A Guide to Birding in Georgia

Fannin County
Birding Locations

= summer
F = fall
W = winter
Sp = spring
YR = year-round

[Sept 2009]
= Most recently checked by Ken Blankenship (webmaster)
= Not yet checked by Ken Blankenship

  = Location is within +/- 10 miles of the indicated interstate highway. This is especially helpful for out-of-town birders who may be passing through Georgia while travelling and would like to get out in the field.

  = Location is a "Georgia Birding Hotspot." Though this designation is subjective, it generally means that the area should be given high priority when planning a birding trip to a region. Some Hotspots offer productive birding virtually year-round (Jekyll Island, Phinizy Swamp Nature Park), while the best birding of the year may be seasonal at others (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park).

   = Habitat and/or access at location is subject to change according to mixed land use or changes in ownership, such as cattle operations, agricultural fields, pine plantations (logging), and so on. Always adhere to good birding ethics concerning private property, and if the habitat at a location has experienced major changes or is no longer accessible, please 
email the webmaster.

SBM = Shorebird Migration; this very generally refers to mid-March thru May in spring and mid-July thru mid-October in fall. Fall is the prime shorebird season. Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers likely only in fall. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable.

= Passerine Migration; this very generally refers to April and May in spring and August thru mid-October in fall. This includes all songbirds - wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, flycatchers, etc. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable. Spring migration is much more concentrated and birds are often in colorful breeding plumage and singing. Fall migration is more spread out; fall wood warblers can be notoriously difficult to identify (or impossible to determine sex), with numerous juveniles which do not exhibit the same obvious field marks as adults. 

= Important Bird Area; the aim of the IBA Program is to identify and conserve key breeding and feeding sites for birds. An Important Bird Area is a place that provides essential habitat for one or more species of bird, whether in breeding season, winter, or during migration. These sites are considered to be exceptionally important for bird conservation; see Georgia's IBA Webpage.

Fannin County
If you plan to head to Fannin County for birdwatching, a stop that is certainly worth making while you tour the area is the small town of Blue Ridge, right on GA Hwy 515 / US 76 in a good central location. Along with good food, antiques, art galleries and crafts, you will find Blue Ridge Birdseed Company and owner Tom Striker. Be sure to visit his store right in the middle of town to pick up some seed, chat about recent local sightings, and be sure to pick up a copy of his own guide, "Birding Blue Ridge"... a few excerpts are found below. The book goes into much more detail, includes detailed local maps, and more! A wonderful place to stay, which provides access to the Cohuttas and all the Blue Ridge birding hotspots, is the Aska Lodge Bed & Breakfast. Wake up at the doorstep of great birding surrounded by hiking trails, along with warm, welcoming hosts, cozy accomodations, and delicious breakfast selections!
Tom & Sonja Striker, Blue Ridge Birdseed Co.,                    Bob & Mary Jo Stamper and the
     and the cover of "Birding Blue Ridge"                              Aska Lodge Bed and Breakfast   

 1) Cohutta Wilderness Area (also Gilmer & Murray County)           [December 2010]      
IBA, PM, May-June for breeding birds    
GPS via Google Maps  (Gates Chapel Rd at Forest Service Rd 241)
34.8013752572, -84.5654665296
[DeLorme pp. 13 & 14]

