Su = summer
F = fall
W = winter
Sp = spring
YR = year-round
Continue 2.4 miles and turn left. = Most driving and walking directions are highligted in BLUE.
NOTE: Area closed in May for turkey hunting. = Most important notices are highlighted in ORANGE.
= Location is within +/- 10 miles of the indicated interstate highway. This is especially helpful for out-of-town birders who may be passing through Georgia while travelling and would like to get out in the field.
= Location is a "Georgia Birding Hotspot." Though this designation is subjective, it generally means that the area should be given high priority whenplanning a birding trip to a region. Some Hotspots offer productive birding virtually year-round (Jekyll Island, Phinizy Swamp Nature Park), while the best birding of the year may be seasonal at others (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park).
= Habitat and/or access at location is subject to change according to mixed land use or changes in ownership, such as cattle operations, agricultural fields, pine plantations (logging), and so on. Always adhere to good birding ethics concerning private property, and if the habitat at a location has experienced major changes or is no longer accessible, please email the webmaster.
SBM = Shorebird Migration; this very generally refers to mid-March thru May in spring and mid-July thru mid-October in fall. Fall is the prime shorebird season. Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers likely only in fall. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable.
PM = Passerine Migration; this very generally refers to April and May in spring and August thru mid-October in fall. This includes all songbirds - wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, flycatchers, etc. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable. Spring migration is much more concentrated and birds are often in colorful breeding plumage and singing. Fall migration is more spread out; fall wood warblers can be notoriously difficult to identify (or impossible to determine sex), with numerous juveniles which do not exhibit the same obvious field marks as adults.
IBA = Important Bird Area; the aim of the IBA Program is to identify and conserve key breeding and feeding sites for birds. An Important Bird Area is a place that provides essential habitat for one or more species of bird, whether in breeding season, winter, or during migration. These sites are considered to be exceptionally important for bird conservation; see Georgia's IBA Webpage.
1) Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
GPS via Google Maps
[DeLorme pg. 20, G-1]
Real-Time Bar Chart Powered by eBird
The site of a major Civil War battle in 1864, this mountain is so important for migrating birds that it was designated as Georgia's first Important Bird Area (IBA). Documented extensively since the early 1990's, this migratory Mecca is one of the best spots to see neotropical migrants anywhere, not just in the state but east of the Mississippi River. If you are in the Atlanta area in spring or fall and looking for a little birding get-away, it is not to be missed; it is just a 30-minute drive from downtown and very close to I-75. Some of Georgia's most accomplished birders have devoted endless hours to visiting the mountain and documenting the birds they observe, with a colorful rainbow of wood warbler species being of particular interest. A definitive source for information concerning how to bird the area, seasonal occurence of species (including bar graphs), and much more is another one of Giff Beaton's books - Birds of Kennesaw Mountain, which can be purchased at the park or at GOS Publications. All of the sightings used to produce the book, along with volumes of additional data collected since its publication, have been incorporated into the real-time eBird Bar Chart at the link above. You may wish to visit the park website.
From I-75 heading north away from Atlanta, get off at Exit 267B which will automatically put you on Highway 5 headed west towards Marietta; but as soon as you cross back over I-75, exit to the right when you see a sign for Hwy 41. From points north, when you're coming south on I-75 get off at Exit 267 and follow signs that say "to Hwy 41." When you get to the light at Hwy 41, turn right and go through one traffic light. At the next light, you will see a BP gas station and a McDonald's diagonally to your right; get in the left turn lanes and turn left here onto Bells Ferry Rd. At the first light, turn right onto Old Hwy 41. Go over a RR bridge, and then through one light (with Louise's Restaurant on the corner) and soon you will see the mountain and the battlefield on your left (PHOTO 14). You can turn left at the next light onto Stilesboro Rd, and then left into the Visitor Center parking lot, but unless you get there really early (which you should anyway!), it's very hard to get a spot here. Therefore, the GPS point above is at the large new parking lot, reached by going straight through the light - it will be on your left.
There isn't really a "wrong" way to bird the mountain, except maybe to use the foot trail instead of the road, because the road offers much more open views, allows more people to position themselves to see a bird, and often gives you the advantage of looking at eye level or even down into the canopy to help avoid the dreaded "warbler neck." One problem with the road, though, is that it is shared by pedestrians, motor vehicles and bicyclists (weekdays only) so you must be vigilant and obey all pedestrian signs. When you get to to visitor's center area during migration, you will often see a small group of birders forming near a fork in the Mountain Road (just beyond the parking lot); the right fork leads over to two houses that are actually park administrative buildings (PHOTO 1). Just as you start down this short road, you'll pass under some mature trees that can have good flocks of birds during migration. Just beyond the houses, bird the woods surrounding a fenced maintenance area but do not go beyond the gate.
