionally, Rusty Blackbirds.
Take the ramp toward the dam and bear left to reach a long parking area that overlooks the reservoir. From here you may see Ospreys from April through October and Bald Eagles at any time of the year. You will see a few Loons and Horned Grebes, small numbers of diving ducks and Double-crested Cormorants, and gulls in the cooler seasons. You can spot Great Cormorants in the area, as well as Black-legged Kittiwake and a few other interesting gulls. Bring a spotting scope, as most of the birds you’ll see around the water will be at a considerable distance.
Leave the Lock and Dam complex by the entrance road, and turn right (west) onto CR 46. There is an extensive sod farm here. This is likely the best location in the Wiregrass region for spotting shorebirds – everything from Killdeer to Upland Sandpipers, from American Pipits to Wilson’s Snipe might be seen here, especially in migration. This is private property, so please don’t trespass. A spotting scope will be helpful for more distant birds, but if there are puddles in the portion of the sod farm near the road, you can see quite well with binoculars from the side of the road.. Look for Northern Harriers over the fields from September through early April.
There are four additional major recreation areas along the west side of the Walter F. George Reservoir between the lock and dam complex and the outskirts of Eufaula: Highland Park and Hardridge Creek, both on CR 97, White Oak Creek on CR 95, and Cheneyhatchee Creek on US 431. All have water frontage and bottomland woods, and the former three have camping and picnicking areas. All are promising and potentially productive sites for bottomland songbirds, winter feeding flocks, and seasonal migrants. You can find waders along the shores of the lake at all the sites, and trees along the water’s edge can attract Ospreys and Bald Eagles.
The Walter F. George Reservoir is not a “run-and-gun” birding destination; there are a number of habitats available here, and they occur over a 25-mile stretch. Allot a long, full day to cover the area, or pick a site or two from the mix if time is short.
Directions: From the intersection of US 431 an US 82 in Eufaula (Barbour County – all visitor services available) proceed south on US 431 for 6.8 miles. Take the right fork onto AL 95 S and follow south for 4 miles. Turn left to join CR 97 and follow for 11.4 miles. Turn left onto CR 46 and proceed for .5 mile to the sign for the entrance road to Henry F. George Lock and Dam.
GPS: 31.6104632 -85.062499
Walter F. George Dam (Mailing address)
Rt. 1 Box 201
Fort Gaines, GA 39851