Alabama’s habitat diversity is nearly unmatched, providing critical habitat for over four hundred species of birds, from the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker to the Bald Eagle. Interest in wildlife observation continues to grow, and more and more people nationwide are discovering Alabama’s amazing biodiversity, which is second only to Florida in the eastern U.S. in its total number of species of plants and animals. The Alabama Birding Trails Project was initiated to provide a major attraction for nature-loving tourists, while also offering exciting birding opportunities for Alabama’s school groups, families, and seasoned birders. Over 10 years in the making, and with nearly 250 sites around Alabama, the Alabama Birding Trails Project is now a reality. Alabama Audubon has played an important role in scouting the best public locations for watching birds year-round in several Alabama Birding Trail regions. Besides playing a critical role in organizing the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail, Alabama Audubon board members also scouted sites for the West Alabama Birding Trail and the Wiregrass Birding Trail.
What is a Birding Trail?
A birding trail is a driving route connecting a series of carefully-selected locations where people are especially welcome to observe birds. Because birds are usually tied to particular types of habitat, birding trail sites are usually selected for their special habitats, to provide visitors with opportunities to see a variety of different kinds of birds. The sites are usually marked by special signs, and at some sites there are informational signs telling more about the birds and their habitat. At some sites, the birds can be viewed along a walking trail, or even by canoe. Other locations have handicapped accessible observation platforms, boardwalks, or other special features. Over 20 states throughout the U.S. have birding trail systems, bringing low-impact tourism dollars that help mainly rural areas where economic aid is sorely needed.
The Alabama Birding Trails consists of a chain of seven geographic birding trail regions: North Alabama, West Alabama, Appalachian Highlands, Piedmont Plateau, West Alabama, Wiregrass, and the Alabama Coast. Alabama’s birding trails began with the North Alabama Birding Trail and the Coastal Birding Trail, both developed by the Alabama Non-game Wildlife Program of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Now the Alabama Tourism Department is leading an initiative to create a state-wide system of regional birding trails. Some regions are still in the development phase, with openings scheduled for 2013. The Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail is the latest addition to the state-wide system that will eventually reach into nearly every Alabama county.
Development of the Alabama Birding Trails has been a collaborative project: The Alabama Tourism Department is providing much of the funding; The University of Alabama Center for Economic Development is providing the leadership role of facilitation and project scope; The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Non-Game Wildlife Program is providing their depth of knowledge relative to wildlife habitat, birding and previous birding trails experience; Alabama Audubon is providing experience and practical support that only deeply knowledgeable birders can. Chambers of Commerce across the state have taken great pride in the project, as have our Federal partners, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Forest Service and others.
Information about all of the birding trail sites is available at www.alabamabirdingtrails.com.
Alabama Audubon and the Alabama Birding Trails Project
The Audubon Birding Trails Committee has been a key partner in the development of the Alabama Birding Trails Project. Audubon Birding Trails Chair Anne Miller was appointed Coordinator of the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail by the Alabama Tourism Department in 2009. Working with committee member Maureen Shaffer, and with help from committee members Greg Harber and Jean Folsom, over forty locations were scouted by the team as possible birding trail sites in the nine-county region. The Audubon scouting team also scouted sites for the Wiregrass Birding Trail and the West Alabama Birding Trail, visiting over 15 counties around the state.
Eventually, the sites in the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail were reviewed by out-of-state consultants, and the 35 sites were approved. Three sites in the Birmingham area, however, despite their high quality as places to view birds, were rejected because they needed safe facilities for birding, or they needed special help to develop signage and improve the habitat for birds.
Alabama Audubon has ‘adopted’ these sites, and is working with a variety of partners to make needed improvements: Limestone Park, in Alabaster, has long been a favorite birding site for Audubon birders, but most of the choice wetland areas, where the birds are most prevalent, were out of sight and inaccessible from the road. To transform this site into a Magnet Site on the AHBT, Alabama Audubon partnered with the City of Alabaster to build a handicapped-accessible Birding Observation Deck overlooking the extensive wetlands in the Park. Funds for materials were donated by Alabama Audubon, and were matched with high-quality construction work by staff of the City of Alabaster Parks Department. Other park improvements for birders include a mowed walking trail to the back of the park, and plans for a birding tower overlooking the entire swamp. This location is now extremely ‘birder-friendly’, and deserves a visit!