Next, backtrack down the spur road and bird the woods along the edges of the grassy field to your left (PHOTO 2). Your shoes may get wet with morning dew, but often it's well worth it with low, scrubby-relating birds along the edges like Hooded Warbler, Canada Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Gray Catbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo, or (rarely) Nashville Warbler. This field is often skipped by visiting birders but should not be - on some days the best species are recorded just in this small area! Another good idea is to take a few minutes to bird around the parking lot (PHOTO 3) and the trees around the visitor's center. There are some very tall tulip poplar trees towering above a shady picnic area opposite the visitor's center that may have Baltimore Orioles or other birds feeding on their flowers in spring. Below these, along the edge of the parking lot by the picnic area is a black gum tree that is often covered up with thrushes, tanagers, and vireos eating its fruit in the fall.
When you're finished at the bottom, it's time to head up the mountain. The woods on your right and left just after you walk past the IBA sign and through a gate are usually good - you may have Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, and other birds here. A brief foray up the foot trail to a scrubby, wet drainage area with lots of Chinese privet may produce Kentucky Warbler or even Louisiana Waterthrush but both of these species are rare at KMT (especially waterthrush). Continue up the road, birding your way past a Civil War monument and into the woods (PHOTO 4). The woods here tend to be kind of slow, but birds pop up now and then. Winter Wren is sometimes found in early spring down the slope to your left, and the same area can be good for Hermit Thrush. You will come around a right curve, and the canopy opens up just a ways up the road (PHOTO 5); this area up to a painted pedestrian crossing can be productive for flocks of migrants. The road will curve to the right again just past the pedestrian crossing, with an area of pines to your left - not surprisingly Pine Warblers live here year-round and are very vocal in spring.
Continue birding up the road, staying alert for feeding flocks that are sometimes given away by noisy chickadees or titmice, until you come to a large open area (PHOTO 6; known as "the first big open area"). Check the tops of any snags here for perched birds, and take your time working the scrubby vegetation along the road on both sides for White-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, Hooded Warbler, or (rarely) Blue-winged or Golden-winged Warbler, Nashville Warbler, or Wilson's Warbler. On clear days there is a great view of downtown Marietta with Atlanta on the horizon in the distance. After another brief plunge into the woods, the road curves sharply to the right and you'll see some rock outcroppings on your right. This long stretch (PHOTOS 7 & 8) can be great for flocks of migrants, and a benefit here (as mentioned earlier) is that the road cut allows you to look downhill into the canopy below.
At the end of this stretch, you will reach a few boulders, a bench, and an informational sign on your left (PHOTO 9). This area is known as "the saddle," because it is part of a saddle-like ridge connecting big Kennesaw Mountain to Little Kennesaw, which is now directly in front of you. The low scrubby area below the bench has turned up all kinds of great birds, and it is also worth walking down the foot path a ways to explore this habitat more. The saddle is also a good location for a daytime hawk watch or a nocturnal thrush count (though permission must be obtained from the park for the latter). As you continue to climb on the road, you'll reach another large open area that is uphill to your right with several small dead trees and lots of low, brushy habitat; this is sometimes called the "snag area" (PHOTO 10). The brushy habitat here may turn up species mentioned in the "first big open area," along with many other interesting birds; Eastern Wood Pewees like to use the snags as perches. Eventually you will come to the upper parking lot, with an area of successional growth and edge habitat downhill on the left (PHOTO 11). Bird the edges of the parking lot, especially if you hear activity, and then enjoy a nice view of Atlanta before heading up the stairs to the summit trail (PHOTO 12).
The trail up to the summit of the mountain (PHOTO 13) can be covered up with migrants on a good day when several flocks are working the area; it can also be a dead zone on bad days. When the birds are there, here is a true opportunity to experience migratory birding bliss with birds like Cerulean Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, and more. It's also possible to get a bad case of "warbler neck" because the tall canopy is directly overhead. The summit itself is frequented in migration by large chattering groups of Chimney Swifts performing acrobatics overhead. Keep an eye on the sky here while you take a break and enjoy the views, because swallows and migrating or local raptors may appear as well, including Turkey or Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, or (rarely) Peregrine Falcon or Osprey.
When you're done birding at the summit (where you can get another view of the snag area from above), you can return the way you came or walk over the summit and down a rocky foot path on the other side which will intersect the road back at "the saddle" where you can turn left to head back down.
