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|VOLUME 37||OUR 37th SEASON|
|Kenneth Ward, President||Rufina Ward, Editor|
Hello, folks! For those of you new to us, the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society (NABS) is truly a birding group for everyone, from beginners to experts. We have been around since 1976 and are the only birding group in northern Alabama to offer a set of regularly scheduled trips each year. We visit a variety of areas across this part of the state, most of which are included on the North Alabama Birding Trail (NABT; http://www.northalabamabirdingtrail.com).
By birding with NABS, you’ll have the opportunity to go out with experienced people who are familiar with the places we visit and who love to share their knowledge. NABS also provides greater access to certain natural areas where birding by car is restricted to groups.
Although the focus is on birds, NABS outings also offer opportunities to become more generally familiar with many of the beautiful and diverse natural areas characteristic of northern Alabama. The places we’ll visit provide excellent opportunities to observe, study and appreciate a variety of flora and fauna, including wildflowers, trees, insects, herpetofauna (snakes and frogs, J) and mammals. Some NABS regulars have considerable knowledge of these other groups and would be glad to answer questions and provide information during trips.
Our regular meeting time is Saturday, 7:00 am for most trips, although we have a couple of trips that meet at 8 am and a few Sunday outings during the spring. Half-day trips are the norm, although some will include extended birding into the afternoon for those interested. Please note that, although it’s usually easy to leave early, there are a few trips behind locked gates that involve a minimum 2- to 3-hour time commitment (see Wheeler NWR trip descriptions). Bring your binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides, refreshments, bug repellent and rain gear. We seldom officially cancel trips; if the weather is bad (heavy rain) or dangerous (icy roads, severe storms) enough to warrant cancellation, we will send out an email notice.
If we don’t already have your email address, please consider sending it to us to add to the NABS mailing list. We can then email you this schedule, as well as trip reminders, lists of what birds we see and a few other items of interest. In addition, a copy of the schedule will appear on both the NABS (www.northalbirding.com) and Tennessee Valley Audubon Society (www.tvas.org) websites.
Send your comments, questions and suggestions to Rufina or Ken Ward, 1689 Longleaf Drive, Huntsville, AL 35806 (256-837-5646; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Below are descriptions of the trips scheduled for this season, with directions, GPS Coordinates, trip leaders and contact numbers. We have also included some “Events of Interest” for nature lovers. Thanks for your support and we look forward to seeing you this season!
We will explore the Leighton area and swing by Wheeler Dam on this trip. We’ll be looking primarily for shorebird migrants, whose movement through our area should be peaking; our success will depend largely on water levels. We should pick up some neo-tropical songbird migrants as well. We’ll meet at the west parking lot (next to the street) of the Garden Plaza (formerly Holiday Inn) in Decatur, near the river bridge (34.611417 -86.978617). - John Ehinger, Leader (256-536-2716)
This trip targets neo-tropical songbird migrants, either breeding residents heading south or transients passing through from the north, mostly on their way to Central and South America. As many or more birds actually pass through our area in the fall than in spring, but the migration period is longer and a defined peak is hard to pinpoint. To get to our meeting spot, take Monte Sano Boulevard off Governors Drive at the top of the mountain and follow the signs to the park; once there, go in the direction of headquarters and park at the Camp Store, in the gravel, if possible. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BIRDING IS SOMETIMES BETTER EARLIER; FEEL FREE TO COME UP BETWEEN 6 AND 6:30 IF YOU LIKE, AS SOME OF US WILL PROBABLY ALREADY BE AT THE OVERLOOK. (34.745325 -86.511672). - Bill McAllister, Leader (256-534-8354)