See also Beaton's Birding Georgia
The Cohutta Mountains are a disjunct western portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. The area is wild and wonderful, rich in natural wonders, and features high elevation ridges and peaks, the highest being Bald Mountain at 4,005 feet and Grassy Mountain at 3,692 feet. There are also many creek valleys that drain on both sides of the Tennessee Valley Divide, in which white pine-hemlock dominated forests offer habitat for several specialties including Red-breasted Nuthatch and Red Crossbill. The area is so large that the best birding strategy is to design a transect or a loop route using the generally good-quality gravel forest service roads that criss-cross the property. The primary east-west transect route is via Forest Service Rd (FS) 17 and FS 68 in the western portion, and via FS 64 in the eastern portion; a "T" intersection of FS 68 and FS 64 on Potatopatch Mountain is a good general "center point." Access to this ridge-hugging east-west transect in order to devise a route for a day's birding is a) via several western access points in the Chatsworth area coming east from GA Hwy 411, b) using Gates Chapel Rd, FS 90, and FS 68 coming from Ellijay (as described below), or c) using GA Hwy 5 and Old Hwy 2 northwest of the city of Blue Ridge to access the eastern edge of the area. Though the suggested route offered here is a favorite large loop route that takes up a whole day of magnificent mountain birding, you will be well-served using your DeLorme Atlas or a wonderfully detailed forest service map of the area to see if you want to design a customized route of your own. Here is a suggested itinerary for a full day loop route. Heading north from Atlanta on I-75, split off to the right onto I-575. Stay on this road for quite a while (it will change to GA Hwy 5/515) until you come into East Ellijay. You will first pass through a major area of new development on both sides of the highway, including a Super Walmart, Starbucks, and related mega-chain stores which are the last you will see until Blue Ridge 20 miles to your north. Next, you'll pass through a light in East Ellijay with a BP on your left and Burger King on your right; finally, turn left at the next light onto 1st Ave. You will immediately cross a bridge - get in the left turn lane and turn left when you deadend into GA Hwy 52. You will end up in historic downtown Ellijay (lots of antiques and crafts here). Enter the round-about and leave it diagonally right to stay on GA Hwy 52 heading west. Just past mile marker 8, turn right onto Gates Chapel Rd (County Rd 64). This pretty country road will wind through open farmland, and begin to snake up into the hills. Keep your eyes open for Broad-winged Hawks soaring, listen for open habitat birds like Blue Grosbeak or Indigo Bunting along the fields, and Wild Turkey are sometimes seen feeding as well. Eventually, you will go over a small bridge signed as Mountaintown Creek. Immediately following, you can take a sharp right onto gravel Forest Service Rd 241 (fine for all vehicles, though better with higher clearance) and you can bird your way along the road to a nice primitive campground (Bear Creek campground) where there are trails through hardwood and white pine-hemlock forest. There is good stocked Rainbow Trout fishing, with a few Browns and some larger hold-over Rainbows and Browns. A newer primitive bathroom facility is here. You do have to ford Bear Creek to access the camping area, so use good judgement in a passenger vehicle. Do not plan to camp here during deer hunting season - it can be very crowded; the area is always popular with mountainbikers so be vigilant on shared trails. If you continue to the end of FS 241, there is a parking area and map for the Bear Creek loop trail, which may be less crowded than the trails at the campground. You will find breeding species such as Hooded Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireo, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, plus a wider selection of neotropical migrants in spring and fall. In winter, there will be many Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos, a few Brown Creepers, and a few more common resident species. Red-breasted Nuthatch is likely resident in the area: it is uncommon here in winter and has been found during summer at the eastern edge of the Cohuttas in similar conifer-dominated creek valleys. Head back to Gates Chapel Rd and turn right, continue until very shortly it becomes gravel and forks - take the right fork, resetting your odometer here. A house on the right at the intersection with private Barnes Creek Rd sometimes has feeders, but in recent years they have not been tending to them; always stop and listen for activity in the area just in case - Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and (very rarely) Red Crossbills may be present if feeders are full. Just down the road, you will enter the Cohutta WMA, and at 1.5 miles from the fork, you will take a sharp, steep right turn onto Forest Service Rd 68 in a wide turn-out area with signage. You will now really begin gaining elevation via several switchbacks; the road can be rutted so take care. Look and listen for species mentioned already, and with the higher elevation you should also start hearing Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and American Redstart in the mix of birdsong that abounds in spring and early summer. Along your way up to the Tennessee Valley Divide, you will come to a beautiful wide-open vista on your left with room to park (PHOTO 1). Red Crossbill and (in winter) Common Raven fly-overs have been recorded here. When the road finally reaches a "T" intersection on the top of the ridge, you are at the top of Potatopatch Mountain. Turn left, and you'll continue on FS 68 towards the Lake Conasauga area (treated separately in the Murray County section). To continue on this loop, turn right onto FS 64 to head east. IMPORTANT: This road is closed annually from January 1st until the end of March; other roads in the Chattahoochee National forest are also closed seasonally or temporarily due to heavy snow and may be gated. At the "T" intersection, you are at the very high elevation of 3500 feet; as you head east on FS 64 you will now find Dark-eyed Juncos breeding, Ruffed Grouse may flush near the road or be heard drumming in March and April, and the most commonly encountered warblers will be Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided, with lots of Ovenbirds and Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, along with other species mentioned earlier; an extremely rare nesting species, a Black-billed Cuckoo was detected along this route in the early 2000's so keep your ears keen. You