A particular attraction of the mountain for many birders is the declining Cerulean Warbler - especially mid-late April and late July through August. Along with this species, on a typical walk in the peak of spring or fall migration you may encounter warblers such as Blackburnian, Worm-Eating, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Prairie, Tennessee (especially fall), Chestnut-sided, Yellow-throated, Blackpoll (spring only), Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird (usually heard only), Hooded Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and many more. Each season also turns up a few rarities and uncommon birds; in recent years these include Warbling Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, MacGillivray's Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Wilson's Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Blue-winged Warbler. In addition to all the warblers, a wide variety of thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, and other migrants use the mountain to rest and fuel up. Pay attention to the Atlanta Audubon Society web page (click the field trip tab) for free guided walks on the mountain during migration, led by some of the state's top birders.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7 PHOTO 8
PHOTO 9 PHOTO 10 PHOTO 11 PHOTO 12 PHOTO 13 PHOTO 14
2) Cochran Shoals Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
PM, IBA, late F for sparrows
GPS via Google maps - South Parking (Interstate North Pkwy)
GPS via Google maps - North Parking (Columns Drive)
[DeLorme pg. 20, H-2]
Real-Time Bar Chart Powered by eBird
Text by KB and Jim & Allison Healy
Mountain, Cochran Shoals is one of the premier birding locations in metro
Atlanta. It is at its best during migration, but also offers unique late fall birding and some interesting wintering species as well. It is often said in the Atlanta area that whereas KMT dominates the spring, The Shoals presides over the fall in regards to top-notch observation of migrating passerines. The
River is an important migrant corridor, and the property features a variety of habitats including bottomland, swamp, willow and alder thickets, marsh, some upland woods, and a well-established sparrow field. The only complaint birders have here is that there are also lots of humans attracted to this habitat - from bikers to joggers to families, and their dogs. This may be true, but the birds happily go about their business in spite of all the people, so it is well worth a little patience and a few evasive maneuvers to enjoy the birds of Cochran Shoals.
You can access the area from either the southern or northern end. From points north, use
Georgia 400, exit at Abernathy Rd and head west (turning right at the bottom of the exit). Go through a major light with Roswell Rd, and eventually the road will curve strongly to the right and become Johnson Ferry Rd, heading south. Cross over the
River and take a left immediately onto Columns Dr, and follow it to the end where the parking lot is located. Note that you will pass the Johnson Ferry South Unit (Area 2) on your way down Columns Dr on your left, which is a nice stop as well (see description below). You can also use I-285 to access either end. To get to the north end, exit at Riverside Dr and head north. After an extremely sharp right curve, you'll come to a light with Johnson Ferry Rd. Turn left and cross the
Chattahoochee river, then follow the directions above. To get to the south access, heading east on I-285 get off at Northside Dr and go straight through the light at the top of the exit. Turn left at the next light onto New Northside Dr. Go straight through the next light, which is for people exiting I-285 coming west (if you are one of those people, turn right at the light at the top of the exit). From this light, you will curve around to the left through some office buildings, then come to a light with Northside Dr. Go straight through the light and you are now on the access road - Interstate North Pkwy. Cross over the river and turn right immediately into the parking lot. The parking fee for all CRNRA areas is $3.00; if you live in the
Atlanta area, they are such good birding spots that a $25.00 annual pass is a no-brainer. Note that there are restroom facilities at both parking lots, but none in between!
The southern parking area on Interstate North Pkwy is closer to the city and I-285 and where Atlanta Audubon Society field trips meet, so let's begin there. Park and pay your fee or display your pass and head north on the wide gravel jogging trail. In spring and fall, listen for noisy Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, or the chips of Yellow-rumped Warblers to alert you to the presence of flocks of migrants working the trees along the river in the canopy, the mid-story, and low brushy areas anywhere along the trail. You may encounter several species of wood warblers including: Pine, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Yellow-throated, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Magnolia, Prairie, Palm, Northern Parula, and American Redstart (all relatively common); Blackburnian, Cape May, Worm-eating, Blackpoll, Canada, Kentucky, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Ovenbird (uncommon); Nashville, Wilson's, or Connecticut (rare) among a few others. It is not unusual to find a dozen or more species of warblers in one day during prime time migration at The Shoals.
Other interesting migrants - some of which also stay to breed - include vireos such as Red-eyed, White-eyed, Blue-headed, Yellow-throated (last two uncommon), and Philadelphia (rare except mid-late September when uncommon); thrushes such as Swainson's, Wood, Hermit, Gray-cheeked, and Veery (latter two uncommon); flycatchers including tricky Empidonax species such as Acadian, Yellow-bellied, and Least Flycatchers with at least one record of Alder; Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Eastern Kingbird; Baltimore Orioles move through in migration while a few Orchard Orioles stay to breed in the marsh; and both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers are present in good numbers.
