Winter Birding at Monroe County Lake

Off The Porch with Judy and Don Self

Beatrice, Monroe County, Alabama (Site 14 on the Piney Woods Birding Trail)

Birding Monroe County Lake in the winter when there is less human activity around the lake is guaranteed to produce some interesting birds.  Our visit on January 27, 2011, was no exception.  Birds were literally everywhere!

Sketch map of Monroe County Lake

Directions from US Highway 84: From the intersection of Alabama Highway 47 and US Highway 84 (mile marker 72.2) west of Monroeville, turn north on Alabama 47 and go 22.5 miles through Monroeville to Beatrice, at mile marker 59.3 turn left on Alabama 265 and go north 0.3 miles, then turn left (west) on Monroe County Road 50 and go 3.7 miles, the Monroe County Lake is on the right, turn in at the entrance and park at the lake concession.

Directions from Piney Woods Birding Trail Site 13: From the intersection of Bells Landing Road and Alabama Highway 41 go north on Alabama 41 for 2.0 miles to Hybart (mile marker 73.9); turn right (east) on Monroe County Road 56 and go 3.0 miles, turn right on 56 Bypass and go 1.1 miles, turn right (east) on Monroe 56 and go 6.7 miles.  Monroe 56 joins Alabama Highway 265, continue on Alabama 265 for 3.8 miles to Beatrice, turn right (west) on Monroe 50 and go 3.7 miles, Monroe County Lake is on the right, turn in at the entrance and park at the lake concession.

Monroe County Lake in winter, looking northwest over the pier

Description: The Monroe County Lake is a 94 acre manmade lake with an unpaved access road on its east and south sides.  Upland loblolly pine forest borders the lake on the east and west and bottomland hardwood swamp extends north and south away from the lake along the main drainage.  The lake’s size and depth attract a variety of waterfowl, especially during the winter months.  The mix of forest types supports a wide variety of passerines at any season.

We parked at the gate and explored the area immediately around the concession and parking area.  Yellow-rumped Warblers and an Eastern Phoebe were fly-catching from the trees and pier while a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds foraged across the lawn.  A pair of Eastern Bluebirds hunted from the trees near to the pier as American Robins searched for earthworms in the lawn.  The resident flock of Canada Geese protested our arrival and began a slow retreat to the lake and ultimately the far shore.  A few Double-crested Cormorants and Pied-billed Grebes were scattered across the lake fishing.

Three Hooded Merganser drakes viewed from the dam keep their distance (binoculars are a must for this type of birding and a spotting scope is really helpful)

We first walked south along the dam, alternately glassing the lake for waterfowl and the forest below the dam for passerines.  The forest quickly produced Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Pine Warblers, Eastern Towhees, White-throated Sparrows and small flocks of Cedar Waxwings and Brown-headed Nuthatches.  With the exception of the cormorants and grebes, the lake seemed empty.  That is, until we had walked nearer the spillway where we could see into all the inlets on the north shore.  A nice flock of Hooded Mergansers, a pair of Mallards and several Great Blue Herons were resting there. Our target species, Common Loon, was not to be found, although they’ve wintered here during the last two years.

As we made our turn to bird the northern half of the lake, we already had nineteen species of birds and a beaver and we’d observed tracks of white-tailed deer, raccoon, fox, bobcat, and alligator in the soft sand along the access road.

As we entered the pines on the northeast side of the lake, we added Mourning Dove, American Crow and Northern Mockingbird to our list.  The resident Belted Kingfisher and Red-bellied Woodpecker then put in appearances.  As we continued north, more nuthatches, chickadees and titmice accompanied us.  Then a Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker stopped briefly in the clear-cut to the east.  And this end of the lake was alive with an even larger flock of mergansers.  At the north end of the lake, behind the beaver dam, we found small flocks of Mallards, Hooded Mergansers and Wood Duck.

The beaver pond at the north end of the lake always produces a good bird or two

Finally, as we returned to the car, raptors began appearing.  First a richly colored Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the lake and perched in a pine on the far shore.  The stark black and white patterns in its wings and tail, the chestnut wing coverts and the nearly orange breast were all on display.  Then a small kettle of Turkey Vultures appeared and circled lazily above us. And finally, just as we were preparing to leave, a magnificent adult Bald Eagle flew in from the north and settled into the mature pines on the far side of the lake.  What a way to end a near perfect day birding.  Thirty species and we missed Downy and Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, and Chipping and Swamp Sparrow and Common Grackle, all of which we’d normally expect to see.

Just a note: As we write this, spring migration is beginning (our first Purple Martins have just arrived).  And migration always produces excellent birds at Monroe County Lake.  On our next visit, we’ll be looking for White Pelicans, Ospreys, White-eyed Vireos, Gray Catbirds, Palm and Yellow-throated Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings and Orchard Orioles and any of the other 300+ species of birds that just might pass through.

Site Access: Free to birders; open February through November, Tuesday through Sunday, sunrise to sunset
GPS Coordinates:
N 31° 43.173’ / W 87° 15.618’
Contact:
Monroe County Lake
3596 Co Rd 50
Beatrice, AL 36425

Phone: 251-789-2104

Amenities: Restroom, Handicap access, Parking, Camping, Canoeing, Boat access (trolling motors only), Picnic area

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