The long-awaited North Alabama Birding Trail is now open with 50 sites in 11 north Alabama counties. Signs embellished with a kingfisher logo are being seen along roadsides, marking the places designated as prime birding sites. The belted kingfisher is the signature species chosen as the insignia of the North Alabama Birding Trail. Since they are often found fishing, or living near rivers and lakes, the belted kingfisher makes a perfect icon for the north Alabama birding habitats that include many beautiful lakes and rivers.
A trail guide is available to help visitors find each site. The colorful publication makes it easy for visitors to plan day trips to one, several, or all the sites on a loop. Detailed directions to each site are provided. Also included in the guide are symbols that show what amenities, like restroom facilities or picnic tables, are available at the sites. Only a few locations require an entrance fee; most offer free access. The guide also gives Global Positioning System coordinates for all of the sites.
The birding trail is divided into three loops. The Northwest Loop winds its way back and forth across Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick Lakes. Fifteen sites are on this loop, including the Bankhead National Forest, Joe Wheeler State Park, Wilson Dam, Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge and the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area.
The Central Loop is located in the heart of Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley. One of the prime birding spots in this loop is the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, known for its diversity of waterfowl. Other sites on this 18-stop loop include Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area, Madison County Public Lake, Monte Sano State Park and Round Island Recreation Area.
The Northeast Loop includes17 stops along the most mountainous portion of the state. Lake Guntersville is known for bald eagle viewing, while the only known Alabama population of ruffed grouse resides in the Skyline Wildlife Management Area. Other stops include Mud Creek Wildlife Management Area, DeSoto State Park, Little River Canyon and Russell Cave National Monument.
Many of the birding trail sites have interpretive panels to help enrich the visitor’s experiences, with illustrations and bits of information about the area’s history, habitat, and what birds might been seen at the site. Ten sites along the trail have covered informational kiosks, each containing three 3x4-foot panels detailing more information about the trail, the nature of north Alabama, and that site in particular.
“We know that many people are serious wildlife and bird watchers,” says Mark Sasser, Nongame Wildlife Program Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “The sites selected will appeal to them, but will be especially helpful to casual observers. The informational signage is designed to educate as well as to direct viewers.”
Although a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially mark the opening of the trail is scheduled for September 30, all sites are currently available to the public. To request a visitor’s guide to the North Alabama Birding Trail, call 866-238-4748, 866-23VISIT or download a copy at www.northalabamabirdingtrail.com.
The trail is the result of a cooperative effort between many state, federal and private organizations. Most of the funding for the $280,000 project is from a federal grant to the state to provide recreation and education about Alabama’s non-game wildlife species. Matching funds for the grant are from a number of municipalities and counties, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the North Alabama Tourism Association, and area businesses: Nucor Steel, BP-Amoco Companies, and 3-M Company. The chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus in north Alabama led the effort to obtain these matching funds.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.