The Anniston Museum occupies landscaped grounds surrounded by a mature pine-oak hilltop forest. The woodland component coupled with the elevation makes the site well-suited for a role as a spring and fall migrant trap. Woodland songbirds and woodpeckers are present throughout the year, and the added attraction of the Museum’s outstanding exhibits make this a site worthy of inclusion on any visitor’s itinerary. The Museum serves as a Gateway site for the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail, and is a good place to get help with your questions about the trail. Be sure to spend some time birding the pond in Jaycees Park at the base of the hill, just off Highway 21.
One of the best and most-visited sites for songbirds in the Birmingham area, particularly in spring and fall migration. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens should be high on the “must-see” list for anyone interested in birding in the Birmingham area. Concentrate on the more-natural northern end of the park, especially the Bog Gardens, the Kaul Wildflower Garden, the Fern Glade, and the paved trail loop that begins between the Wildflower Garden and the Fern Glade. The southern portion of the Alabama Woodlands trail and the Garden for Southern Living can also be rewarding.
Located within the 200 wooded acres of Lane Park, the Birmingham Zoo is one of Alabama’s most-visited tourist locations, as well as being a surprisingly productive place for year-round birding. The best birding on the grounds exists outside the Zoo itself – in and around the overflow parking areas and in the picnic grounds, where you may find most of the state’s woodpeckers, as well as Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Grey Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and a seasonal array of sparrows in the dense understory. This is a good place to bird in conjunction with a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens across the street.
East Lake Park is one of the best places in the Birmingham area to see birds, because it has a variety of natural features that provide food, water and shelter for a wide range of species. Using water from Roebuck Springs and Village Creek, this 45-acre lake is sheltered from the surrounding urban area by a 100-acre park. The mature hardwoods are home to many resident songbirds, as well as winter feeding flocks led by Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, as well as the usual winter finches.
Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve is an upland hardwood swamp on Spring Creek, made accessible for nature-lovers by a boardwalk built and maintained by the University of Montevallo. The dominant tree is the Tupelo Gum, with a rich mixture of other hardwoods and Loblolly Pine. The birding begins as you approach the boardwalk from the parking area.
The Five Mile Creek Greenway, as it passes through the small historic community of Brookside, provides access to the banks Five Mile Creek for about 3 miles. The Greenway trail begins at the end of the Bensko Park parking lot and winds along via a wide, level, well-maintained path above the creek through alternating groves of mature open-understory hardwoods and more-dense hardwood and second-growth thickets along the banks of the creek.
The boulder fields of Horse Pens 40 are a fascinating place to visit, at any time of year. The best times for birding are surely during spring and fall migration, when the elevation of the site turns the mountain into a notable migrant trap. The ridges are productive for hawk migration from September through November. Do not neglect to bird the farm and field habitat along US 231 and Ct. Clair County 35 while in the area.
Blount County is the “Covered Bridge Capital of Alabama” with three bridges: Horton Mill, Swann, and Easley. All of the bridges are set in habitat rich with the three factors that are of ultimate importance to wildlife: food, water, and shelter. Horton Mill is the most accessible of the three and is the only one with a dedicated nature trail. The nature trail follows Calvert Prong and hosts a hundred plant species, including 27 fern species.
The James D. Martin Wildlife Park offers exceptional facilities for exploring an extensive backwater of Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River in the City of Gadsden. In addition to a walking trail along the shoreline, a network of boardwalks allows visitors to walk out into the 300-acre lake, and even to visit wooded islands situated in the lake, providing superb views of the birdlife of this rich and varied ecosystem.
Kymulga Grist Mill was built around 1860 for grinding both wheat and corn. The covered bridge, spanning Talladega Creek, was built the same year, The park is primarily a wooded area, with walking trails through the woods and along the creek. Protected from disturbance for more than 70 years, over twenty-five varieties of hardwood trees have been identified, including the largest Sugarberry tree in Alabama and the largest cluster of White Oak trees east of the Mississippi River. The park is a migrant magnet in spring and fall. Work the stream and the adjacent woodland trails in the early morning and late afternoon, when bird activity is at its peak and when migrants are arriving or departing.
