MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - One of my favorite local places to bird is an island off the Alabama River just north of Montgomery. Not only will you find lots of birds there, but you might also bump into a former congressman and mayor of Montgomery clearing brush. After birding, you can walk down the main drag of the town of Spectre, the set for the 2003 movie "Big Fish."
Jackson Lake Island is just a few minutes from downtown Montgomery. The island previously was owned by the parents of retired state Judge Lynn Bright. She and husband Bobby Bright have really spruced the island up since he left Congress in 2010, doing much of the work themselves. I often see him running a Bush Hog when I visit.
"You can get out there and really get your frustrations out whacking on some bushes," said the former congressman, who also manages his farm nearby.
In the past it was known primarily as a fishing destination, and it still has lots of fishermen on its banks or putting their boats in at the island's boat ramp to fish the backwaters of the Alabama River. But after the publicity of filming Tim Burton's "Big Fish" there, the island also has become a popular spot for picnics and even weddings. I see kayakers regularly putting in at the boat ramp; some to fish, others just to enjoy the paddling.
But back to birding. Since discovering Jackson Lake Island as a birding site about a year ago, I've seen a wide variety of birds there -- Yellow-Billed Cuckoos, Summer Tanagers, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Green Herons, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers, a variety of ducks in the winter, Carolina Wrens, Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Red-Tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Spotted Sandpipers, Brown Thrashers, Cormorants and all the everyday backyard birds -- jays, cardinals, mockingbirds and sparrows. (See photos.)
I've also seen a few warbler migrants there in fall and spring -- Black and White and Prothonotary come to mind -- and lots of our winter resident warblers -- Palm, Pine and Yellow-Rumped.
But if I had to pick one species that is the island's prettiest centerpiece, it would be the Red-Headed Woodpecker. Not all of the birds I've listed are there all year, of course, but I don't recall ever being to the island without seeing at least three or four Red Heads, and on a recent trip I saw at least six.
Perhaps they are attracted by the dead trees that surround the island. But whatever the reason, they readily can be seen both around the picnic pavilion and looking for insects in those dead trees just offshore.
The island is a great place to walk, but you also can bird it fairly well from your vehicle. A road circles the perimeter of the island -- a little more than a mile around -- and goes down the center as well. It is connected to the mainland by a short causeway. If you bird there, don't forget to check out the entrance road before you get to the causeway; the tall pines there are filled with birds early in the morning.
Also keep an eye open for the resident fox. I've seen it several times, but it's always gone by the time I get my camera up.
Whether you're birding, fishing, kayaking, enjoying a walk, picnicking or just checking out Spectre, the cost is modest: $3 per person for day use, and camping is allowed for a bit more.
-- 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." He will join with another professional wildlife guide, Andrew Haffenden, to lead several field trips during the three-day weekend. To see a schedule of activities, to join AOS or to register for the meeting, go to: www.aosbirds.org
-- 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, 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: birminghamaudubon.org
-- 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: birminghamaudubon.org
-- Birmingham Audubon field trip to Bushy Creek Lake in Bankhead National Forest, April 15, 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. Details, birminghamaudubon.org
-- North Alabama Birdwatchers Society field trip to Monte Sano State Park, April 15, 7 a.m. Details at: www.northalbirding.com
-- 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 here. Most of the activities are open to the public and many are free. See it at: alabamabirdingtrails.com
Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at email@example.com. To see other columns, go to: http://www.wsfa.com/category/245234/ken-hares-natural-alabama