The Phenix City Riverwalk in Russell County snakes along the banks of the Chattahoochee River for almost 1.25 miles as it traces the Alabama-Georgia state line. Follow the elevated boardwalks and the paved walkways and seize the opportunities to trek down to the river’s edge or to scramble over a boulder field. The woods here – largely mature hardwoods with varying amounts of understory — are rife with riparian-forest songbirds. Look for waders and swallows over the river, with some gulls and the odd tern in winter. As this site requires no less than a 2 1/2 – mile walk, expect to spend a short half-day to cover most if not all of the trail. If pressed for time, spend 1-1 ½ hours birding the southern portion from the entrance near the Ampitheatre to the 13th St bridge and back.
Prairie Creek Campground is an Army Corps facility that sits along the Alabama River in northern Lowndes County. The entrance road features grassy meadows, while most of the accessible areas of the campground are forested in mature hardwoods hung with Spanish moss. There are several good vantage points for the river along the paved park road, and there are short trails to walk through the woods. Birds here range from warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, woodpeckers, and thrushes in the woods to waders along the river’s edge. You’ll also find meadowlarks, bluebirds, kingbirds, and shrikes along the entrance road. A couple of hours should be sufficient to bird the park.
The Henry Dam on the Alabama River in northern Lowndes County is a “must-see” stop for birders in the area, as it provides extensive grasslands, rocky shoals below the dam’s spillway, and a deep-water impoundment above the dam – habitats difficult to find elsewhere in the area. Loggerhead Shrikes are permanent residents, and the fields are exceptionally good for spotting sparrows – expect to see Vesper, Song, and Savannah in winter; Swamp Sparrows nearer the river. Northern Harriers and Kestrels hunt the fields from fall through spring, and look for the occasional Short-eared Owl in winter. Gulls are seen near the dam in the colder months, waders are seen below the dam throughout the year and the scattered shade trees harbor orioles and flycatchers in season. An hour or two at the site should be sufficient to build a good list of birds.
Roland Cooper State Park is a lovely, wooded lakeside park in rural Wilcox County, which gained a measure of fame as one of the state’s first Bald Eagle nesting sites as the species began its comeback. Eagles are still present much of the year. The park is also home to many Wild Turkeys, Pileated Woodpeckers, and numerous species associated with bottomland woods and lakes. After a two-hour visit to Roland Cooper, take the scenic ferry ride across the River to visit Gee’s Bend, and then Chilatchee Park 15 minutes up the road.
Shell Creek Park and East Bank Park are twin sites that straddle the Dannelly Reservoir along the Alabama River in Wilcox County. Shell Creek is best noted for a large, active Osprey nest and substantial early second-growth woods along the entrance road. East Bank Park is better for waders and waterfowl, and the southwest corner harbors nesting Least Bitterns. The parks are compact, and neither requires more than 90 minutes to survey. Include these sites as stops along a loop that should include Chilatchee Creek, Gee’s Bend, and Roland Cooper State Park.
Sherling Lake Park is only 3 miles west of Greenville, the largest town in Butler County. It is just 5 minutes from I-65 and can be reached by state highways from the interstate. It exists primarily for its 41 campsites, two fishing lakes, and tent camping opportunities. Because it is well-wooded with relatively quiet human activity, and because there is a large amount of water on the property, the park attracts a variety of birds. Expect to find numerous woodland songbirds in all seasons, with waders present near the lakes, and some waterfowl in winter. A short half day – two hours or so – should be enough for good birding.
Spillway Falls Park is a significant location for shorebird-watching in the Demopolis area. The site is notable for a broad spillway and extensive shoals and shallows below the lock and dam. Although the mixed woods boast a good variety of songbirds and woodpeckers – and numerous Wild Turkeys, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Barred Owls — the primary feature remains the rocks and shallow waters below the dam. Use the observation deck to look for gulls in winter, waders and shorebirds on the rocks, and dabbling ducks in the shallows in the colder months. It should take less than two hours to bird the park. A scope would be helpful, as distances to the birds below the dam are great.
Tuskegee National Forest is the nation’s smallest in the national forest system. At 11,252 acres, it is small enough to survey in a day, yet large enough to contain a remarkable variety of habitats. Much of the land is in various stages of early to late second-growth forest, cut through with good roads and extensive trails. Look for scrub and grassland birds in the cutovers, riparian birds in the flood plains, and woodland species along the trails.