September 14, 2005
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
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
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.