Birds abound at Walker County Lake

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 3/26/17

With more than 400 species of birds documented in the Yellowhammer State, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website calls Alabama “a birding paradise.”

The same could be said of Walker County Lake, which is part of the West Alabama Birding Trail.

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Birds abound at Walker County Lake

Posted

With more than 400 species of birds documented in the Yellowhammer State, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website calls Alabama “a birding paradise.”

The same could be said of Walker County Lake, which is part of the West Alabama Birding Trail.

“The good thing about the county lake is that you’re guaranteed to see something. It’s a good spot for beginning bird watchers,” said county extension agent Rebecca Persons.

The Alabama Birding Trail’s website, https://alabamabirdingtrails.com/sites/walker-county-fishing-lake, lists dozens of species that populate the trees around the lake and describes where they are most likely to be found. While some can be seen at the lake year-round, others move in and out with the seasons.

The Alabama Birding Trail’s site describes the activity level of the birds and their numbers at Walker County Lake as “amazing.”

“This wealth of bird life is most likely due to the presence of all the anglers who frequent the lake and pay little attention to the birds, which in turn seem unphased by the close presence of humans,” the site states.

Persons recently accompanied several adults on a birdwatching trip to the lake, and the group found several birds where the site suggested without leaving the car.

“You can definitely see lots of water birds. You can see small birds in the wooded area that we would consider songbirds, or you can walk down the trail and see the eagle’s nest and sometimes see the eagle soaring over the lake. So if it’s your first birding experience, you can see a lot in a short period of time without having to move around very much,” Persons said.

Birder Susan Chandler said a common mistake first-timers make is assuming that they need to be as deep in the woods as possible to have the best chance of seeing more birds.

“When we hike the trail, we don’t see as many as we do close to the water, at the entrance to the park or driving around the outside of the lake,” she said.

While some species can easily be seen along the shoreline or in the woods near the parking area, others are more difficult to spot.

For example, Chandler said the blue-billed ruddy duck that spends some time at the lake each winter isn’t likely to be seen without binoculars.

“The lake is big, over 160 acres. Without binoculars, you’re only going to be able to see something moving in the distance. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on binoculars, but if you don’t want to get in a boat while you’re there looking for birds, you will need some binoculars,” Chandler said.

Chandler noted that a pair of Orion waterproof binoculars is usually available on Amazon for $56.

Chandler also recommends purchasing the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, which is available online for between $10 and $15.

“When most people start out birding, they look at a bird and say, ‘It’s blue’ or ‘It’s red.’ If you read the first pages of the field guide, it talks about the shape of the bill and some characteristics that will eliminate a lot of birds so you can narrow down what kind of bird you are seeing,” Chandler said.

While color is usually the first thing amateur bird watchers notice, Chandler added that it is usually the least helpful characteristic.

“Once you learn more about identifying, you find out that a bird is a different color in the winter than in the summer. If they’re young, they don’t have their color. So color can be deceiving,” Chandler said.

On her recent trip to the lake, Persons used a Birds of Alabama Field Guide, and she brought along a CD of bird calls to help with identification.

“Some birds have very distinct calls. They almost say their name. Once you hear it and you know what it is, you can’t forget it,” Persons said.

Smart phone users have access to a number of free apps such as Merlin, which helps identify birds with five simple questions and provides bird sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library.

Another app, eBird, helps birders track and report the species they’ve seen. Last year, Alabama Ornithological Society President Anne Miller issued a call for more bird watchers to use the app because sightings in half of Alabama’s counties are considered seriously under-reported.

Chandler said she also frequents the site, www.allaboutbirds.org, to help identify birds.

Information about 28 everyday birds of Alabama is available at www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-birding-information.

Chandler also recommends following Facebook pages such as Birmingham Audobon and Alabama Ornithological Society to find out about events led by experienced birders.

“Going on those walks are a great way to start because you will learn so much,” she said.

Unlike some other hobbies, birding doesn’t have to be expensive, and it appeals to all ages.

Persons began taking her granddaughter on birdwatching trips when she was a toddler. However, she noted that it isn’t advisable to take large groups of children because they may scare the birds away if their excitement gets the best of them.

“Start them when they are young so they’ll have an appreciation for it. It’s hard even for me, and I’ve been watching birds for a long time. I know I need to be calm and quiet and move slowly, but sometimes you get so excited when you see something that you almost can’t stand it and before you know it, the bird is gone,” Persons said.

With patience and more than a little luck, bird watchers can expect to be pleasantly surprised when they least expect it.

Persons’ husband recently saw a large bird, possibly one of the lake’s famous eagles, dive toward the water and catch a fish in its talons while Persons was inside the lake office.

“Sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time looking in the right direction,” Persons said.