Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Cinnamon Teal puts spice in Alabama birding

Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Cinnamon Teal puts spice in Alabama birding

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - There are some birders who will drop everything and rush virtually anywhere for a chance to see a truly rare bird. But even relatively common birds are fun to find when they are somewhere they aren't supposed to be.

The most recent example of that in Alabama is a Cinnamon Teal, so-named for the color of most of its plumage. The Cinnamon Teal is a fairly common duck, at least if you are looking for it in Mexico where it winters or from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast where it summers. It also lives year-round in parts of South America.

But finding one in Alabama, more than a thousand miles from the closest point of its usual range, is decidedly uncommon -- in fact, it is downright rare.
That's why birders from all over Alabama have been making pilgrimages to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur to see a male Cinnamon Teal that has been hanging out there with some of its Blue-Winged Teal cousins for the past couple of weeks.

I almost did not make it up to see it. I had been fighting a cold, feeling miserable, and feared that it would be long-gone before I felt like driving from Montgomery to Wheeler. Every time I saw a Facebook post with sighting reports, I longed to make the trip. Finally, I threw my Dayquil and Kleenex in the car and drove up.

Arriving at the White Springs Dike section of Wheeler, I walked about a mile into the refuge where I was rewarded with a distant but relatively clear view of the Cinnamon. There were even five Blue-Winged Teals with it. Nearby were a male and female Green-Winged Teal, the other teal common in Alabama. They were not interacting with the others, but it was interesting to see the three teal species all at once.

The photos I got were not great because of distance and marsh reeds between me and the ducks, but it was nice to get any photos at all. (See photo gallery.)

The Cinnamon Teal is far from being the only such example of a bird found in Alabama that is far from its usual range. Earlier this year I photographed a Bullock's Oriole in Montevallo; this bird is fairly common and like the Cinnamon Teal, its usual range is Mexico in the winter and the Rockies-Pacific Coast in the summer. (See photo.)

In January I saw a Rufous Hummingbird in Montgomery. This Western bird has wintered here for the past few years instead of flying to Mexico with its fellow hummingbirds. (See photo.) Also in January, I saw a Say's Phoebe in Autauga County, another fairly common Western bird wintering here instead of Mexico.
Column readers may remember my writing about a Red Phalarope seen last fall on Dauphin Island by members of the Alabama Ornithological Society when it was meeting there. But the Red Phalarope is different from the birds listed above. It is very uncommon bird that spends most of its life at sea, so to find one anywhere on land is rare indeed and in Alabama, extremely rare. (See photo.)

Birding is about a lot more than finding rarities. But rare birds, even if they are only rare in Alabama, add a bit of extra spice to an already rewarding hobby.


-- Alabama Ornithological Society: Kevin Karlson, the author of several books on birding and a professional nature guide, will be the featured speaker and lead several field trips at the AOS spring meeting on Dauphin Island April 21-23. Karlson is co-author of "Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds" and "The Shorebird Guide."

Karlson will join with another professional wildlife guide, Andrew Haffenden, to lead several field trips during the three-day weekend. Haffenden, who leads field trips around the world, makes his home on Dauphin Island and is an expert on the birds found there.

Karlson will hold a workshop on Friday evening on identifying birds by impression and on Saturday evening will present a program on "Birds on the Wind -- the Miracle of Migration." Dauphin Island is one of the best sites in North America to see migrating warblers and shorebirds.

To see a schedule of activities, to join AOS or to register for the meeting, go to:

-- Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshop: This respected and wide-ranging nature workshop will turn 40 years old when it is held May 11-14 in Mentone. Classes will explore the ecology, wildlife, and culture of northeastern Alabama.

Knowledgeable faculty members will lead classes and field trips on such things as animal ecology, stream biology, beginning and advanced bird identification, mammal identification, insect collection, geology, Native American culture, early Alabama architecture, canoeing, and more. There is also a program aimed at youth.

Participants will stay at either Mentone's Alpine Camp or at nearby DeSoto State Park.

For information, go to:

-- Birmingham Audubon Teaches Nature: Alabama Birding Trails, April 30, 2-4 p.m. Joe Watts, Birmingham Audubon president, will discuss the success of and plans for the Alabama Birding Trails program.  The program will be at Oak Mountain Interpretive Center. The program is free, but the usual admission to the park is required. For information, go to:

-- Birmingham Audubon field trip to Hoover's Moss Rock Preserve, April 1, 7 a.m.-noon. Details,

-- North Alabama Birdwatchers Society field trip to Monte Sano State Park, April 15, 7 a.m. Details at:

-- The Alabama Birding Trails web page has developed a comprehensive list of upcoming birding and nature-related activities around the state that is much more detailed than space allows me to outline here. Most of the activities are open to the public and many are free. See it at:

Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for Feedback appreciated at To see past columns, go to:

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