The Chief Ladiga Trail, the crown jewel of Alabama’s Rails-to-Trails initiative, stretches from the Georgia state line to Anniston, Alabama. The broad trail sits on a converted railroad bed, and is mostly level, paved, and features many gentle twists and turns. Along its span, the trail passes through a tremendous variety of habitats. This particular segment – from Borden Springs to around Vigo – features wooded edges, farms, fields, and stream-side woodlands. The agricultural fields are privately owned, while the woodlands adjoining the trail are primarily part of the Shoal Creek Division of the Talladega National Forest, and are therefore U.S. Forest Service Lands. An extensive number of species and individuals may be found by exploring the many different habitats found along the Chief Ladiga Trail.
The birding experience at the Chief Ladiga Trail can begin as soon as you park your car in the parking area at Old Borden Rd on AL 70. Here, among the small copses of hardwoods, you should encounter Eastern Kingbirds, Orchard Orioles, Eastern Bluebirds, and Field Sparrows. In the warmer months, other typical songbirds take up residence here. Beyond these hardwoods lie extensive agricultural fields. In the winter, these fields are home to Vesper and Savannah sparrows. At dawn and dusk, look closely at the sweeping fields for Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. When the fields are wet in the winter, American Pipits, sandpipers, and plovers may be viewed as they make their way along their migratory path. Loggerhead Shrikes and American Kestrels are local breeders, and they are both most prevalent when wintering northern birds are present between the months of October and March.
This is excellent territory for any number of hawks. Red-tails post up on the edges of open fields, Red-shouldereds are most frequently seen in the bottomlands and wetlands, and Broad-winged hawks are generally seen over forested areas. Cooper’s Hawks breed near rivers and streams but hunt wherever songbirds are most populous. Look for Great Horned Owls near open land and clearings and Barred Owls in bottomlands and wet areas. You can find Eastern Screech-Owls in woodlots where woodpeckers are present, which is most often in second-growth tangles near water. The open fields adjacent to the Chief Ladiga Trail present a great opportunity to see Barn Owls, though the species is nocturnal. Look for these birds’ day roosts in deserted buildings and large holes in trees along the trail. You will also see a wide variety of songbirds along the trail.
A few of the trail’s “don’t miss” locations include:
• The open fields near Old Borden Road. A great spot for viewing meadowlarks year-round, and grass sparrows, such as Vesper and Savannah, in the winter.
• Traveling south of CR 70, follow Old Borden Road for 1 mile. Terrapin Creek crosses here twice. Along the waterway, look for Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes. You may also be able to spot a Swanson’s Warbler in the slow-moving, heavily vegetated backwaters here. Be sure to listen for Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, American Redstarts, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.
•Continue to follow CR 70 east for 3.4 miles and turn south on Cleburne CR 230. The spacious parking area on the west side of CR 230 is an access point for a segment of the trail that is bounded on both sides by tall forests. At this location, look for both tanager species, Cedar Waxwings, White-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatches, most types of woodpeckers (apart from Red-cockaded), and a full slate of warblers, vireos, and flycatchers. This area attracts winter feeding flocks in the cooler months and is a great spot for winter birding.
• As you’re following CR 230 east, the road will join with CR 49. CR 49 is the best route to the Dugger Mountain Wilderness and the nearby Mary’s Creek birding site. Both of these sites are less than 15 minutes from Borden Springs.
From AL Highway 9 in Piedmont (Calhoun County [fuel, dining, lodging available]), turn onto eastbound W. Ladiga Street, which soon becomes E. Ladiga Street. At .8 mile bear right at the intersection with Cedartown Road, whereupon E. Ladiga Street becomes County Road 70 and Vigo Road. Soon, Chief Ladiga Trail becomes visible alongside CR 70, paralleling the highway. There are opportunities to park and sample the trail at the intersections of Vigo-Ladiga Road, Greenwood Road, and the Hebbie Highway. After 3.2 miles on AL 70, turn right on to Old Borden Road and park in the gravel lot.