will pass another nice vista on your right, the Mountaintown Overlook; you may wish to stop here to relax at the wooden observation platform, have a snack, see what birds are around, and hope for a Red Crossbill fly-over (many records of the species have come from this spot in various seasons). At 4.1 miles from the "T" intersection, you'll reach a parking lot on your left at a sharp right curve in the road; this is the trailhead for the East Cowpen Trail, a very nice hike that offers a side trip down to Panther Creek Falls if you are looking for a good workout and to spend several hours here. NOTE (2011): Fom this point east, until reaching Watson Gap Rd and Old Hwy 2, most GPS programs, Google, etc. do not show FS 64, but it is depicted accurately in DeLorme. Approximately 4 miles from the East Cowpen parking lot, you'll reach Jacks Fields Campground on your right. There are primitive restroom facilities here, as well as a nice riparian corridor with open grass and scrubby thickets along a pretty stream near the headwaters of the south fork Jacks River. It makes a nice break from the car birding to get out and wander around looking for cool mountain birds and enjoying the scenery. About 0.7 miles farther down FS 64, you will find Dyer Cemetery on your left. Almost directly across the road is an often-gated 4x4 track (FS 64A) that starts up a steep grade; do not attempt to drive this road in anything other than a rugged 4-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance! However, for another potential 1-2 hour side trek you could hike this road up to Flat Top Mountain at 3,589 feet, one of only 2-3 places in the Cohuttas where Veery and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed alongside other high elevation specialties; Canada Warbler may nest here and would be a very important find in the breeding season. You may wish to drive straight through from Dyer Cemetery to Watson Gap, approximately 3.2 miles farther down from the cemetery or approx. 8 miles from the East Cowpen parking lot. You cannot miss it, as it is a large, open gravel 4-way intersection with much signage. You can continue straight to explore very rarely-birded territory along FS 22 towards Hemptop Mountain. You will eventually (and could now if you like) turn right onto Watson Gap Rd, which will end your tour and wind back down from the ridge, become paved, and lead you towards the city of Blue Ridge as Old Hwy 2. But a final and very interesting area that can conclude (or begin) this loop is reached by turning left to head down into the Jones Mill community and the Jacks River area. You will notice a regular street/stop sign at Jacks River Rd on your right. Immediatley after this, cross a new concrete bridge ("2007" is painted on it) and park on the wide shoulder just past the bridge; do not block anyone's driveway or gate. This picturesque area of private property is unique in that it offers small open farm fields, grassy areas, and scrub habitat surrounded by high elevation ridges and white pine-hemlock-deciduous forest. It is also on the north side of the divide, and thus can be downright frigid and retain snow and ice for long periods in winter! Be respectful of private property by remaining on roads in this area and by not directing binoculars towards homes. Walk back and head down Jacks River Rd, taking your time to bird your way through the area; a major advantage of the topography and fields is that fly-over Red Crossbills, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, American Goldfinches, and other birds can be more readily detected by sound and then spotted in the open sky overhead. One of the homes on the right often has cracked corn tossed on the ground in the front yard, so always approach with care and see what birds may be lurking about. In colder months you will often encounter loads of Dark-eyed Juncos, along with an assortment of other Emberizids such as Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, or White-throated Sparrow. There are several homes here with dogs, most of which are fenced or on chains, and most of which give a nice session of howling and barking as you pass through... so simply be kind, grin and bear it until you have passed. You'll come through several areas of beautiful mature white pine-hemlock forest, so be alert for Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned Kinglet in cold months; either of the latter two species would be a major discovery if present anywhere in the Cohuttas in late spring or summer but they may, in fact, breed here. You will eventually deadend at the Jack's River and a deep ford. Head back to the bridge, and continue in your vehicle on what becomes FS 126, past a tiny church and more private cabins on your left (listen for those conifer-loving species already mentioned, with windows down if you like). You will pass the parking lot for a nice hiking and horseback-riding trailhead on the South Fork Jack's River on your left, and finally you'll reach a fork, with a usually-gated forest service road on your left and to the right a road up to the Jones Cemetery. Park here, deep in the middle of a majestic conifer-filled creek valley; sadly, many of the hemlocks here may be dying from woolly adelgid, but for the time being (2011), this habitat supports a unique mix of Georgia breeding birds which is best enjoyed by taking a nice hike past the gate on the forest road. Resident Red-breasted Nuthatches may let loose a few nasal "yank" calls if you're lucky, an especially nice find from April through August. You may also find Louisiana Waterthrush, Acadian Flycatcher, good numbers of Black-throated Blue Warblers and Hooded Warblers, some Worm-eating Warblers, and a number of species mentioned earlier. This is one of few places in the state of Georgia where Red Squirrels may be encountered. A side trip up to the Jones Cemetery can be productive as well as scenic; be aware that in order to turn around, someone will need to open the gate to the cemetery, allowing the vehicle to come in and turn around, and then make sure to close it securely behind you when you leave. You have now completed a very full day soaking up the Cohuttas. Return to Watson Gap the way you came, go straight over the ridge, and descend via a set of steep gravel switchbacks. When you reach pavement (GPS point is HERE if you'd like to run the route in reverse), remain on this main road all the way as it becomes Old Hwy 2 and eventually dead-ends into GA Hwy 5. Turn right here, and in several miles you'll return to GA Hwy 5/515 & US Hwy 76 in Blue Ridge, where you can turn right to head south back towards Atlanta.
    PHOTO 1             PHOTO 2             PHOTO 3            PHOTO 4
Text by KB; Photos 2-4 by Steve Barlow

