Coleman Lake, located in the Shoal Creek Division of the Talladega National Forest, is a must-see location for birders. Situated just a short drive off of I-20, Coleman Lake offers a wide assortment of habitats, including, besides the lake, Longleaf Pine ridges, second-growth tangles, and open, well-forested trails. The variety of habitats at Lake Coleman provide homes for a wide array of birds. These differing habitats intersect with one another all over this relatively compact area, so the birder can often explore two or three wildly diverse habitats by simply standing in one spot and turning around.
The “big two” at Coleman Lake are the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Red Crossbill, and both of these birds are permanent breeding residents here. The woodpeckers have two highly visible nesting compartments under active management along County Road 500. The compartments are easily identified by the open, mature stands of Longleaf pine. Each compartment consists of several acres of the tall pines with the hardwood understory removed. The nesting compartments are burned every couple of years, and the charring is likely to be evident in these areas. The Red-cockaded Woodpeckers generally spend an hour or so in these areas in the extreme early morning and late afternoon. They are also here much of the day during the breeding season, which is April through June. The remainder of their day is spent on large pines in their foraging stands, which may be located a mile or more from the nesting and roosting trees. To see these rare woodpeckers, plan to be on the grounds of Lake Coleman at dawn, dusk, or in the spring when the birds are tending nests.
The nomadic Red Crossbills may be found almost anywhere at Coleman Lake, but they are most frequently seen at the head of, and along, the Pinhoti Trail. The birds spend their time in or near conifers. Listen for the “jeep-jeep-jeep” calls.
Another bird found in the open, mature pine woodlands is the rare Bachman’s Sparrow. This sparrow is best spotted in the spring, when they often sing their lovely and plaintive, “heeeeere-kitty-kitty-kitty” song from exposed perches.
Coleman Lake is a superb location for breeding birds such as:
- Vireos: Yellow-throated, Blue-headed (scarce and irregular), Red-eyed, and White-eyed
- Warblers: Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Pine, Black-and-white, Hooded, Kentucky, Prairie, Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Common Yellowthroat
- Tanagers: Scarlet and Summer
- Sparrows: Song, Field, and Chipping (found at Lake Coleman all year) and White-throated, Swamp, and Fox (found at Lake Coleman in winter)
- Thrushes: Wood (common in the warmer months) and Hermit (common in the winter)
- Woodpeckers: All types, with high numbers of Pileated, Hairy, and Red-headed.
- Nuthatches: Red-breasted and White-breasted
Check the lake in winter for rafts of “puddle” ducks, Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes. Wood ducks breed locally. Keep your eyes out for Hooded Mergansers and Blue-winged Teals in summer, both of which breed in a few scattered locations around the state.
Coleman Lake is a wonderful spot that is overflowing with birds, both rare and common. This is truly one of Alabama’s most significant and consistently rewarding birding locations. It is worth a visit any day of the year and should be included on any visiting birder’s “must-see” list.
NOTE: Be sure to check the Forest Service website for information on opening; this lake closes seasonally for the winter.
From I-20 in Cleburne County, take exit 199 (Heflin [fuel, food, lodging available at exit or in Heflin]), and follow US 78 E for 8.5 miles to Edwardsville. Turn left (NW) at the sign for Coleman Lake on County Rd 61 in Edwardsville and follow Cleburne 61 for approximately 7.5 miles. Turn right at the sign for Coleman Lake on County Road 532, and right onto County Road 500 in approximately .7 mile. The entrance to Coleman Lake Recreation Area is about 1.5 miles ahead on the right.