Eventually you will see a brown wildlife viewing sign on your left marking a boardwalk (PHOTO 4). Take your time birding this interesting swampy area all the way back to where the boardwalk becomes a dirt path. The boardwalk area may produce waterthrushes, Empids, typical warblers (see above), breeding Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Wood Ducks, and many other birds mentioned earlier. In spring you may rarely encounter a Prothonotary Warbler in this area, catch a glimpse of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron skulking back in the alders, and in fall you will enjoy many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zipping around, their heads dusted white by the pollen of the prolific jewelweed flowers. The boardwalk is also host to a rare and beautiful Georgia butterfly, the Baltimore Checkerspot, which flies in mid-May.
Head back to the main jogging trail on the river, and continue heading north; note the next side trail on the left (PHOTO 5) which takes you into the heart of the marsh, which you were skirting around on the boardwalk earlier. But first, go out onto a wood observation deck overlooking the river which is directly across from this trail. Scan the rocks for Spotted Sandpipers, check all the waterfowl, and in spring see if there is a swarm of swallows performing acrobatics over the rapids. This is a unique treat of spring migration at Cochran Shoals, when up to six swallow species and Chimney Swifts can be observed from the comfort of a bench! It is an awesome opportunity to study swallows in flight, compare species, and just enjoy the show - take your time because the extra investment of 10-15 minutes here can yield more birds than a quick stop. Northern Rough-winged Swallows sometimes congregate here by the hundreds and tend to be the most numerous species (they also breed); mixed in during spring migration you will also see Barn Swallows and Cliff Swallows (both nest under the bridges downstream), Tree Swallows and Purple Martins (uncommon), or Bank Swallow (rare), along with scores of Chimney Swifts.
When you leave the overlook, head down the marsh trail between two low concrete walls. You are now in the heart of Red-headed Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orchard Oriole, and Red-winged Blackbird country. You may spot a perched or foragingGreen Heron or (rarely) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Areas of jewelweed may be covered up with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in fall. Check all snags in migration for rare Olive-sided Flycatchers; in late fall Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and (uncommonly) Rusty Blackbirds begin moving in for the winter. Occasionally in migration, King Rail, Virginia Rail, and Sora have been heard in this area, but never seen (please don't agitate them with audio). Continue birding past another set of low concrete walls, and always check a small beaver pond visible on your left through a wide open gas line cut for waterfowl (Snow Goose, White Ibis, American Wigeon, and Little Blue Heron have been seen here - all rare for the property). If you have more time, you can create a long loop on the west side of the property by continuing to follow the main gravel trail north from here (see map below). Another possibility is to take a dirt side trail on your left just after the gravel trail curves to the north. This will take you past the upper reaches of the beaver pond (lots of woodpecker snags here) and then into some upland woods habitat and a powerline cut which may produce a few more migrant flocks and will bring you back down into the boardwalk area from the other direction; this area is not birded very often. Usually I just turn around and head back to the river.
Just north of the marsh trail, you'll come to the sparrow field mentioned earlier on your left (PHOTO 2). It is always worth a walk around this field because, as detailed earlier, you might find any number of birds relating to it in various seasons. When you're done at the sparrow field, continue north over a foot bridge and then past a wooded area on your left with a creek flowing through it; check the edge of the woods here for migrants. About 200 yards further north, you will notice a well-worn foot path split off to the right, with a circular concrete sewer access unit near the beginning (PHOTO 1). This is known as the "Philly Vireo Trail," so-called because September walks have produced up to four of this normally scarce species; it also tends to be a good area for rare Golden-winged Warblers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in the fall as well. Many trees along the river are covered with Virginia creeper and poinson ivy vines, and you should also be treated to variety of birds feasting on their fruits in fall: Swainson's Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo, even flycatchers like Eastern Wood-Pewee and Empids. See the map below, which show where the trail is located. The corridor with the trail (PHOTO 3) was actually created by a sewer line cut; this fortuitously isolated a narrow strip of woods right along the riverbank, so if a flock is working in this area they tend to move up or down the river and can be easier to follow, which helps you get more looks to sort through the birds... unless, of course, they bail out across the trail into deeper woods.
When you get to the end of the Philly Vireo Trail, it will re-join the jogging path; from here you can either continue north about 200 yards where the jogging trail loops around to the left past the north parking lot and then comes back down on the west side of the property to create a long loop (mentioned earlier) or you can turn around and head back to your vehicle the way you came. It is notable that the western trail corridor is much more open with a wide, grassy strip along its length. This is perfect for good numbers of Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeak has been seen here on multiple occasions in spring. However you decide to get back to where you parked, you should always make the little extra effort to bird a very lush area located behind the north end restroom building, which is best viewed by starting at a trail behind some boulders and a gate that actually begins on Columns Dr (you can see the gate in the interactive street view link of the parking lot above). From this short trail, and in an awesome undeveloped section of the sewer line cut parallel to it, you can often find great birds such as Philadelphia Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Empids, etc.