 2) Blue Ridge WMA / Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery         [May 2008]
PM, May-June for breeding birds
GPS via Google Maps (GA Hwy 60 at Rock Creek Rd)
34.7453985385, -84.1416410477
[DeLorme pg. 14, E-5]

From the intersection of GA Hwy 60 and GA Hwy 180 in Suches, head north on Hwy 60 for 9.4 miles and turn left onto Rock Creek Rd, where you'll see signage for the Fish Hatchery. You will come through some nice open habitat, and cross over the Toccoa River at 0.6 miles (PHOTO 1); stop to check for waterthrush or Acadian Flycatcher here. Continue on the road and you will come into the Blue Ridge WMA (PHOTO 2) and the road is called Forest Service 69 and/or Rock Creek Rd. Exactly 1.6 miles from Hwy 60, you will notice up a steep hillside to your left that all the trees are very young and there are some dead snags; park safely on the shoulder here. This large area was intentionally burned several years ago to open up appropriate habitat in the hopes of attracting edge-habitat specialists to nest, like the declining Golden-winged Warbler. The first 30 yards or so immediately adjacent to the road right-of-way is mowed back every year, allowing herbaceous vegetation to grow up to 2-3 feet tall every summer, with young successive forest coming in behind this, and the entire area surrounded by older growth that was not burned. Blue-winged Warbler has been found in the area, which is both positive and negative. On one hand, it shows that the habitat is appropriate for them and Golden-winged Warbler... but on the other, Blue-winged Warblers are known to out-compete Golden-wings for desirable habitat. Either way, spend some time walking along the road in this area - especially very early in the morning in May - listening for the song of these and other species. If you do find Golden-winged Warbler, it is actually better to notify Nathan Klaus of the DNR and not make a public announcement on GABO-L. The road will continue to follow Rock Creek, and you should hear birds like Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Prairie Warbler Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler (last two uncommon), Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrush on the creek, and more. You will pass several nice official and unofficial campsites, and the creek is heavily stocked with trout for good fishing... though the area may be heavily stocked with people as well in spring and summer. At exactly 4.8 miles from Hwy 60 you will come to the trout hatchery (PHOTO 3) where you can visit during working hours on weekdays. A total of 7.0 miles from GA Hwy 60 you will reach a beautiful mountain lake called Rock Creek Lake (PHOTO 4); though it is small, you may find interesting waterfowl here in winter or migration. You can now continue birding along this road and you will eventually reach a four-way intersection high on a ridge. Turning right takes you down FS 58 along Noontootla Creek to the Appalachian Trail, but it is washed out a few miles down and you'll have to return the way you came. Turning left will take you down FS 77 eventually you can reach the Jones Creek area (great for wild brown trout fishing), and going diagonally-straight will take you down FS 42 past the trailhead of the Appalachian Trail and eventually out to pavement again at Doublehead Gap Rd (see Noontootla Creek Loop section below).
 PHOTO 1      PHOTO 2         PHOTO 3        PHOTO 4
Text and photos by KB