Fall migration continues to heat up for neo-tropical migrants as we move into mid- and late-September; this trip takes us to one of the better spots in our area to see migrating songbirds. We’ll meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2); park in the gravel if there is room. Afterwards, depending on interest, we may head over to the Hays Nature Preserve near Hampton Cove for some more birding. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BIRDING IS SOMETIMES BETTER EARLIER; FEEL FREE TO COME UP BETWEEN 6 AND 6:30 IF YOU LIKE, AS SOME OF US WILL PROBABLY ALREADY BE AT THE OVERLOOK (34.745325 -86.511672). – Ken Ward, Leader, (256-837-5646)
The Indian Creek Greenway has been an interesting late spring migration spot for NABS the last few years; our first fall trip last year was productive. Meet at the Greenway parking lot at the head of the trail on Old Madison Pike, just east of its intersection with Slaughter Rd (34.709083 -86.701369). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
The format for this count is similar to that used for Audubon Christmas Counts (see trip #12) – identify and count all birds seen or heard from dawn to late afternoon/dusk; different groups bird different parts of the refuge and nearby areas. This count is always scheduled during the peak fall migration period. Birders of all skill levels are welcome; we need all the eyes and ears we can get! We’ll regroup at the Wheeler NWR Interpretive Nature (Visitor) Center around 6 pm for compilation. Since we won’t have a single gathering spot for folks to meet and join a group, new participants should contact the Refuge Manager, Dwight Cooley (34.547406 -86.951136). – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
We will be looking again for fall migrants, especially warblers; Monte Sano SP is one of the better birding spots in the state during migration. We'll meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2). PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BIRDING IS SOMETIMES BETTER EARLIER; FEEL FREE TO COME UP BETWEEN 6 AND 6:30 IF YOU LIKE, AS SOME OF US WILL PROBABLY ALREADY BE AT THE OVERLOOK (34.745325 -86.511672). - Milton Harris, Leader (256-533-0529)
EVENT OF INTEREST: Wheeler NWR 75th Anniversary Celebration, Visitor Center – 5 October, 2013 (Teresa Adams, 256-350-6639)
EVENT OF INTEREST: Coastal Birdfest (http://www.alabamacoastalbirdfest.com/schedule.htm), Fairhope, AL– 3-5 October 2013 (Linda Reynolds, 256-582-2970)
“THE BIG SIT!” is an annual, international, non-competitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest and founded by the New Haven (CT) Bird Club. The National Wildlife Refuge System has adopted it as an activity for National Wildlife Refuge Week. The idea is simple – we’ll count from a 17-foot diameter circle, set up chairs, scopes and binoculars, and identify as many birds as we can. This is our sixth year and we will count both Saturday and Sunday from 2 different refuge spots. On Saturday, we’ll count from the Wildlife Observation Building at the Refuge Visitor Center (34.547406 -86.951136). The Visitor Center gate will be closed but unlocked – just open the gate, drive through, close the gate behind you and proceed to the Visitor Center parking area. The trailhead to the 200-yard Wildlife Observation Building trail is near the northwest corner of the Visitor Center. On Sunday, we’ll count from the west end of White Springs Dike. Access to the White Springs site will be through the second Refuge gate east of Day Park, not the one directly across from the Park. Because you can only access the gate from Alabama 20 east, anyone coming from the east or north should travel to the Decatur Boat Harbor and turn back north on U.S. 31/Alabama 20, taking Alabama 20 to the gate. The gate will be closed, but unlocked. After carefully exiting from Alabama 20 (near the overpass), just open the gate, drive through, close the gate behind you, and follow the dike road to the site. Although we’ll start at 4:00 am, participants can show up and leave at any time (34.623178 -86.951292). – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
EVENT OF INTEREST: Alabama Ornithological Society, Dauphin Island – 11-13 October, 2013 (Kenneth Ward, 256-837-5646)
The White Springs Dike area on Wheeler NWR is among the best places in Alabama to get great looks at a variety of waterfowl, which should just be arriving to overwinter. Birding with a group like NABS provides an opportunity to drive behind locked gates (provided we have at least eight people!), thus gaining access to the best areas to see lots of ducks and geese. We’ll be birding by car to cover the necessary area, but there will be plenty of stops and opportunities to walk around and enjoy the refuge. We will also be looking for Sandhill Cranes, White Pelicans, late shorebird migrants, raptors and returning winter resident songbirds. We’ll be behind locked gates for 2-3 hours and should be done around lunchtime, when we’ll likely head to Apple Lane Farms to eat, for those interested. Take the Mooresville exit off I-565, go south on Mooresville Road and meet at the parking area near where it intersects with old Highway 20 (34.627442 -86.880186). – Harry Dean, Leader (256-461-0626)
