Autumn Birding in the Black Belt
Off The Porch with Judy and Don Self
Autumn Birding at Silver Creek Park, Clarke County and Claiborne Dam Site West Park, Monroe County, Alabama (Sites 8 and 9 respectively on the Piney Woods Birding Trail)
These two Corps of Engineers parks are located on the west bank of the Alabama River just a few miles north of historic Claiborne. Both offer opportunities to bird in a variety of habitats including upland mixed pine hardwood forest, cypress sloughs, lake and shoreline. And while spring and summer will produce the largest variety of species, our most recent visit on the afternoon of November 10 allowed us to enjoy twenty-six of the species that spend the winter with us.
Silver Creek Park
Directions to Silver Creek Park: From US Highway 84 (El Comino) at Gosport (mile marker 58.3), turn north on Gosport Road/Clarke County Road 39 and go 6.1 miles, then turn right (east) on Claiborne Lake Road (Silver Creek Park sign) and go 1.1 miles to the park entrance
Description: Continue about 0.1 miles to the intersection with Silver Creek Road, turn left on Claiborne Lake Road and go about 0.1 miles to the upper parking area or continue about 0.4 miles to the main parking area, privy and entrance to the primitive camping area.
Claiborne Lake Road passes through upland loblolly pine forest with magnolia understory that is typical of the Buhrstone Hills. Park in the upper parking area and bird this upland forest. Bobwhite, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher and Northern Cardinal can be expected year round while White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warble and Indigo Bunting are present in the spring and summer.
Descend to the main parking area and park there. Birding the narrow band of river bottom hardwoods in the primitive campground and picnic area east of the boat ramp and dock produced a variety of our winter residents including, Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Carolina Chickadees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Carolina Wren, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and White-throated Sparrows.
This same area often contains Cerulean Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers during migration and Yellow-throated Vireos, Blue-gray gnatcatchers and Northern Parulas are summer residents.
Scanning the margins of Silver Creek Lake from the boat ramp parking area revealed several Great Egrets in the cattails, a Belted Kingfisher and several small flocks of Wood Ducks. And by 3:45 pm, at least three Barred Owls were calling from the hardwoods along the west side of the lake.
The Northern Rough-wing and Barn Swallows and Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites that hunt over the lake during the spring and summer have long departed for their wintering grounds in Central and South America.
Silver Creek Park can be used as a put-in for a 2.4-mile paddle down to Claiborne Lake Dam Site East and Isaac Creek Campground (Piney Woods Birding Trail Site 10). Or, for those paddling from Haines Island or Bells Landing Parks (Piney Woods Birding Trail Sites 11 and 13), it can be used as a rest stop, overnight camp, or take-out.
Note: During periods of high water, especially in the early spring and after the passage of tropical storms, the primitive campground and boat ramp and dock parking area may be flooded. Use the boat ramp on Silver Creek Road for river access during high water.
Claiborne Dam Site West Park
Directions to the Claiborne Dam Site West Park from Silver Creek Park: From the intersection of Claiborne Lake Road and Clarke Road 39, go 2.5 miles south on Clarke 39 to 11 Mile Post Road, go straight on 11 Mile Post Road for 0.4 miles, then turn left (east) on West Bank Road and go 0.8 miles to the park entrance.
Description: From the park entrance, continue 0.2 miles east to the picnic and camping area; park and bird the edges of the mixed pine and hardwood forest. A mixed feeding flock gave us excellent looks at a pair of Blue-headed Vireos, several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a male Pine Warbler who absolutely glowed in the late afternoon sun! Deeper in the forest, a lone Pileated Woodpecker stripped bark from a dead pine.
We always check the lawn area within the picnic and camping area since it has produced Common Ground Doves on past visits. We missed them on this visit.
During the summer months, this forest edge is home to Great Crested Flycatchers, White-eyed Vireos, Northern Parulas, Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings and Orchard Orioles. Both Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites are often observed foraging just above the tree tops or soaring at high altitude. Spring and fall witness the passage of numerous migrants including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.
Continue 0.1 miles to the pavilion and restroom or 0.2 miles to the parking area next to the spillway. The sandbars downstream from the spillway attract large numbers of wading birds in any season. Several Great and Snowy Egrets and a Great Blue Heron were present and a small flock of Double-crested Cormorants fished above the dam.
Small flocks of Caspian Terns often feed below the spillway during migration and Forster’s Terns winter here. Our Osprey was nowhere to be found, the first time that we’ve missed him/her in several years.
Shorebirds use the large sandbar below the spillway as a stopover during spring and especially fall migration. Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers are regulars, but only Killdeer were present during our visit.
The usually kettle of Turkey and Black Vultures formed late in the afternoon and then slipped silently away to their roost. The large field between the pavilion and the spillway usually contains Loggerhead Shrikes and Eastern Bluebirds, but not this time. A short walk north from the spillway to the small lake produced some pleasant surprises.
A small flock of White-throated Sparrows and a single Song Sparrow were feeding in the thick vegetation around the edge of the lake while Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraged in the willows above. A single Pied-billed Grebe put in a brief appearance before swimming out of sight.
Oh, and yes there were alligators, one well over 8 feet long and one about 2 feet long.
Park Access: Free; please note that those parts of the park that are more than 300 feet from park facilities are open to hunting during hunting seasons.
Silver Creek Park
N 31° 39.760’ / W 87° 34.729’ (Park entrance)
Claiborne Dam Site West Park
N 31° 36.944’ / W 87° 33.591’
Contact: US Army Corps of Engineers
1226 Power House Road
Camden, AL 36726
Amenities: Restrooms, Handicap access, Parking, Camping, Picnic area