Lake Purdy is a 990-acre reservoir on the Little Cahaba River which provides drinking water for the City of Birmingham. Surrounded by protected woodlands, the lake and its environs have become one of those rare birding destinations that is always interesting – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Begin your visit with a stop on Highway 119 just before the Cox’s Creek bridge, and scan the shallow water, mudflats and grassy fields on the south side of the road, created where Cox’s Creek spreads out just before it empties into the lake.
Logan Martin Dam is notable for being one of the premier locations in the state for viewing wading birds, particularly Black-crowned Night Herons. Waders in large numbers are attracted to the rough water just below the dam, where an abundance of fish are always available near the rocky shoreline. It is also reliable for year-round sightings of Bald Eagles.
Palisades Park is an outstanding birding destination throughout the year. Its altitude – the highest point for miles in any direction – makes it a good place to see migrant songbirds in spring and fall. Sitting atop a rocky ridge, it overlooks Oneonta and much of Blount County.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve is a thousand-acre park preserving the wooded slopes of Ruffner Mountain in the heart of Birmingham. In addition to an extensive trail system, Ruffner Mountain Nature Center offers a variety of camps, activities, and programs for visitors of all ages. Excellent birding can be enjoyed in the mixed vegetation around the Nature Center and the covered pavilion. The park never seems crowded or noisy, and the birds are plentiful. This is a great migrant trap in spring and fall. Virtually any perching bird native to north-central Alabama might turn up at Ruffner Mt. on a given day.
Abundant water and vegetation define Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. An excellent site for songbirds and raptors, the preserve is worth a visit in all times of the year, except for weekends during the summer, when it is likely to be crowded. The park teems with flycatchers, warblers, vireos, tanagers, and more. Watch for mixed-species feeding flocks in winter.
Ten Islands Historical Park, on the shores of Neely Henry Lake just above the dam, offers first-rate birding. Though the park itself is small, there is a vast amount of excellent habitat here – the entrance road provides shoreline access to deep water, pullout areas to check grassy edges and early second-growth pines. There is a good wooded trail from the parking lot along a finger of the lake. The park is good for songbirds, swallows, waterfowl, raptors, and more.
This property is an outstanding example of short-grass habitat. There is no better place in the region to find grass sparrows (including Grasshopper in the warm months), and the fields are patrolled by Northern Harriers in the colder months. This is a prime location for Loggerhead Shrikes and American Kestrels. This is an exceptional place for Eastern Meadowlarks – their songs and calls ring out from the fields in every direction
A little bit off the beaten path but well worth the time, Frog Pond Overlook merits a visit for anyone birding in the Anniston-Gadsden area. The Frog Pond itself is situated in the Choccolocco Forest. Bird the foot path to the pond for woodland species, the pond for wetland species, and the adjacent forest for canopy birds. The Frog Pond is compact, and the immediate area can be covered in 90 minutes. Allow a good half day for the surrounding forest.
Limestone Park’s interesting combination of wetlands, grasslands, and Tupelo Gum swamp is good for wading birds, swamp and marsh birds, grassland species, and some waterfowl in winter. You will also find songbirds and shorebirds in migration. Best birds are Anhinga (breeds), and Bobolinks, Dickcissels, and Grasshopper Sparrows (late spring). The handicapped-accessible Birding Observation Deck overlooks the wetlands on the North-western side of the park, with adjacent parking for all. Located in a rural industrial area in southern Shelby County, this park preserves a small but rich remnant of the habitat mosaic that makes this area especially attractive to birds.
Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge protects the largest stand of mature Longleaf Pines north of the state’s coastal plain. Home to the elusive Bachman’s Sparrow, the Refuge is also known for its abundance of Brown-headed Nuthatches, and large coveys of Wild Turkeys. The mountain ridge is great for spring and fall migrants, and an excellent hawk-watching spot in fall.
