Wheeler NWR – Blackwell Swamp/Penny Bottoms/Buckeye (NABT #26)

This area has been getting more attention lately as a prime birding spot. There is flooded woodland and marsh habitat here, which can be explored by car, on foot or by canoe. A variety of wetland species may be present, including Great Blue Heron, Great Egret and Green Heron, and perhaps some other less common species, such as Snowy Egret or Little Blue Heron. Common Gallinule and Anhinga are rarely found here and you might get a glimpse at an alligator 😊. There should be a few migrants around by this time, including such returning breeders as Prothonotary Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. This is also good woodpecker habitat, especially for Pileated and Red-headed. To get to our meeting place, take County Line Rd south off I-565, head south 5.5 miles and turn left on Jolly B Rd; there is a white 2-story house, with a rail fence, on the left just before the turn. From here it’s about a mile to a gravel parking area on the right. We’ll explore several areas, including a tree-lined refuge road near the parking area (good for songbirds), other wooded spots and several viewing areas on both west and east sides of the swamp (time permitting). – Dick Bruer, Leader (256-714-1992; dick.bruer@gmail.com)

Hays Nature Preserve/Goldsmith Sanctuary (NABT #29)

NABS has birded both areas regularly, especially Hays; there should be a few migrants present, especially neotropical songbirds. 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). – Bill McAllister, Leader (256-534-8354; billmcallister94@gmail.com)

Monte Sano State Park (NABT #29)

On this trip, we hope to catch some early spring migrants, especially Louisiana Waterthrush. 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. (34.745325 -86.511672). – John Ehinger, Leader (256-536-2716; johnehinger@yahoo.com)

Wheeler NWR-Limestone Bay/Arrowhead Landing/White Springs Dike (NABT #20, 23, 24)

Our final trip to White Springs Dike for the season is in its third year, at a time when we are usually taking a break, as waterfowl start moving out of the area, and prior to spring migration. Duck numbers are still usually good, but with less variety, with migrating Blue-winged Teal moving through, good numbers of Green-winged Teal and Shovelers around, etc. A couple of years ago we got a big surprise, with the presence of a beautiful male Cinnamon Teal in the marshes near the Decatur end of the dike (last year one turned up on the golf course at Point Mallard). 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). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646; phinken@wowway.com)

Mallard-Fox Creek Wildlife Management Area/Wheeler Dam (NABT #1, 2)

We’ll start with the Mallard-Fox Creek WMA and work our way west, searching for water birds, 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 Ingalls Boat Harbor Pavilion in Decatur: from the direction of Huntsville, cross the river bridge and take the first right onto Alt 72/20 (Wilson St.). Go about a mile and turn right on Neher St., follow to pavilion parking lot. – Dwight Cooley, Leader (256-565-6239; sabrewing@earthlink.net)

Guntersville Waterfront/Peninsula, Guntersville Dam South (NABT #35, 36)

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 and bird the waterfront. 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; billmcallister94@gmail.com)

Town Creek Embayment, Wheeler Dam, Joe Wheeler State Park (NABT #2, 3, 4)

This trip primarily targets waterfowl and other water birds, 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; hdean@hiwaay.net)

Guntersville City/Dam North/Hawk Farm (NABT #37)

The Guntersville area provides some of our best winter birding, as we explore a variety of habitats along Guntersville Lake, the Tennessee River and nearby areas. We’ll convene at the Guntersville Chamber of Commerce parking lot, on the south end of the Hwy 431 bridge, birding first along the lakefront and some other spots of interest; we should see a large number and variety of waterfowl, water birds, raptors and songbirds. We’ll break for lunch around 11-11:30, then reconvene about 12:30 at Guntersville Dam, north side, off Hwy 431 (10-15 miles back in the direction of Huntsville, to your left; watch for the sign). Meet at the picnic pavilion parking lot near the dam, to the left, as you face the dam. After birding near the dam, we’ll visit the nearby Jones ‘hawk farm’. 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. 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. Another treat may be Wild Turkey, which we encounter fairly regularly on the farm. WE’LL ALL NEED TO BE TOGETHER TO VISIT THE FARM AND ARE NOT ALLOWED BEYOND THE STABLE AREA AT THE TOP OF THE HILL. (34.363686 -86.291161). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646; phinken@wowway.com)

