Bald eagle soaring at Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama

Soaring

Stumbling around with minimal plans occasionally landed me in the middle of a great little adventure. I had headed south with the Polar Vortex on my heels without any specific plans. A recommendation at the Alabama Welcome Center, and I was off to Lake Guntersville State Park.

Herons flying at Lake Guntersville
Herons will fly in front of you in an effort to lead you away from their nesting areas before eventually circling back.

Bald Eagles

Unknowingly, I was in the state park that is home to Alabama’s largest concentration of Bald eagles. Furthermore, I was in the middle of Eagle Awareness Weekend. A weekend they take seriously around here.

After experiencing the Sandhill cranes in their winter feeding grounds less than two weeks ago, I was ready for some more birding. I quickly noticed that there were birds everywhere.

Just walking less than fifty yards from my camper to the edge of the Tennessee River, the killdeer got riled and squealed their dislike, the geese honked and waddled in the other direction and the American coots eased further away from the shore.

I cannot help but think a curious event is this life of mine.

John James Audubon, American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter

Eagle Awareness Weekend

With Eagle Awareness Weekend in full swing, park naturalists provided guided tours of their favorite observation spots. Needless to say, I saw Bald eagles. I guess I was hoping for that moment where the Bald eagle swoops down a few yards away, or even poses for a photo, but they all stayed quite a distance away.

Brad Saum looking for bald eagles at Lake Guntersville state park
The warmth of the sun was inviting as I launched my kayak and enjoyed bird watching in the warmth of Alabama.

Photo opportunities did not happen. Still exciting to see Bald eagles and their nests in the wild. Best of all, the Bald eagle population is no longer endangered as a result of the insecticide DDT no longer being introduced into the food chain.

In a week, I laid eyes on 19 different species of birds. If you are interested, here’s my list:

Bald eagles, American coots, Lesser scaup, Greater scaup, Canvasbacks, Horned grebe, Canada geese, Bufflehead, Ruddy ducks, Ring-bill gulls, Grey gulls, Pelicans, Loons, Killdeer, Kingfisher, Herons, Egrets,
Eastern phoebes, and Cardinals.

American coots soaring at Guntersville Lake.
American coots creating a splash as they take off.

Additionally, I saw seven more types of birds. I did not include them in my list because they were in captivity, and the other 19 listed above were all in the wild in their natural habitat.

Southeastern Raptor Center

Again, I found another Eagle Awareness Weekend activity. The Southeastern Raptor Center, which is part of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University presented their Birds of Prey Program.

Golden eagle at Guntersville State Park with Southeastern Raptor Center
One of the largest raptors, the Golden eagle is presented by the Southeastern Raptor Center during their Birds of Prey program.

Following an introduction by Greg Lein, Director of the Alabama State Parks Division, seven raptors – hawks, owls, falcons and eagles – emerged one by one from their crates and rested on the arms of their handlers.

These are birds that have been injured and are not able to be released back into the wild. Typically the Southeastern Raptor Center mends the injured birds and nurses them back to health. Once the birds are able to hunt on their own, they are released back into the wild. The few that can not be released are provided a retirement home and used for educational programs.

Here’s the seven additional birds I saw as part of the Southeastern Raptor Center program: Eastern-screech owl, Barn owl, Barred owl, Red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, Black vulture, Golden Eagle.

And the Emu…

There was actually one more bird I saw on this trip – an emu. Yes, the second largest bird that can sometimes be mistaken for an alpaca or ostrich. The state park has water treatment ponds that are fenced. To reduce the need for mowing around the ponds, goats were introduced. The local wild coyote population enjoyed the slow large domestic goats secure in a fenced area.

Therefore, to prevent coyote attacks, several donkeys were introduced to the same fenced area. The loud brays will scare away predators, and the donkeys will quickly pursue the intruding coyotes. If necessary, donkeys use their teeth and hooves to defend themselves.

And the emu. Well, emus and alpacas are frequently used as guard dogs to keep predators away. So, yes there is an emu at Lake Guntersville State Park in Alabama.

Lake Guntersville State Park

With the help of the park naturalists and the raptor center, I saw 27 different types of birds during my week at Lake Guntersville State Park. A fun little outdoor adventure to enjoy warm and sunny Alabama

Photo Gallery

Birds at Lake Guntersville State Park in early February 2019:

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