Cheaha State Park
Mt Cheaha is Alabama’s highest point, and it is one of the southernmost locations to find a number of the state’s more interesting breeding birds, such as Blue-headed vireo, Cedar waxwing, and Sharp-shinned hawk. Additionally, as the park is located in the middle of the Talladega National Forest, the area consists of vast tracts of undeveloped forested land, and these woodlands provide habitat for substantial populations of such species as Ovenbird, Scarlet tanager, Hairy woodpecker, and Black-throated green, Worm-eating , Black-and-white, and Hooded, and Kentucky warblers. Wild turkey is abundant here, and Brown-headed nuthatches (in pines) and Blue-grey gnatcatchers are found in good numbers at all elevations.
Use the many pull-outs along the Scenic Parkway (Hwy 281) as you approach the park. At the lower elevations, Summer tanagers, Yellow-billed cuckoos, and Wood thrushes are common. There are several forest service roads at the lower elevations. Short hikes along these roads can be very productive for a wide variety of woodland birds. Hooded warblers, Eastern wood-pewees, Carolina wrens, Eastern towhees, vireos, and Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers are common breeding birds. Winter brings juncos, White-throated and Song sparrows, and both kinglet species, Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, brown creepers, Red-breasted nuthatches, Hermit thrushes, Pine siskins and Purple finches join the chickadee-and titmouse-led wandering feeding flocks.
Use the well-marked Scenic Pull-Out to scan the skies for soaring hawks, especially in Autumn. This is a good area for breeding Cedar waxwings and Blue-headed vireo. A bit father up the road, note the abandoned road to the right – the former park entrance road. A short walk down this road can produce Worm-eating warblers, Scarlet tanagers, and White-eyed and Blue-headed vireos. Wild turkeys forage along this road, too. Pileated and Hairy woodpeckers are fairly common, especially at the higher elevations.
Return to the Scenic Parkway and follow to the park entrance. There is a camp store (refreshments, restrooms, gas pump) and inside the gate (nominal entrance fee) is a modern lodge and restaurant. Follow the loop road to view Bald Rock Lodge, a CCC-built edifice recently restored to its former glory, a campground, and attractive woodlands with a short hike to an overlook at the state’s highest point. The loop returns to the lodge and restaurant before rejoining the Scenic Parkway. In Fall, make it a point to hawk-watch from the overlook adjacent to the restaurant.
Follow the Scenic Parkway and use pullouts whenever possible. At the higher elevations, Scarlet tanagers and Black-throated green warblers are quite common, as are Ovenbirds. On the wooded slopes, second-growth areas host Prairie warblers, Yellow-breasted chats, Indigo buntings, and Blue grosbeaks, as well as Eastern bluebirds, and White-eyed and Red-eyed vireos.
Take a right turn at the sign and follow to the Cheaha Lake and Picnic area. This spot is too busy and noisy to be productive for birds on Summer weekends and holidays, but on quiet weekdays and in the off-season look for Louisiana waterthrush along the stream at the entrance and swallows (mostly Barn and Rough-winged) over the lake. The picnic area should produce Chipping sparrows, Carolina wren, Pine warblers, and Brown headed and White-breasted nuthatches. This is a good place to look for Red-headed woodpecker and Flicker as well. Winter brings the inter sparrows, kinglets, creepers, Yellow –bellied sapsuckers, and Winter wrens near the water.
Return to the park road and turn right. Follow to the directional sign for Turnipseed Camp and turn left. This is an all-weather gravel-and-dirt road that will reconnect with the Scenic Parkway in a short distance. Along this road are two concrete bridges over small streams. Stop here and look for Louisiana waterthrush and Acadian flycatcher (April through September) and Eastern phoebe (all year.) A very good selection of woodland songbirds may be found here at any time during the year.
Follow to the junction with the Scenic Parkway. A right turn allows you to explore two more Forest Service roads (right turns off the Parkway,) while a left turn returns you to Hwy 431 and then I-20.
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