This trip is designed to emphasize education on birds and birding and we want to invite anyone out there who wants to learn more, especially young folks. We’ll meet at the Wheeler NWR Interpretive Nature (Visitor) Center off Hwy 67. From I-65 take exit 334 and head toward Decatur; after crossing the water, the road to the Visitor Center will be on the left. We’ll first provide some instruction on birding, including a visit to the wildlife observation building, which overlooks a pond and is designed to allow close observation of waterfowl. There may be considerable numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the fields beyond the observation pond and it’s also possible to see a Whooping Crane or two, if some are in the area. Afterwards, for those interested, we’ll continue to Garth Slough on the Refuge and bird along the Tennessee River and slough, looking for passing waterfowl, cranes, gulls and eagles, songbirds, raptors and possibly some shorebirds, depending on water levels. Overwintering sparrows should be around in numbers and we should see a good variety, including Song, Swamp, White-throated, Fox, perhaps White-crowned, and, possibly, Lincoln’s. NOTE THE 8:00 AM MEETING TIME (34.547406 -86.951136). - Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
We’ll return to the White Springs Dike area for more quality waterfowl birding (see trip #8) (34.627442 -86.880186). Dick Bruer, Leader (256-772-0411)
Our third trip to the White Springs Dike area should be productive. Waterfowl variety and numbers will likely be impressive and all of the winter resident songbird species will be around. We’ll head first to the goose tower observation platform, then bird Beaverdam Peninsula, which is the best place on the refuge to get good looks at thousands of overwintering geese. We should see Canada, Snow and White-fronted species, perhaps Ross’s and, possibly, Cackling Goose. Afterwards we’ll bird White Springs Dike along our regular route, where we’ll be behind locked gates for 2-3 hours. We should be done by lunch; Apple Lane Farms, anyone? Meet in Mooresville, intersection of Mooresville Road and Old Hwy 20 (see trip #8; 34.627442 -86.880186). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is the oldest and largest citizen science event in the world. For over a hundred years, people have gathered during the winter holiday season to identify and count birds. In the process, they have created a vast pool of bird data that is a valuable source of information on the status and distribution of early winter bird populations. Parties of birders are assigned to different parts of a 15 mile-radius count circle to identify and count all birds seen or heard from dawn to dusk. There are currently 10 count circles in Alabama and over 2000 nationwide. Wheeler is one of the more productive inland count areas around, usually yielding 115-120 species, and always including some unusual birds. Birders of all skill levels are welcome and needed; we go in all types of weather. To join a party, meet at the Wheeler NWR Visitor Center south off Hwy 67, east of Decatur. From I-65 take exit 334 and head toward Decatur; after crossing the water, the road to the Visitor Center will be on the left. We’ll regroup there at sundown for the tally (compilation), which is a lot of fun. Bring binoculars, a spotting scope, if you have one, and lunch. (34.547406 -86.951136). – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
Another Christmas Count that sometimes gets overlooked in northern Alabama is held in the Cullman area, usually the day after the Wheeler Count. Counters meet at Culpepper Real Estate (2069th Street SW, Cullman, AL 35055) to assign areas to be covered; anyone interested in doing some owling can contact Jimmy Wells for an earlier start. This count is always short-handed, so we hope some of you will consider helping out; anyone new to the count will be assigned to a party with people familiar to the area. Compilation is usually held at Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House at 5 pm. Those who want to help for just part of the day can also be accommodated. – Jimmy Wells, Leader (256-739-0933; email@example.com)
