Perry Lakes Park, the State Fish Hatcheries and Barton Beach Preserve is an 800 acre mosaic of habitats that offer a unique birding experience-old growth floodplain mixed hardwood bottomlands, four oxbow lakes, sandy swales of the Cahaba, cypress/tupelo gum swamp, man-made ponds (some drained and muddy), wet tangles of vines and 7 miles of trails. Along with these natural features, Perry Lakes Park has been enhanced with the addition of several structures contributed by the Rural Studio of Auburn University–the birding tower, covered bridge, pavilion and restrooms.
These very special structures have been designed and constructed by the Architectural students of the Rural Studio from Auburn University and feature recycled and repurposed materials. In particular, the birding tower, 100 feet in height, is an abandoned fire tower that was donated by the Alabama Forestry Commission and moved to the Park to provide birders with eye level views of canopy birds (Northern Parula, in particular), a perspective of the cypress swamp (in late afternoon, from spring until fall, you can observe egrets and herons coming to roost) and a vista of miles of forest. Scan the skies for raptors any time of the year.
From the park entrance off AL-175, follow the dirt road through the gate. The gate is unlocked and the park is open at no charge during daylight hours. To the left (north) side of the road is a low, wet tangle bordering a former hatchery pond. The cover and water here attract good numbers of songbirds, from Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) and Orange-crowned Warblers to Swamp, Song, and (occasionally) Lincoln’s Sparrows in winter, to White-eyed Vireos and Gray Catbirds in the warmer months. In 100 yards, watch for a wooden sign pointing to the left for views of a long-established Bald Eagle nest. A spotting scope can provide close-ups. To the right (south) of the entrance road, there are open views of the skies above the fish hatcheries. Scan for Bald Eagles, Osprey and Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, which may be seen here at any time.
Pass through another metal gate and enter the wooded portion of the park. The area is mostly hardwood bottomlands with scattered areas of Loblolly Pine, the dominant trees being numerous tupelos, Bald Cypress and Beech. Spring brings a profusion of wildflowers and native azaleas; the variety of plant life is quite striking here. Note the abundance of Red Buckeye and Atamasco Lilies along the trails to the south. The state’s largest population of recurved trillium is in the understory of the woods to the right of the main road just beyond the picnic area. A small copse of American chestnut trees grows just off the trails to the south of the main road.
Continue on the road toward the gravel parking area near the boardwalk and restrooms. Shortly before the parking area, to the left, you will see the covered bridge and trail leading to the birding tower. Spring is the time to visit Perry Lakes Park-the woods are full of warblers, tanagers, vireos, cuckoos, and woodpeckers. Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warblers are particularly common here. Black-and-white, Hooded, and Kentucky Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes and Common Yellowthroats are also numerous. Acadian Flycatchers and Red-headed Woodpeckers are present in good numbers. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers and White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos are easy to spot. Blue-headed Vireos are more numerous in fall and winter.
The wide greenway proceeding southward from the boardwalk and restrooms is productive all year. The tangles along Cottonmouth Creek, which abuts the right (west) side of the trail is often full of kinglets, wrens, and sparrows in winter, Common Yellowthroats in spring. The woods are full of Wild Turkeys and Barred Owls year-round. Look to the oxbow lakes to the left (north) side of the main road. You are likely to see Wood Ducks and Belted Kingfishers. On occasion, you will spot Anhingas and Common Moorhens. Prothonotary Warblers nearly take over the trees between April and September. The road is blocked just beyond the picnic area, but there is a trail that leads to Barton’s Beach–a sandbar left by the meandering Cahaba River. Along the path are thickets that may house songbirds and a few small creeks that attract Louisiana Waterthrushes and Acadian Flycatchers.
Upon completing your birding in the Park, return to Al-175 and turn left to visit the State Hatchery ponds. Vehicles are not allowed on the dikes but birders are allowed to walk the dikes to scan for birds. Please be careful not to interfere with any work being done in and around the ponds. A scope will be of great help in identifying shorebirds. You may see Least Bitterns to wintering Vermilion Flycatchers to Ross’s and Greater White-fronted Geese. This is one of Central Alabama’s best locations for shorebirds. Look for drained ponds to find sandpipers and plovers and the edges of the ponds for herons, egrets, and a few White Ibises, possibly a Wood Stork , particularly in late summer and fall. Savannah, Song, and (rarely) Lincoln’s Sparrows hide along the borders of the ponds, and American Pipits are often seen on the drained ponds. Watch for Wilson’s Snipe in the margins and banks of the ponds from fall through spring.
Small numbers of ducks, grebes, and American Coots ply the waters of the larger ponds in winter, and rafts of Double-crested Cormorants can be found in the cooler months. Eastern Bluebirds, Belted Kingfishers, and Eastern Phoebes live here year-round. Watch for the occasional Peregrine Falcon or Merlin in winter or during migration. American Kestrels breed in the vicinity, though they are far more numerous in winter. The Hatchery ponds are an exceptional location for migrating swallows in spring and fall and for Black Terns, especially in late summer and early fall.
There are parking areas at the restrooms and in front of the administration building, a boardwalk leading from the restroom to a picnic pavilion. A word of caution: this is a quiet, swampy bottomland, and snakes are quite common. Watch out for Water Moccasins and Copperheads and give them room.