By Jason Ward, Fund II Apprentice, National Audubon Society
Spring migration is upon us, and it is like Christmastime for birders. Countless neotropical jewels are making their way over our city each night as they fly north to their breeding grounds. As the sun rises, warblers, vireos, tanagers, and more will stop and feed, mainly on insects, as they refuel for the next leg of their journey. If you are in the right place at the right time, you’ll be granted front row seats to this spectacle. Finding the “right place” can take some pre-planning. It’s an inexact science, but with the right tips, you’ll find yourself in migratory heaven. I’m going to share some of my personal favorite Fulton County birding destinations with you in this article.
I’ll start with Piedmont Park, I mean, come on, did you expect me to start elsewhere? Sure, I may be biased, since I lead monthly bird walks there, but Piedmont Park is really an amazing place for birds. Despite being in midtown Atlanta, almost 200 species have been recorded there. Every eastern warbler you can imagine can be found within the park’s 180 acres. There are also a variety of habitat in the park, from Six Springs wetlands, to Lake Clara Meer, and there’s even a large flat meadow that attracts Killdeer
and Wilson’s Snipe after a rain shower. It also scores points for its easy-to-navigate terrain and parking accommodations.
PROS: Smooth terrain, kid-friendly, large parking deck.
CONS: Noisy, noisy, and noisy.
MOST NOTABLE MIGRANT: Blue-winged / Golden-winged Warbler hybrid (spring 2014)
East Palisades Unit of CRNRA
Staying inside the perimeter, we have the East Palisades Unit of the Chattahoochee River Nature Recreation Area. Terrain here can be a bit trickier, as you begin at a pretty high elevation and descend down a trail that’s roughly three-quarters of a mile long on the way down to the river. Birders here are usually greeted by singing vireos the moment they step out of their cars. Upon hiking down the trail, some of the more numerous migrants can be Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. It is the closest thing to a Kennesaw Mountain-like experience in Fulton County, since many of the birds here are near eye level, due to the elevation of the trail.
PROS: Amazing views, quiet trails.
CONS: The hike back up to the trailhead can be exhausting.
MOST NOTABLE MIGRANT: Swainson’s Warbler (spring 2018)
Rogers Bridge Trail
Moving to the northern end of Fulton County, we have one of my personal favorites—Rogers Bridge Trail in Johns Creek. I discovered this area thanks to fellow birder Nathan Farnau, after seeing his many reports on eBird of some really cool species. This trail has a small parking lot, capable of fitting maybe five vehicles, which can be a gift and a curse. The lack of parking spots guarantees that you’ll have a nice, peaceful hike as you look and listenfor birds—just as long as you can get one. There is a 1.8-mile long, paved trail that eventually leads to an old bridge near the Chattahoochee River. Along that trail, sparrows can be seen darting back and forth, while warblers sing from the treetops, and there is hardly a moment where there aren’t multiple birds of prey in the sky. There’s a point along the trail where you have the option of breaking off of the paved trail and climbing a short hill leading to a grassy trail that encircles a beautiful retention pond. Yellow-breasted Chats may be found here all spring and summer, singing their weird mimicked songs. American Woodcock are also frequently heard and seen here early in the morning, and during the late afternoon/early evening peenting and doing their courtship flights in the fields. This park is Fulton’s best-kept secret in terms of bird diversity. You truly never know what will show up here.
PROS: Super quiet hikes, large variety of birds.
CONS: Small parking lot, the occasional dog off leash flushing
Killdeer through the field.
MOST NOTABLE MIGRANT: Pectoral Sandpiper (spring 2017)
Whether you choose to visit one of these hotspots or go birding in your neighborhood park, this is the most wonderful time of the year. I wish the best of luck to you all, and I hope to see you out birding!
For a complete listing of Atlanta Audubon Field trips, please visit our field trips page.