Along with good numbers of the more commonly occuring species of migrating wood warblers, thrushes, vireos, tanagers, and flycatchers, Cochran Shoals often hosts an array of unique species that are otherwise uncommon in the metro area. Both Northern and Louisiana Waterthrush may be found in migration along the river bank and in any low, wet areas and at least one pair of the latter species usually breeds. It is also a good place to find denizens of scrubby understory such as Hooded Warbler, Canada Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Ovenbird, White-eyed Vireo, and areas of really thick brush and river cane have produced rare Connecticut Warblers in May. It is one of the most reliable properties near Atlanta to look for Golden-winged Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo in fall. Spotted Sandpipers can be seen on the rocks out in the river, where interesting waterfowl may also be found from fall through early spring such as Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, and Double-crested Cormorant; secretive Wood Ducks breed in hidden sloughs and are often seen at river's edge or flying up and down the river.
Great Blue Herons nest in colonies on large pines along the river every year. Other waders may also be found on the river or skulking in the marsh, such as Green Heron (breeds), Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, or Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (all uncommon to rare) or Snowy Egret (very rare). Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks soar overhead, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks stalk the woods, and Osprey may be seen flying along the river with a fresh catch. Even Bald Eagles have been seen along the river! Groups of migrating vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, and Sandhill Cranes might be spotted cruising over at high altitude.
The many dead snags in swampy areas are perfect for a rare Olive-sided Flycatcher, which is found here semi-annually in spring or fall. The same dead trees are a woodpecker's paradise, and indeed Cochran Shoals is by far the most reliable location in
Atlanta to find Red-headed Woodpeckers - and lots of them! In addition to these striking, raucous breeding birds, all the other "regular" woodpecker species may be found quite readily, including Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (fall through spring) along with plenty of Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches.
The sparrow field is a unique and special feature of this property. During fall migration a rare Henslow's Sparrow might be flushed; Lincoln's Sparrow has become a regular visitor in October in small numbers, among good numbers of Song and Swamp Sparrows. You may find the occasional Savannah or Vesper Sparrow (migration only), and rarities such as Grasshopper Sparrow and Dickcissel have made brief appearances as well. The field is also an important stop-over for both Marsh and Sedge Wrens. In mid-late October it is actually possible to encounter all five species of wrens that occur in
Georgia (a "Wren Slam") at Cochran Shoals. Along with the two species above you may also find House Wren in the field, while the surrounding woods will produce many Carolina Wrens and the occasional Winter Wren. Other birds that use the field at various times of year include Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Sora, Indigo Bunting, Palm Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird, and when part of the field is flooded you may even find the odd shorebird such as Yellowlegs, Wilson's Snipe, or Solitary Sandpiper. NOTE: Be ethical, tread lightly, and please do not create new paths if there is already a narrow foot trail present. Furthermore, do not stress the special birds of the field by over-pishing or flushing them too many times, and do not use audio playback in the field!
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 MAP
3) The Acworth Lake Loop
W for waterfowl
GPS via Google Maps
[DeLorme pg. 19, F-10]
This fairly short route is generally only used in winter for waterfowl, though the bridge over the dam between lakes Acworth and Allatoona does host nesting Cliff and Barn Swallows, and they may be joined by Northern Rough-winged Swallows or (rarely) Bank Swallows during migration. Some of the wooded areas at the various vantage points will host passerines during migration. There may also be gulls in winter or terns in migration, and you should keep a keen eye on the sky for raptors, as Bald Eagle and Osprey are sometimes seen. Species worth mentioning include Horned Grebe, Caspian Tern, Herring Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Black Tern, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Ruddy Duck, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Ducked, Canvasback, Redhead, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser. On a few rare occasions there have been exposed mud flats during fall migration, visible from Acworth Beach (see below), and species observed include Semipalmated Plover and Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers.
Start at I-75 Exit 278 (Glade Rd) and head south for 0.4 miles to a light with Lake Acworth Dr, turn RIGHT (this is Hwy 92). In 1.4 miles turn left into a small recreation area on Lake Acworth (the GPS point above is here). Thoroughly scan Lake Acworth for waterfowl and gulls. The road actually goes over the dam between Lake Acworth and Lake Allatoona, and you can scope both lakes and view nesting swallows by walking around this area (PHOTO 1 & 2). Be extremely careful crossing the road to scope Lake Allatoona and when you turn left out of the lot later - it is very busy and fast-moving.
When done, carefully turn left on Hwy 92 and cross the bridge. In 0.6 miles, take the first available left turn onto Ragsdale Rd. In 0.5 miles, you will see water on your left and right. Park on the shoulder and scope the small arm of the lake to your right (PHOTO 3); both dabbling and diving ducks may be here, along with herons or egrets. You can also backtrack about 0.2 miles and go into a little park (South Shore Park) on the other side of the road for a different view of Lake Acworth (PHOTO 4).
