Spring in Northwest Alabama and the surrounding areas is a truly remarkable time for those of us that love nature and especially nature photography. Mother nature has inspired all of her creatures to come out of their winter hold-up and put on their best dress.
Birds are at their most photogenic during this early spring season. The breeding colors and displays give the nature photographer some of the best opportunities of the year. Not only are they at their best, but generally, they are more sociable and gather in larger numbers making them easier to find and to photograph. Oh, and did I mention that nesting season results in lots of cute little baby birds to photograph? We’re blessed here with lots of great places to observe and photograph different rookeries. One of the best is Jackson Island just below Wilson Dam. There are literally hundreds of birds nesting below the dam. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Cormorants, Little Green Herons and several other species call this area home during the breading season. With good binoculars or a long lens for your camera, these birds are easily observed from the Rockpile Recreation area. There are other birds to be seen in this area as well that might not be nesting, but still frequent the area. Bald Eagles, Black Crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets and Pelicans also can be seen in the area below the Dam. There are similar opportunities below Wheeler Dam as well. Both sites are great this time of year.
There are now several Bald Eagle nests in the area. While I love shooting eagles with my camera, I beg everyone to treat them with a lot of respect. I only approach eagles that are somewhat acclimated to humans and even then I maintain a very safe distance from the nest. A good rule to follow is: if the animal changes it’s behavior, then you’re too close. Also understand that not all folks will have the birds best interests in mind so be very careful who you share nesting locations with. There are several instances that come to mind illustrating this point. Last year Val and I arrived to a nesting site that has become somewhat popular for observers and photographers over the last year. A man and women were almost directly underneath the nest and didn’t see us approach. There was an adult and three young eaglets in the nest. The man began to clap loudly in order to get the eagle to fly so that he could get a photo of the eagle in flight. Startling the birds in the nest could very easily have resulted in one or more of the chicks falling from the nest. They almost never survive this type of fall. This pair of eagles has been nesting there for several years now but the few of us that knew about it kept if quiet for just this type of reason. On one warm day early last summer, I was told several people with Picnic blankets and chairs set up very close to the nest tree. The eagles did not return to the nest all day with food for the chicks because of the amount of people in the area. Food is the only source of water that the chicks have and without the parents bringing in food on a warm day, the chicks will dehydrate.
Another example is at a nest near Waterloo, Val and I had gone in to an nesting area before daylight so that when it began to get light, the birds wouldn’t notice us. We were 75 yards away, in camo and completely still. By doing this, we were able to observe this pair for 2 years with completely natural behaviour. However, on one day, a young man came up through the woods, began to try to shake the tree, and bent down to pick up a rock. Presumably to try and knock the young eaglet from the nest. Why I have no idea what he thought he would do with it. However, we had began to come out of hiding now and when he looked up he saw us and left the area pretty quickly. I did post his picture in a nearby store for everyone to see…. Sorry I know I got off on a rant but protecting the animals is something I’m very passionate about. 95% of the nesting pair we know of, we’re decided are unapproachable so we don’t even attempt to photograph them during nesting season and I encourage everyone else to make this commitment as well.
Another area that is great to photograph in the spring is Rock Spring along the Natchez Trace. Commercial photography is prohibited however personal photography is encouraged. There are lots of beautiful songbirds frequenting the area. Muskrats and Nutria call the pond area home now. I believe the beavers may have moved to another den but could return at any time. There are a pair of kingfishers that I believe are nesting here. Turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards are also here in abundance if you like reptiles. There is also a myriad of beautiful spring wildflowers to photograph as well. It’s only a short hike from the parking lot and well worth the work if you’re in the area. I strongly encourage you to visit Rock Spring if you haven’t already.
The Waterloo area is one of my favorite places on earth and has been since I was a small child. Eagles and ospreys are nesting here and can be seen from the roads as they fish to provide food for their young. The older the chicks get, the more food they need so activity becomes more frequent as the spring progresses. Pelicans and ducks are also seen here in numbers. This winter, there was a group of 10 Trumpeter Swans that spent the winter here. Loons seem to grow in number here each year and there are several there now that can usually be seen from the bridge if there isn’t too much bridge traffic. The loop around second creek is a good place to see whitetail deer and wild turkeys as well. I’ve seen very large groups of turkeys in the area behind the creek. Beavers, muskrats, nutria and Otters are also residents of the waterloo area, though not as frequently seen. The Waterloo Market is a great place to get information on what’s happening in the area. Neil and Pam are always friendly and Pam makes a great hamburger. Val and I call it the “Pamburger”. Mustard, ketchup and pickles, hard to beat.
A couple of great places to photograph eagles that are acclimated to humans are The Guntersville Dam area and Shiloh Military Park in Savannah, TN. Both require a little bit of a drive, not too bad, but are well worth it if you don’t want to, or can’t, walk a long way. One of the great upsides to these sites are that they are generally gathering points for other nature photographers who are often happy to share information and techniques. If you’re new to nature photography and want to talk to other experience nature photographers, I highly recommend these sites.
We here in north Alabama are truly blessed to live in an area full of natural beauty and a plethora of wildlife. As a wildlife photographer, it’s hard to imaging living anywhere else. Get out and enjoy what we have, but please remember that the animals well-being should come first.