East Lake Park, in downtown Birmingham, has been a special favorite with Audubon birders since the 1950’s. In 2011, members of the Audubon Conservation Committee noted that critical nesting trees for Great Blue Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Black-crowned Night Herons on East Lake’s only island were being killed off by a combination of factors. The Conservation Committee undertook a project to preserve and enhance habitat for nesting herons with permission of the Birmingham Park & Recreation Board, with funds from a grant provided by the National Audubon Society. The Audubon Conservation Committee is working in tandem with the Audubon Birding Trails Committee to design and install educational signage about birds and birding at East Lake Park. Because of the rich diversity of its bird life, East Lake Park has been named a ‘Magnet Site’ on the AHBT. Magnet sites are those which have such an abundance of bird activity that they will be satisfying for beginners and children, as well as for experienced birders. Because of its location in downtown Birmingham, East Lake Park offers important opportunities to reach an underserved urban audience and show them the rewards of observing birds in their own neighborhood.
Introducing the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail
From the forested hills of the Ridge and Valley region to the rich pastures and farmlands of its river-carved valleys, the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail provides a wide diversity of habitats for birds, including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and area endemics like the Brown-headed Nuthatch, as well as an exciting list of migrants and year-round residents. Especially noteworthy for bird-lovers are the many rivers that flow through this region, including the Black Warrior, the Cahaba, the Coosa, and the Tallapoosa, which attract a variety of water birds as well. The Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail features 38 approved sites in Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, Etowah, Jefferson, St Clair, Shelby, and Talladega counties, covering an area of over four million acres.
The sites (in alphabetical order) are:
1 Anniston Museum of Natural History GPS: 33.6965 -85.8201
2 Birmingham Botanical Gardens GPS: 33.4909181 -86.7760218
3 Birmingham Zoo GPS: 33.4894201 -86.7777597
4 Centre – Piedmont – Cherokee County Regional Airport GPS: 34.0971027 -85.6172894
5 Cheaha State Park: GPS: 33.47784492 -85.80548822
6 Cherokee Rock Village GPS: 34.180761 -85.817279
7 Chief Ladiga Trail, Borden Springs GPS: 33.914767 -85.543206
8 Coleman Lake: Talladega National Forest, Shoal Creek GPS: 33.7817328 -85.5574926
9 Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area, Mary’s CreekGPS: 33.863289 -85.547129
10 East Lake Park GPS: 33.572265 -86.7261774
11 Ebenezer Swamp GPS: 33.1747955 -86.8013519
12 Five Mile Creek GPS: 33.6069681 -86.7510102
13 Frog Pond Overlook GPS: 33.714045 -85.6643037
14 Horse Pens 40 GPS: 33.9222332 -86.3083292
15 Horton Mill Covered Bridge GPS: 34.0096461 -86.4489024
16 James D. Martin Wildlife Park GPS: 33.9976824 -86.0068481
17 Kymulga Covered Bridge GPS: 33.3338375 -86.2990868
18 Lake Purdy GPS: 33.4461007 -86.6564403
19 Limestone Park GPS: 33.1857985 -86.7635383
20 Little River Canyon Mouth Park GPS: 34.2867162 -85.6838005
21 Logan Martin Dam GPS: 33.4263922 -86.3385282
22 Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge GPS: 33.7184 -85.7092
23 Neely Henry Dam GPS: 33.7843409 -86.0525796
24 Oak Mountain State Park GPS: 33.3196745 -86.7638776
25 Palisades Park GPS: 33.994165 -86.4122428
26 Porter’s Gap – Pinhoti Trailhead, Talladega National Forest GPS: 33.3336483 -86.0268484
27 Ruffner Mountain Nature Center GPS: 33.55918 -86.7022719
28 Ruffner Mountain Wetlands GPS: 33.562147 -86.6908
29 Tannehill State Historical Park GPS: 33.2544341 -87.0661155
30 Ten Islands Historical Park GPS: 33.7841618 -86.0658033
31 Turkey Creek Nature Preserve GPS: 33.700684 -86.690296
32 Weiss Lake Overlook GPS: 34.205517 -85.6188039
Information about all of the birding trail sites is available at www.alabamabirdingtrails.com.