Continue down Ragsdale Rd for 0.2 miles and take a sharp right onto Acworth Due West Rd., then follow it for 1.2 miles until it deadends into Nance Road and turn left. In 0.5 miles, turn left into the entrance for Cobblestone Golf Course. Park as soon as you see spaces on the left (where the driving range is), and you can scope the upper end of the lake and a marshy area from a knoll next to the parking area (PHOTO 5). Do not venture onto the golf course and be polite not to distract golfers trying to tee off below you!
Return to Nance Rd and turn left for 0.4 miles, then left again at the first light onto Main Street. Go through a commercial area, and through a light with Cowan Rd. Drive slowly through historic Acworth, and just after the last block of shops, look for Academy Rd on your left (this is exactly 2.0 miles from Nance Rd). Turn left, and go through a stop sign at a school. This road will end at a small parking area with a boardwalk where you can scope the lake (PHOTO 6). When you leave, you'll see that you cannot return on Academy because it's one-way; turn right to head down Beach Dr. At the end, you'll come into a boatramp parking area and Acworth Beach, which offers very open views of most of the lake (PHOTO 7).
When done, turn right out of the gravel parking area onto Seminole Rd, and turn left at a stop sign with Dallas Rd, and you'll find yourself back at Academy where you can turn right to get back to Main St. Turn left onto Main St, and 0.25 miles later you will connect back to Hwy 92 to finish your tour; note that when you see the overpass for Hwy 92, you actually have to turn left just before going under it to curve up to a right turn onto the road.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7
4) Johnson Ferry Units of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area
PM, late F for sparrows
GPS via Google Maps
[DeLorme pg. 20, G-3]
Text by KB and Jim & Allison Healy
See Cochran Shoals section for detailed directions to the light at Johnson Ferry Rd and Columns Dr (GPS point above). The parking lot for the North Unit is directly on the east side of Johnson Ferry Rd across from Columns Drive. This Unit features more of the same type of birding as Cochran Shoals: a mix of an open scrubby field, low wet areas, and hardwood-dominated riparian forest along the Chattahoochee River. However, one advantage of spending a morning birding these two units is that there is much less human traffic than at The Shoals. You can find a similar diversity of birds, in lower numbers, without worrying about noisy gravel or dodging joggers.
There is a wet area dominated by willows adjacent to the parking lot which may have Yellow Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Louisiana or Northern Waterthrush, and other mirgrants in spring or fall. As you begin down the gravel road, you'll see a wet weedy corridor on your left and a park service building and restroom facility a bit farther down, on the right. In late fall, the weedy strip between the road and the wooded edge on your left will host plenty of Song and Swamp Sparrows, with a few White-throated and Field Sparrows closer to its edge with the woods as well. In October-early November, you may be lucky enough to find a Henslow's Sparrow or Sedge Wren here, and both Lincoln's (annual) and Grasshopper Sparrows have been observed as well. Common Yellowthroats often pop up during migration. You should actually walk in the weeds down the middle of the grassy corridor if possible, passing a gravel parking area on your right, all the way down to some boulders marking the beginning of the foot path. Continue north from the boulders, following the foot path. Thick weeds and brambles continue on your left, with a thin strip of successional habitat on your right. Good sparrows can still be found all along this corridor, so be vigilant - though you cannot really "tromp" in the weeds anymore because they are truly impenetrable. Fox Sparrows can be regular here in cold months as well, especially in the treeline and brush between the boulders and the boardwalk.
By now you will have no doubt noticed a willow-choked low, wet area behind a fence on your left. This area often produces waterthrushes and other migrants in migration. This is also the center of much Red-headed Woodpecker activity, as a cluster of large pine snags occupies the northern edge of the slough. Olive-sided Flycatcher has been observed on these snags in the past. From here, you can explore trails farther north, encountering species very similar to those described in the Cochran Shoals section. One trail begins by turning left and walking down a boardwalk, and then continues in hardwood forest north (this tends to be harder birding due to tricky viewing from inside the trees). But what can make it worth it, as long as there has not been an extended drought, is a wet swampy area on your right through the woods, just after a bridge crossing Nannyberry Creek. Several waders have turned up here, such as Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, and (rarely) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
Alternatively, you can take the trail straight along the sewer line cut, which tends to be more productive and allows more open views. Some great migrants have turned up here in spring migration: Bay-breasted Warbler, singing Sedge and Marsh Wrens, Kentucky Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, both waterthrushes, and even a rare Connecticut Warbler in May 2011. Many beautiful neotrops stay to breed: Blue Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, Summer Tanager, White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireo, and Wood Thrush... along with the striking resident Red-headed Woodpeckers.
