Ruffner Mountain Nature Center can be a wonderful place for birding. The Nature Center recently acquired and opened a public wetland area located off Ruffner Road in Irondale, on the other side of the mountain from the Visitors Center. This new wetland area remedies the only complaint about the nature center, which was a distinct lack of wetland birds and that in times of drought, activity levels on the mountain were discernibly low.
Begin an Alabama birding trail tour of the wetlands by scouring the foliage around the parking lot and gate. This spot can be teeming with towhees, Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, sparrows, and White-eyed Vireos (warm months). Follow the signage for a .9-mile trail over relatively level terrain. The trail is an unpaved two-track jeep trail through (occasionally damp) mixed-age, largely hardwood forest. The woods ring with songs and calls from Wood Thrushes; Hooded, Black-and-white, and Kentucky warblers; Summer Tanagers; Great Crested Flycatchers; Red-eyed and Yellow-throated vireos; Eastern Wood Pewees; and Pileated and Hairy woodpeckers. You won’t be bored on the walk.
Eventually you will arrive at the Ruffner Mountain Wetlands. The tall grasses and edge habitat at the entry to the wetlands are home to numerous Field and Chipping sparrows, along with towhees and cardinals. From fall through spring, there are many Song and White-throated sparrows. Look along the power trail here for Indigo Buntings and bluebirds. Creature comforts in this area include a covered picnic pavilion and a shaded picnic area with many tables.
The wetlands are actually a series of small marshes and ponds, traversed by a boardwalk and trail. This is a good spot to see Catbirds and Common Yellowthroats in the warm months, and Song and Swamp sparrows in the cooler months. The water should make this a very productive area in migration. The edge should produce Palm and Tennessee warblers in particular. Check the small trees around the ponds for Yellow Warblers in migration, and possibly as local breeding birds. Expect Barred Owls and Red-shouldered and Cooper’s hawks to be common here. Waders are generally Green and Great Blue herons, with occasional visits from Black-crowned Night and Yellow-crowned Night herons.
From I-20 in Birmingham (Jefferson County), take exit 132B (Montevallo Road). Food, fuel, and lodging are available at or near the exit. Turn left onto Montevallo Road and follow .5 miles, turning left on 16th Street. In .2 miles, turn right on 2nd Avenue North. In .6 miles, merge onto 1st Avenue North, and in a further .5 miles, turn right onto Ruffner Road. Signage and a small parking lot for the Ruffner Mountain Wetlands are on the left in approximately 1.5 miles.
Learn more about Ruffner Mountain here.