This Count, in another well-known birding area in northern Alabama, yields a wide variety of songbird, raptor and waterfowl species. The format is the same as that of the Wheeler Count. Unlike the Wheeler Christmas Count, there is no single gathering spot for folks to meet and join a group. For this reason, please contact Linda Reynolds if you are interested in joining one of the eight parties of counters; meeting times for different parties may vary. The meeting spot for compilation is the Guntersville Public Library. Look for the sign along Hwy 431 in Guntersville, to your right, if coming from the direction of Huntsville. – Linda Reynolds, Leader (256-582-2970)
Join us for our final trip to the White Springs Dike area, as we look for overwintering waterfowl, hawks, Sandhill Cranes, etc. Expect to be behind locked refuge gates for 2-3 hours. We’ll finish up looking for White-crowned Sparrows at a couple of spots, then lunch at Apple Lane Farms. Meet in Mooresville, intersection of Mooresville Road and Old Hwy 20 (see trip #8) (34.627442 -86.880186). – Dick Bruer, Leader (256-772-0411)
This trip has been expanded to include the city of Guntersville. We’ll meet in Guntersville, at the Chamber of Commerce parking lot, on the south end of the Hwy 431 bridge. We’ll bird first along the lakefront and some other spots of interest, then break for lunch at about 11. We’ll reconvene about 12:30 at Guntersville Dam, north side, off Hwy 431; meet at the picnic pavilion parking lot, to the left, as you face the dam. After birding near the dam, we’ll visit the nearby hawk farm. The hawk farm is privately owned and ordinarily closed to the public, but permission is granted to bird there on this trip. We’ll all need to be together when we visit the farm and are not allowed to bird past the corral at the top of the hill. The dam area and farm are both excellent for raptors. There should be nesting Bald Eagles around, both types of vultures, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Kestrels and Harriers; our chances of seeing an Osprey are good. If we are lucky, we may pick up one or two unusual species that have been seen irregularly over the years, e.g., Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk, or Golden Eagle (seen during 2010 Christmas Count) ( 34.363686 -86.291161). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
EVENT OF INTEREST: Wheeler NWR Crane Festival - 11 January, 2014 (SATURDAY), Wheeler NWR Visitor Center (Teresa Adams, 256-350-6639)
This trip primarily targets waterfowl and other waterbirds, but also includes some productive songbird areas, especially in the state park. We’ll meet at the WalMart parking lot off Hwy 72 W in Athens (34.786933 -86.958486). - Dick Bruer and Harry Dean, Leaders (256-461-0626).
EVENT OF INTEREST: Winter Meeting, Alabama Ornithological Society, 24-26 January, 2014, Wildwood Inn, Crawfordville, FL (Ken Ward, 256-837-5646)
This trip starts on Sunset Parkway along the west side of Guntersville. We should see a great variety of ducks, many loons and grebes, possibly some odd terns and gulls, eagles, etc. Meet in Guntersville at the Chamber of Commerce parking lot on the south end of the Hwy 431 bridge. From there, we’ll go west on the Lake Loop Road to the Kiwanis Club parking lot. The tour will then go south and across the Hwy 69 Causeway to the south end of Guntersville Dam (34.363686 -86.29116). – Bill McAllister, Leader (256-534-8354)
We’ll start with the Mallard-Fox Creek Wildlife Management Area and work our way west, including Wilson Dam and possibly Key Cave NWR, searching for waterbirds, sparrows and other winter residents or early migrants. Mid- to late-February is a transition period for waterfowl and other birds and weather will play a key role in what we see. We’ll meet at the west parking lot (next to the street) of the Garden Plaza (formerly Holiday Inn) in Decatur, near the river bridge (34.611417 -86.978617). – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
This is a different sort of trip for us which targets 3 bird species that are hard to find in our area. We hope to encounter and get good looks at: Red Crossbill, which is found year-round in this area but hardly anywhere else in AL; Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an endangered species which requires open pine habitat for breeding; and Bachman’s Sparrow, a secretive and uncommon species more often found in the southern half of the state. Additionally, this is the only place we visit where you might see all 3 nuthatch and 8 woodpecker species found in Alabama. We have also tentatively scheduled a visit to Cheaha State Park after visiting Talladega, which is located nearby. Cheaha Mountain is the highest point in Alabama; this will be our first trip there. To get to the meeting place, take Hwy 431 through Anniston to Oxford, then take I-20 E. We’ll meet at the Hardee’s located near the Heflin exit off I-20. Please note that the Hardee’s meeting place is a 2-2 ½ -hour drive from Huntsville (33.624164 -85.594669). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
