Saturday, July 26th, 2014. Birmingham Audubon members and guests ventured south in search of Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites on both sides of the Alabama River west of Prattville. And we’re happy to report that our quest was successful!
Our first sighting was a lone Mississippi kite circling above the US 82 bypass just south of the turn at AL Hwy 14 on the west side of town. This proved to be typical of the remainder of the morning – single birds flying just above treetop level in two other locations along Hwy 14 or the county roads that extend south from it to the river. We checked CR 29, 27, 50 and 41, and found species typical of that area and this time if year – in other words, hordes of Rough-winged Swallows, vultures and a smattering of egrets and herons flapping past. The rough-wings were especially noticeable along CR 21 in a field opposite the model airplane site. Hundreds were barely buzzing the ground as they fed.
The south end of CR 21, at the large expanse of pasture, yielded no kites of either species but we did observe an Osprey flying above the trees in the distance as it followed the course of the river heading upstream (west to east).
The home-style cooking at Chef Lee’s in Autaugaville was on tap for lunch as our birding trip morphed into a rolling mini-economic development engine. When our group of 35+ people descended we pretty much filled the entire seating capacity. Those already seated there quickly finished and headed out the door. I’m pretty sure we depleted them of their fried catfish while topping off our internal tanks with refreshing sweet tea.
We departed from there to the south side of the river, to CR 40 (aka Jones Bluff Road) where we had such success finding kites last year. Here we hit pay dirt in the form of two tractors cutting hay in the field on the north side of the road, about 1 mile north of the railroad tracks. There were approximately 15 swallow-tailed and 30 Mississippi kites working the scene, snatching insects out of the air in advance of the tractors. The scene we witnessed here pretty much explained the dearth of birds on the north side of the river; they are found wherever the action is – find a farmer cutting his hay and you’ll likely find kites feeding.
Following this we retraced our route east on CR 40 to the “ghost town” at Robinson’s Switch – collection of old wooden buildings gathered on either side of the road, adjacent to the railroad tracks. It’s a site that always begs for a photography stop and a quiet moment as one strolls beneath the drapery of Spanish moss. Virginia Creeper, coated in a fine layer of clay the color of the South, cloaks the wooden boards – giving silent testimony to the small community that once breathed here.
Our final birding destination was the gator farm near Grady, but not before our dinner at Red’s Little Schoolhouse. Once again, Southern cooking ruled the place and was tasty as always. The hordes of egrets and herons returning to the rookery are a spectacular sight. Mostly they are Cattle Egrets, but we did observe Little Blue Herons, White Ibises and Great Egrets among the masses. As has happened in the past, a splashing in the water or thrashing on the ground below the nest trees signaled the demise of another wayward nestling that strayed too far and met its fate in the jaws of a gator – a National Geographic moment in the heart of Alabama.
Photo Credits: Greg Harber and Kathleen Dunlap