 3) Noontootla Creek Area                 [Nov 2007]
PM, May-June for breeding birds

GPS via Google Maps (Doublehead Gap Rd bridge over Noontootla Creek)
34.7071021819, -84.2283462948
[Delorme pg. 14, E4-5]
Heading north from Atlanta on I-75, split off to the right onto I-575. Stay on this road for quite a while and it will eventually change names to GA Hwy 5/515 when it is no longer access-controlled. When you come into East Ellijay, you will first pass a new major shopping area on your right with a Walmart Supercenter, Lowe's, fast-food, and a Starbucks for a caffeine fix. After passing through this area, go through a light with a BP on your left and a Burger King on your right, and then go through one more light. After going over an overpass, turn right at the signs for GA Hwy 52. You will curve down to the road, where you will turn left to head east on Hwy 52. You will come through an open pasture area, then look for a gray building (gas station) on the left after a total of 6.2 miles ("Stanley's" is painted on it in red); make a sharp left just past this building on Roy Rd. Continue on this winding road (watch for sharp curves) for 9.5 miles until you deaded at a stop sign. It may not be signed, but this is Doublehead Gap Rd - turn right here. Be aware of soaring birds in the area, Broad-winged Hawk breeds nearby. In 2.1 miles, make a note of Forest Service Road 42 on your right, which goes to Springer Mountain and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Exactly 4.2 miles from Roy Rd, you will cross over a small creek with some nice willow, alder, and brushy habitat (PHOTO 1); park in a gravel area just after crossing the creek and take some time to carefully bird along the road shoulder in both directions. You may find Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Field Sparrow, White-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Hooded Warbler, and more. A male Blue-winged Warbler and a probable "Brewster's" Warbler were found here in early July 2007. A total of 4.5 miles from Roy Rd, Doublehead Gap Rd will turn to gravel. Just beyond this point you will pass a primitive church on your left; take the next available right onto Forest Service Road 58, which is well-signed (Incidentally, you can continue on Doublehead Gap Rd from here all the way to GA Hwy 60, providing access to a treasure trove of other mountain birding sites; Northern Parula is often found along Doublehead Gap Rd near FS 58). FS 58 is a good-quality gravel road, which will descend through a small section of pine woods (PHOTO 2) where a Red-shouldered Hawk family breeds almost every year, and then go through some private property including a corn field; look for Wild Turkey along the edges in colder months. The road will then enter Blue Ridge WMA (PHOTO 3) and follow Noontootla Creek (PHOTO 4) through some gorgeous white pine and hemlock forest, with mixed areas of hardwoods as well. You should encounter Yellow-throated and Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireo, and Wood Thrush along with other birds; Acadian Flycatcher is common and Louisiana Waterthrush sporadic along the creek itself. Barred Owl can be heard calling from dusk until dawn, and Ruffed Grouse is possible but rare. The area is great for migrants in season, including wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, and especially thrushes. Exactly 2.8 miles from Doublehead Gap Rd, you will reach a gate blocking FS 58. Just before the gate, pull over into a sometimes-used campsite on the right and park. From here, you can continue to hike the road and bird as long as you like - the road is gated because a good part of the shoulder collapsed into the creek in 2006. This actually makes the area better, in my opinion, because much more traffic used to roll through when it was possible to use this road to access the Appalachian Trail, FS 42, and the Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery (all mentioned earlier). You can still use FS 42, which you passed earlier on Doublehead Gap Rd, to access FS 58 on the other side of the blocked section, which features similar habitat but also some higher ridges where you may find American Redstart or Ovenbird. In addition to good birding, along FS 58 you will find some pleasant creek-side primitive camping sites; be aware that some areas are marked "no camping." This creek is a favorite for Georgia's more seasoned trout fishermen as well. There are special regulations in place - you can only use artificial lures and you must release any fish under 16" in length. These restrictions, along with the creek being harder to access, have led to an incredible fishery of all-wild Brown and Rainbow Trout. The fish are very spooky and difficult to catch, but when you manage to find success they are some of the most beautiful trout to be had anywhere in the state - I catch and release everything here. It is also rumored that some of the tributaries of the creek hold native Brook Trout.
  PHOTO 1     PHOTO 2         PHOTO 3       PHOTO 4
Text and photos by KB.