When you are done, return to the gravel parking lot. Bird the edges around the lot towards the Chattahoochee River, which may host flocks of migrants working their way along the river. You can walk down a boat ramp for an open view of the river, where swallows often hurtle through the air. Most will be Northern Rough-winged, although Cliff and Barn Swallows are present in good numbers as well (both nest on the Johnson Ferry Rd bridge); other species may be present in migration, especially spring.
Return to your vehicle and go straight through the light, crossing over Johnson Ferry Rd and heading SW on Columns Dr. Approximately 0.5 miles down on the left, turn at the entrance to Johnson Ferry South (Unit 2). Here is a GPS point at the turn. This is a less-often birded unit during migration, but has some neat habitat and is certainly worth a stop. Park in the lot and bird the edges of the over-grown fields around the parking lot; because they have not been mowed for years, the fields are more or less turning into a successional forest which has slowed the birding down a bit. At the northen end of the lot (opposite the parking fee station), there is a row of mimosa trees to the right, with a large oak tree and sycamore trees in the background (PHOTO 1). This area can be simply "covered up" with good birds in fall (see Henderson Park, Dekalb County, for a description of mimosa trees). Warblers like American Redstart, Magnolia, Prairie, Hooded, and others will be feeding along with Eastern Wood-Pewees and Acadian Flycatchers. Several species of Empidonax flycatchers have been seen, so get to know the key field marks in case Least or (rarely) Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are present.
Bird your way back towards Columns Dr. along the edges of the parking lot and the entrance road. In the fields in fall, there are lots of pokeweed bushes with berries that attract many birds - mainly mimid thrushes like Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, and Brown Thrashers, but other birds may be feeding here, too. Eastern Kingbirds like to flycatch from the saplings in this area during migration. As you get near Columns Dr, there are low, wet areas on both sides with lots of willows. You may find Yellow Warblers here, along with other wood warblers, vireos, and flycatchers. In fall, the area has lots of jewelweed and you will find Ruby-throated Hummingbirds harrassing each other (and other birds!) as they feast on the flowers' nectar.
Head back towards the parking fee station, where there is a dirt trail along the river. Some of the trees have Virginia creeper vines which yield berries in fall that many birds love (see Cochran Shoals). Watch for fluttering, feeding birds along the trunks and main branches; many will be Swainson's Thrushes or Red-eyed Vireos, but Veeries or Gray-cheeked Thrushes may be present if you're lucky. Head down the trail to the left (upstream) and soon you'll come to the other side of the mimosa trees. This area of the woods may also hold many birds that are relating to the mimosas and to the huge oak tree that is above your head. There are some dead snags here that often have pewees on them, but look carefully because Olive-sided Flycatcher has shown up in the area before. In this same area, a creek crossing provides a nice spot to look for waterthrushes, and you can also get down to the river to scan for birds here. As you bird down the trail, you'll notice a large wetland through the trees on your left. There are a few places where the woods are open enough to allow you to get to the edge to scan. The whole length of the trail, all the way up to a now-closed unit of the property near the Johnson Ferry Rd bridge, can be very productive for many common migrants and uncommon species such as Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Wilson's Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and plenty of tricky Empids to sort through.
Return the way you came, and head towards a large picnic gazebo in a grassy area (PHOTO 2). Though they are transitioning into woods, the surrounding fields and the grass itself still host sparrows in late fall and winter. Lincoln's (annual) and Vesper Sparrows have been seen, along with Sedge and Marsh Wrens (all migration only). Most sparrows will be Song and Swamp Sparrows, but a few Savannah Sparrows may pop up in migration, and there should be White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in winter as well. Swamp Sparrows tend to be closer to the marshy area behind the parking lot, and a few Field Sparrows may pop up anywhere as well. A nice treat here in the past were somewhat reliable wintering Fox Sparrows. The best spot seems to be an area in the field south of the gazebo (PHOTO 3). Continue to the edge of the field where saplings are starting to grow near the woods and you may get one to pop up by "pishing," but again - this whole unit is a striking example of how quickly fallow fields can transition into a forest if not regularly brush-hogged, with choking box elders filling it up, growing like weeds every year.
Another special bird in this area is American Woodcock. You can enjoy their "peent" calls and twittering aerial displays from the brushy fields as it gets dark from late January through early March, though clear views are generally not possible due to low lighting conditions (which is the case for woodcock observation in general). you can stake them out at the gazebo or at your vehicle.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3
5) Allatoona Corps Property
PM, limited seasonal access
GPS via Google Maps
[DeLorme pg. 19, F-9]
This 1,450 acre property along Big and Little Allatoona Creeks is leased to Cobb County Parks and Recreation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A combination of open fields, hardword-dominated forest, patches of mature pines, weedy edges, and riparian habitat makes this a very nice place to bird - in fact, it compares quite favorably to Cochran Shoals. The only downside is that hunting regulations limit access for seven months out of the year. IMPORTANT: 1) You may bird the area at any time from February through August. 2) You may bird only after 10:00am in September, October, and January. 3) The property is completely closed except for hunting in November and December. So essentially, while you must wait until mid-morning for your fall migration fix (it can really be worth it!), spring migration is not affected at all, and you can try for winter birds after 10:00am in January and February.