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.
Bull’s Gap is a ridgetop trailhead on the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega National Forest. This makes it an excellent site for migrants in spring and fall, as well as for some notable breeding birds. Look for breeding Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbirds, Worm-eating Warblers, and Black-and-white Warblers. This is an excellent spot for Brown-headed Nuthatches, as well as for Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers. The ridgeline offers a good vantage point for observing soaring birds. From mid-September through early November, this area is a good hawk-watching site.
Porter’s Gap is an access point to the Pinhoti Trail, a ridge-line trail linking Alabama and Georgia . The trailhead area provides high elevations for viewing unusual breeding birds nearing the southern end of their range (Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Ovenbirds), as well as for migrant songbirds in spring and fall. A north-easterly walk along the Pinhoti Trail eventually takes the visitor to a riparian habitat where Northern Parula Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Yellow-throated Warblers breed.
One of the most significant birding sites in Alabama, Coleman Lake is at present the only reliable location in the state for Red Crossbills, and boasts roadside looks at endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. This is a good location for Bachman’s Sparrows. It is also a great spot for viewing migrant and breeding songbirds and is excellent for spring and fall wildflowers, as well.
Weiss Lake, a 30,200 acre impoundment owned and operated by the Alabama Power Company, is fed by the Coosa, Chattooga and Little Rivers, and offers over 447 miles of shoreline and shallow flats, large coves, under-water drop offs and deep channels. The preferred starting point for birding Weiss Lake is the boat launch area on the west side of AL 68 in the middle of the Chattooga Bridge, which spans the main body of the lake. This is a good site for gulls, waterfowl, and eagles in winter; for swallows and riparian songbirds in spring and summer; and waders and some shorebirds in late summer and fall.
A large park with varying, all-age, pine-oak woodlands. Water ranges from babbling brook to rushing streams. Tannehill can be a fine spot for song-birding at all times except the middle of summer. Often very busy and noisy on weekends in the warm months; can be very serene on weekdays. Look for woodland songbirds and migrants here. A great spot for Louisiana Waterthrushes and Brown-headed Nuthatches.
Canyon Mouth Park offers visitors one of the few opportunities to access the banks of the Little River by car. This is a good place to experience songbirds in the trees near the river, in the dense understory and woods beyond the picnic areas, and along the narrow path that follows the river upstream into the canyon. Soaring birds of prey are frequently seen in the skies above. Picnic tables, restrooms, and ample parking make this a good stopping place for a midday picnic, either before or after exploring the spectacular canyon rim.
The Doug Ghee trail, an easy, level, ¼-mile long, handicap-accessible boardwalk, begins just beyond the historic Bald Rock Lodge in the heart of Cheaha State Park. The visitor should expect to see a wide range of woodland songbirds, most of the state’s woodpeckers (notably Pileated and Hairy), some migrants in season, and feeding flocks of wintering birds from October through March. The end of the boardwalk offers a sensational 180-degree view to the north, and is a superior hawk-watching spot from the highest point in the state.
The Canyon Center is a good resource to visit when planning a trip to the Little River Canyon. Stop in and talk with a National Park Service ranger for tips on where to find the best birds in season. There are several small trails at the Canyon Center that have an assortment of typical suburban birds.
It can provide a good gateway for discovering other nearby locations as well, particularly those located in the Talladega National Forest, Cheaha State Park, Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge and Dugger Mountain Wilderness.
The Ruffner Mountain Wetlands are a series of small marshes and ponds, traversed by a boardwalk and trail, located on the other side of the mountain from the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. This wetland area provides visitors to the steep, hilly terrain of the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve a chance to look for birds in an entirely different type of habitat.
The boulder fields at Cherokee Rock Village stand sentinel along an east-facing ridge and overlook Weiss Lake far below. This is an extraordinary location to find Scarlet Tanagers, Summer Tanagers, and Great Crested Flycatchers, and is without doubt the best site for observing soaring raptors in the state. Sample the birds in the old fields and second-growth habitats along the entrance road.