 4) Fannin County Park                [May 2008]
PM, late Sp-Su for breeding birds         
GPS via Google Maps (Tom Boyd Rd/Meadowcreek Way at GA Hwy 5)
34.8946641324, -84.3556601185
[DeLorme pg. 14, B-3]
Text by Tom Striker
(Open seven days, 8:00 AM to sunset, good birding at all seasons) Fannin County Park is the largest and most heavily used recreational facility in the county, with several soccer and baseball fields, walking and fitness trails, picnic tables, and fishing in Sugar Creek. It also has tremendous habitat diversity and offers good to excellent birding at all seasons. Open fields, creekside thickets, brush piles and dead trees characterize the Ball Fields Area, while mature timber, roadside edge and old field are found in The Hill Area. Plan to arrive early on weekends; sports activity picks up about 9:00 AM. The park is about one mile east of Highway 5, but the birding starts on the way in. At 2.6 miles from the intersection of GA Hwy 5 and US Hwy 76 in Blue Ridge (McDonald's), you will turn right onto Tom Boyd Rd/Meadowcreek Way just before reaching a BP gas station. As you approach the five-way stop at 0.25 mile, Johnson Paving Company will be ahead on your right. A paved road to the right just before Johnson Paving Company provides access to a small pond in the clear-cut just off the right side of the road. Park on the shoulder and walk in toward the pond, watching for waterfowl and Belted Kingfisher. Watch for Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Pied-billed Grebes in winter. Wood Thrush, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Wren and Indigo Bunting are abundant in season. The land around the pond is private, but [birders are welcomed / check in at the Johnson Paving office before birding] (TBA.) After checking the pond, return to Tom Boyd Road and continue toward the park. Pause at the 5-way stop, listening for Eastern Towhee, White-eyed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat. Proceed slowly when you are ready, watching the wires and fence lines for Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting and Yellow-breasted Chat in summer, and Eastern Bluebird in all seasons. Listen for Field Sparrows singing in the field. A clump of small trees across from the shooting range at about 0.5 mile often holds Chats as well. Wild Turkeys are sometimes found in the woods near the ‘T’ where the entrance road reaches the one-way Park Loop. Turn right at the ‘T’ on Park Drive and proceed slowly, checking the overhead wires for the same birds, and listen for Eastern Meadowlark on the open grassy hill to the left. Watch for Red-headed Woodpecker and Northern Flicker in the open savannah of grass and big oaks. (Redheads should be present but are unreported thru June, 2006.) The small pond on the right at the next ‘T’ intersection has Ring-necked Duck, Mallards and Pied Billed Grebes in winter and Spotted Sandpiper in spring. Canada Geese are resident nesters. The roadside trees near the park manager’s home often hold Chipping Sparrow, House Finch and Yellow-rumped Warbler in fall and winter. Check these trees for Blue Grosbeak in summer. Turn left onto Field Drive and continue to the large parking area on the right. Depending on activity in the soccer and baseball fields, you can proceed thru the fields to Sugar Creek and bird the open area and creekside, or walk back toward the pond and bird the wooded ‘Hill’ area.