On this trip we hope to catch some early spring migrants, especially Louisiana Waterthrush. We will meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2); park in the gravel if there is room (34.745325 -86.511672). – John Ehinger, Leader (256-536-2716)
We’ll be looking for some early spring migrants on beautiful Monte Sano, one of the best migration birding spots in the state; there should be some significant activity. You are also encouraged to bird here at other times on your own in order to see the most birds; generally late April thru the first week of May is best, as we should be at migration peak by then. Be watching for a nice day shortly after a front has moved through, which often holds up and concentrates the birds. We may also visit the Hays Preserve, where there should be some good birds by this time. We’ll meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2). PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BIRDING IS SOMETIMES BETTER EARLIER; FEEL FREE TO COME UP BETWEEN 6 AND 6:30 IF YOU LIKE, AS SOME OF US WILL PROBABLY ALREADY BE AT THE OVERLOOK (34.745325 -86.511672). –Dick Bruer, Leader (256-772-0411)
NABS has birded both of these areas before; there should be a variety of migrants present, especially neotropicals. Meet at Hays which, from Huntsville, is about a mile past the Publix shopping center near Hampton Cove on Hwy 431, on the left just past the Taylor Lane light (there is a sign). Follow the road to the parking area on the right (34.644106 -86.466389). Please note that there will also be an Earth Day birding hike on the 12th at Hays, beginning at 8 am (see below). Nabs will join the hike but eventually break off to finish its outing at Goldsmith-Schiffman. – Bill McAllister, Leader (256-534-8354)
EVENT OF INTEREST: >Earth Day Festivities, Hays Preserve –12 April, 2014 [Birding Hike at 8 am, John Ehinger, Leader (256-536-2716)]
Join us for another trip to the park, where migration should be starting to heat up. Meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2) (34.745325 -86.511672). – Milton Harris, Leader (256-533-0529)
EVENT OF INTEREST: Alabama Ornithological Society Spring Meeting, Dauphin Island – 18-20 April, 2014 (Ken Ward, 256-837-5646)
Join us at migration peak as we bird one of the best spots in the state for spring migration. The Park can be filled with birds this time of year, including 15-20 species of beautiful warblers in breeding plumage, all thrush species we can see in this area, orioles, grosbeaks, both species of tanagers, 4-5 species of vireos, etc. The birds are often relatively easy to see too; several hotspots near our meeting area are easy to find, including the overlooks, camp store, Japanese garden, planetarium, cyclists and hikers parking lots, etc., not to mention numerous accessible trails. We’ll meet at the Camp Store (see trip #2); park in the gravel if possible. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BIRDING IS SOMETIMES BETTER EARLIER; FEEL FREE TO COME UP BETWEEN 6 AND 6:30 IF YOU LIKE, AS SOME OF US WILL PROBABLY ALREADY BE AT THE OVERLOOK (34.745325 -86.511672). – Harry Dean, Leader (256-461-0626)
Bankhead National Forest (BNF) in northwestern Alabama is 180,000 acres of mesic hardwood, mixed pine-hardwood, shortleaf pine, oak-hickory, hemlock-white pine and mountain longleaf pine forest, with many limestone bluffs, swift flowing streams and waterfalls, through which flows Alabama’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Sipsey. The 26,000-acre Sipsey Wilderness, the second largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi, is also found here. BNF is considered an important block of habitat for forest interior birds, especially neo-tropical migrants, several species of which are in decline. Migration birding this time of year is usually quite productive in BNF if you hit a variety of spots. We’ll be birding the northern part of the forest, including the Sipsey picnic grounds, Brushy Lake, Northwest Road, Walston Ridge Road, etc. Please visit the BNF website and follow the birdwatching link for more information. We’ll meet at the Warrior Mountain Store, at the intersection of Hwy 33 and 36 near Wren. From west Huntsville/Madison to the meeting place is a 50-60-minute drive, via Decatur (Hwy 24 West to 33; go south past Moulton to meeting place; 34.434722 -87.292367). Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