Wheeler NWR -Beaverdam Peninsula Tower/Limestone Bay/Arrowhead Landing/White Springs Dike (NABT #20, 23, 24)

Join us for another trip to one of our favorite birding areas, as we look for waterfowl, raptors, cranes, a variety of songbirds, etc. Expect to be behind locked refuge gates for 2-3 hours, afterwards lunching at Apple Lane Farms, 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). – Dick Bruer, Leader (256-714-1992; dick.bruer@gmail.com)

Guntersville Area Audubon Christmas Bird Count (NABT)

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; rreynolds2970@charter.net)

Cullman Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Another Christmas Count that sometimes gets overlooked in northern Alabama is held in the Cullman area. Counters meet at Culpepper Real Estate (601 7th Ave SW, Cullman, AL 35055, close to the Post Office) to assign areas to be covered. This count is frequently short-handed, so we hope some of you will consider helping out. Those who want to help for part of the day (morning or afternoon) can also participate. We will re-meet for compilation at 5:00 pm at Karma’s Coffee House (103 1st Ave NE, Cullman, AL 35055). – Vince Meleski, Leader (256-739-4589; vincemeleski@outlook.com)

Wheeler NWR Audubon Christmas Bird Count (NABT)

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 count circle, 15 miles in diameter, to identify and count all birds seen or heard from dawn to dusk. There are currently 10 active 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 Interpretive Nature (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 (watch for a sign on the right). 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 (256-565-6239; sabrewing@earthlink.net)

Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area (NABT #21)

This trip will give us a chance to visit one of the most productive segments of the Wheeler NWR Christmas Count circle. There is active duck hunting at Swan Creek and this drives away most of the waterfowl. However, the area has lots of other birds. One area of interest is the set of fields on the north edge of the management area (behind the old warehouse). This spot usually has a number of sparrows, often including White-Crowned and, occasionally, LeConte’s (which was found last year near the boat ramp within the management area). Unless it rains heavily, we can expect to have some exposed mud flats where we could pick up some shorebirds and Lapland Longspurs. Other species we might encounter include Marsh Wren, Orange-Crowned Warbler, Palm Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, all uncommon to rare species this time of year in our area. We will meet at the southernmost parking lot of Calhoun Community College (northeast corner of Highway 31 and Airport/Sandy road). Turn right at the first traffic light past the Subway, if headed north on Highway 31. – Milton Harris, Leader (256-679-7501; miltonh70@gmail.com)

Wheeler NWR – Beaverdam Peninsula Tower/Limestone Bay/Arrowhead Landing/White Springs Dike (NABT #20, 23, 24)

Our second trip to the White Springs Dike area should be productive. Waterfowl variety and numbers will likely be impressive and most or all winter-resident songbird species will be around. We’ll head first to the goose tower observation platform, then bird nearby Beaverdam Peninsula, which is excellent for waterfowl, raptors, cranes, some open-country songbirds (pipits, horned larks, possibly longspurs), etc. Then we’ll head to Limestone Bay and White Springs Dike along our regular route, where we’ll be behind locked gates for 2-3 hours. We should encounter lots more waterfowl here, e.g., Canada, White-Fronted, Snow, perhaps Ross’ and Cackling Goose, a variety of dabbler and diving ducks, White Pelican, etc. There should be plenty of songbirds and raptors along the way too; Bald Eagles have been regularly sighted in this area the past several years, and we had a Merlin near the Decatur end last year. We should be done by lunch; Apple Lane Farms, anyone? 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). – Ken Ward, Leader (256-837-5646; phinken@wowway.com)

Wheeler NWR – Penny Bottoms/Blackwell Swamp/Rockhouse/Buckeye (NABT #26)

Attendees will get to see another interesting part of the refuge on this trip. This area runs parallel to the Tennessee River and should yield a nice variety of songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and other species. 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). – Dick Bruer, Leader (256-714-1992; dick.bruer@gmail.com)