 5) Lake Blue Ridge Marina            [Feb 2004]
early F-mid Sp
GPS via Google Maps
34.8708347853, -84.2808185523
[DeLorme pg. 14, C-4]

Text by Tom Striker
Birders are welcome at Lake Blue Ridge Marina, except on busy holiday weekends in summer, when parking is at a premium. The $5.00 parking fee will be waived if you check in at the marina office or with the Security Guard who patrols the area. Limit your visit to 30 minutes or less during boating season. Winter visits are usually the most productive, and you can stay as long as you want. The Marina can be a very boring place, or it can yield many birds in just a few minutes. It’s the most reliable spot in Fannin County for Common Loons, Horned and Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s Gulls (October thru April), Red-headed Woodpeckers (year-round), Fish Crows, Purple Martins and Barn Swallows (prolific summer nesters). Forster’s Terns are regular in April, sitting on the marker buoys around the boat docks. Black Terns are regular in small flocks in fall, and can usually be seen from the marina parking lot with binocs or a scope. Bald Eagle, Osprey and Fish Crow can sometimes be seen and heard from the marina parking lot. Loons are very reliable in winter, sometimes fishing between the finger-pier boat docks. As many as 162 of these daytime migrants have been seen at one time in October (Jim Flynn – 2004) although 2 – 12 is much more likely. Late date is May 10th. Look for Red-headed Woodpeckers in the large oaks near the marina building. Killdeer, Eastern Bluebirds, Cardinals, Song Sparrows, House Finches, Canada Geese and Mallards are likely at all seasons. A wonderful fall evening in 2005 produced a flight of mallards (probably local and non-migratory) that was as majestic as any in the pristine north country – 40-50 birds, wheeling and banking against the pink and blue sky, breaking into smaller groups, and finally skidding into the marina cove for the night. Sometimes you have to shut out the surroundings and look at the birds!