The format for this count is similar to Christmas Counts’ – identify and count all birds seen or heard from dawn to late afternoon/dusk; different groups bird different parts of the refuge and nearby areas. Birders of all skill levels are welcome and needed. We’ll regroup at the Wheeler NWR Visitor Center around 6:00 pm for compilation. Since we won’t have a single gathering spot for folks to meet and join a group, new participants should contact the Refuge Manager, Dwight Cooley (34.547406 -86.951136). – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-353-7243)
Come with us for a visit to beautiful Jackson County, where we’ll bird in the Paint Rock River Valley and Skyline/Hytop areas. We had a wonderful trip here last spring and will be visiting the area a couple of weeks earlier, near migration peak. We’ll make several stops, the first being the Graham Farm and Nature Center near Estill Forks, close to the intersection of Hwy 65 and CR 27. This is a property recently acquired by Auburn University and managed by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System as a working farm/nature preserve and outdoor classroom, in partnership with Alabama A&M University and the Student Conservation Association. It’s a beautiful place, roughly 500 acres of upland hardwood, pastures and hayfields; the headwaters of the Paint Rock River are located on the property. We’ll then continue down CR 27, along which runs Larkin Fork (Paint Rock tributary); it’s a beautiful place to bird and we found a male Cerulean warbler in this area last May. After that, there are a variety of possibilities, including visiting the Skyline/Hytop area, where there is a birding trail stop, and where the Walls-of-Jericho trailheads are located. There are lots of possibilities in terms of the types of birds we could see in this diverse habitat: a large variety of transient and breeding songbirds (possibly including Cerulean and Swainson’s warblers), open country birds (e.g., Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, Blue Grosbeak, Wild Turkey), tanagers, vireos, orioles, most swallow species in the area, raptors (e.g., Black Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk), etc. We’ll meet at the Hardees off Hwy 72 in Gurley (34.700031 -86.384278); just take Highway 72 east from Huntsville - Ken Ward and Dwight Cooley, Leaders (256-837-5646)
The Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station (WTARS) is a 900-acre farm with lots of open grassland and pasture areas, plus small patches of forest. It is one of the best places in the state to observe open country birds and always makes for a great trip. Species we’ll likely encounter include Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (probably nesting), Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Kingbird, several swallow species, Bobolink, Horned Lark, Loggerhead Shrike, etc. From Huntsville, take Hwy 431 north and just past Meridianville Middle School, turn right on Walker Lane (light), then take the first right onto the farm; park at the first building on the right (34.900839 -86.560256). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
The Indian Creek Greenway is a pleasant place to bird, with opportunities to get good looks at migrants. The major reason this trip was planned a few years back was to look for Mourning Warblers. This species is a secretive late spring migrant through this area that is rarely seen. We have had good trips here the past 4-5 years, with Mourning, Wilson and Canada Warblers, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, many Magnolia Warblers and a variety of other species. Meet at the Greenway parking lot at the head of the trail on Old Madison Pike, just east of its intersection with Slaughter Rd (34.709083 -86.701369). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646)
We will explore the Leighton area and Town Creek, targeting shorebird migrants, whose movement through our area should be strong at this time of year. Our success will depend largely on water levels and weather. We’ll meet at the west parking lot (next to the street) of the Garden Plaza (formerly Holiday Inn) in Decatur, near the river bridge (34.611417 -86.978617). – Harry Dean and Dick Bruer, Leaders (256-461-0626)