To get there, go south on Mars Hill Rd from US Hwy 41 for 1.5 miles, passing Frey Elementary School on your right along the way. Turn right onto County Line Road, and in 0.8 miles you will see Old Stilesboro Rd on the right, turn here. Turn right into the gravel parking lot about 0.4 miles down; there are restrooms and informational signs here. In front of you is the first of a series of large open fields. American Pipits sometimes forage in these areas in winter, particularly where the ground cover is very sparse. In migration, use the trail to start into the property, staying alert for migrant flocks revealed by noisy chickadees or titmice. On the right are mostly pines, and not surprisingly you should encounter Pine Warblers, Yellow-throated Warbler, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Golden-crowned Kinglets (early spring). A thin line of trees divides this field from the next one, which may funnel flocks and allow for easier viewing. Note that the woods on the left side of this field are dominated by bottomland hardwoods along a creek; Kentucky Warblers have bred in thick areas of brush along this creek in the past.
You will then break through a line of pines into a very large field, which is maintained very nicely, with corridors mowed through it seasonally for easy access. It ranges from waist-high grass to weeds to thickets, and will hold birds very similar to those in the sparrow field at Cochran Shoals, though rare sparrows have not been reported here that I know of (almost certainly due to lack of coverage). As you tromp around out there, be aware that some areas can be very wet! A few species encountered here include Eastern Meadowlark, Sedge Wren, Swamp, Song, Field, and Savannah Sparrows, and Red-winged Blackbird.
Navigate your way around another "peninsula" of woods extending into the field from the right, and by skirting the left side of the field you'll notice a brushy, wet depression on your left. Fiesty Common Yellowthroats may pop up to a little pishing, and other denizens of brush may appear such as Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, or Ruby-crowned Kinglet (colder months). Finally, you'll need to find the opening through yet another thin line of trees that will keep you on track as the trail/road turns briefly to clay as it descends through a bottomland area, a section of which is very open, to your right. In March this is a great place to look for Rusty Blackbirds foraging on the ground or singing overhead.
Of course, you now see another huge field coming up. You can explore the wooded edges of this field as much as you like for migrant flocks. Big Allatoona Creek runs right down the middle of it directly in front of you. The scrubby edges of the creek often produce good migrant flocks, and as with other isolated riparian strips, you may be afforded some good views. It is possible to cross the creek when it is very low, but do not expect these conditions. Instead, back at the NW corner where you first entered the field you can (very carefully!) pick your way across using a pipe and a wide I-beam. More great open habitat and scrubby edges await you on the other side; the property is so large that you can honestly turn it into a day's birding if you like. A few more species that have turned up (some of which breed) include Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-bellied, Acadian, and Least Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin.
Make your way back to your vehicle for snacks and/or a restroom break. Next, walk into the field parallel to Old Stilesboro Rd, passing through a corridor cut through the woods. Keep an eye out for sparrows darting this way and that in the brush, as well as for flocks of passerines in the edge habitat. As you round a curve in the grassy corridor, you'll see that it opens up into another long, open field to explore. This one is particularly nice, with a very well-developed progression from grass, to weeds, to saplings, to the wooded edge. You will encounter plenty of birds already mentioned, and this area can be especially good for Empids.
Before you leave, head over to Old Stilesboro Rd and very carefully cross to the other side. There is a very large, wet, muddy area covered with the hulks of fallen snags like match-sticks. In the living pines behind this area, Great Blue Herons have nested in the past. Out in the muck, a few White Ibis and a couple Little Blue Herons once made an appearance, both rare for Cobb County. Walk up the road shoulder on that side, and when you see a "road" (sewer line cut) on your left behind a gate, pick your way around a metal pole and through a very wet area for a view of a pretty marsh on your left. Though you will strike out more often than you will get lucky, it is always worth a try for rails here, as Sora, King Rail, and Virginia Rail have all been recorded here on the Marietta CBC in the past; a pred-dawn stake out may produce a vocalization, with the added bonus of Barred Owls calling and American Woodcock displaying in the wooded edges (only possible very early February due to limited access). Wood Ducks are often seen and heard here as well. Be very careful getting back to your vehicle and at all times while you are along the road, as there is a blind curve near the marsh.
Copyright 2013 Ken Blankenship. All rights reserved.