 6) Mercier Orchards                    [Sept 2009]
PM, May-June; Sept for pick-your-own apples!
GPS via Google Maps
34.8867581704, -84.3402296029
[DeLorme pg. 14 B-3]
Text by Tom Striker
At 1.5 miles from the intersection of GA Hwy 5 and US Hwy 76 in Blue Ridge (McDonald's), you will turn left into the parking lot. Mercier Orchards is the largest in Georgia and worth a visit at any time of year for the fruit and cider as well as the birds. Cherries, peaches, plums, blackberries, blueberries and more than 25 varieties of apples are available. No self-respecting, field-going birder should resist their famous fried pies, apple fritters, apple bread and great coffee! The Mercier family has owned this orchard since 1947, and works very hard to grow fine fruit using environmentally sensitive methods. Spraying is targeted to specific insects at particular stages of their life cycle, and is done very carefully to protect the many beehives that are brought in each year to pollinate the apple blossoms. This care ensures healthy populations of other insects and the birds that eat them. Although much of the orchard is dedicated to intensive apple production, many pockets of brush and trees dot the landscape, and brushy edges line the orchard borders. Birders are always welcome, but seasonal spraying or maintenance activities may limit our access. Please check in at the Apple House for permission to bird. In 2006, only the area around the Apple House and parking areas is open for general public access, including birding. Fortunately, this includes two sizable ponds which are visible and accessible from the main parking lot. Future plans include a network of walking trails, with interpretive signs explaining orchard operations and describing the seasons and uses of the many apple varieties. Picnic tables may be available in the orchard in the future. The ponds attract Barn and Rough-winged Swallows, Eastern Phoebe, redwings, Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. This is one of the most reliable spots for Eastern Kingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Catbird, Orchard Oriole and Green Heron in summer. Orchard Orioles use the big willow tree on the shore of the pond closest to the parking lot, and several pairs nest around the ponds. A walk along the road behind the upper pond in spring or summer will yield several Catbirds and Orioles. Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal can sometimes be seen in spring. A pair of Buffleheads has used the pond each winter since 2000 at least. Hooded Mergansers are frequently seen in fall along with Pied-billed Grebes. A large flock of Wild Turkeys lives in the orchard, and Ring-necked Pheasants have been seen by orchard workers in the past, although not recently. Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks are seen regularly, along with the occasional Northern Harrier in winter. Organized bird walks were scheduled in the orchard on Saturday mornings in 2006, providing birders with better access to some great habitat. Details and dates for future walks are available at Blue Ridge Bird Seed Company locations at Mercier Orchards and in downtown Blue Ridge, or by calling 706-258-2473. Visit the orchard website.

 7) CVS Pharmacy / Ingles Creek Areas               [May 2008] 
GPS via Google Maps
34.8763376252, -84.299864171
[DeLorme pg. 14, C-4, extreme NW corner of grid]

These are both very quick, traffic-noisy stops at small fragments of creek and willow habitat in the middle of developed areas, but nonetheless they may produce a really cool bird or two in late spring - Yellow Warbler and Willow Flycatcher were seen in May 2006 and on other occasions. As you come north on Hwy 515 / 5 into Blue Ridge, note where Hwy 5 splits off to the NW (McDonald's is on the corner to your left at this light). Continue north on Hwy 515, which is also US Hwy 76 at this point, until you come under an overpass down the road just past a Wendy's. Turn right when you see a CVS Pharmacy on your right, then right again when you reach a stop sign up the hill. You'll pass a bank and a couple other businesses up in this newly developed area, and finally turn right again and park in the parking lot for a Mexican restaurant called El Sol, which is visible from Hwy 515 / 76 (PHOTO 1). From here, you can walk along the top of a steep embankment to view a willow and alder-lined creek below (PHOTO 2). In this area you may see Barn Swallows, Field Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red-winged Blackbirds, and if you're lucky the creek or edge of the woods may hold more interesting birds like Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, or (very rarely) Willow Flycatcher or Wilson's Warbler. To your left is a small wooded area, where you may hear and/or see other birds calling like Belted Kingfisher or Wood Thrush. You may descend the hillside to pursue something of interest, but I think this is DOT or private property as it is part of the road shoulder so be prepared to leave if approached. When finished, go back to the light at Hwy 76 and go straight across the highway; there'll be a Taco Bell and Ingles on your right. Turn right into the Ingles shopping center parking lot, and stop to briefly bird a low area of willows to the left (west) of the Ingles building for the same species mentioned above. Cruise the drainage ditch at the front of the parking lot along Hwy 76 scanning for birds from your car, though this is pretty low-cut and desolate these days. At the other end of the shopping center, park at the Cabin Grille restaurant and walk around the back and front, scanning all interesting habitat for birds.
  PHOTO 1         PHOTO 2
Text and photos by KB.