Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Just a Wee Bit O' Birding in Atlanta

A few of weeks ago, we celebrated our 6-year anniversary by taking a little weekend getaway to Atlanta, which is only about a 3 1/2 hour drive. But what a difference this distance can make to birding. Being more north and west of Savannah and away from the coast, you can have a whole host of birds that you may not get in coastal Georgia. Although our trip was really a touristy non-birding trip, we still managed to squeeze in some birding when we weren't walking around a zoo or an aquarium or eating fabulous food!

A non-caged animal at the zoo - a Silver-spotted Skipper.

Red-spotted Purple seen in Grant Park

Underside of a Red-spotted Purple

Our first day in Atlanta was spent at the zoo, which had some great animals (and baby animals), including pandas, gorillas, and orangutans. They also had a great aviary exhibit where you can walk along a boardwalk within a treehouse-like enclosure with spectacular, colorful, exotic birds flying and singing all about. And partly what makes this zoo so great is that it is situated in gorgeous Grant Park. Grant Park is an absolutely beautiful space. It's a very large park with winding trails that go through small hills of grass and large trees. Having lived in flat areas most of my life, it was a nice change of pace to walk amongst this rolling greenery.

Guira Cuckoos of South America and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher from tropical West Africa were some highlights of the zoo's aviary.

The striking King Vulture (Central and South America)

When we left the zoo about 5pm, there was still plenty of light out which left us some time to walk around and enjoy the park and check out any bird activity. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of Red-headed Woodpeckers that were all about! We had some of our best views of these vibrant woodpeckers. And a white-breasted nuthatch gave us a nice little show of his creeping behavior.

Red-headed Woodpecker

White-breasted Nuthatch

The next day we spent at the Georgia Aquarium, where we saw their truly amazing whale sharks (my favorite fish, I think), and we had some great close encounters with African penguins! The aquarium also happens to be right across from Centennial Olympic Park. Through the Georgia birding listserv, we had read that there can be some good birding within this very urban park. There were even sightings of a Red-crested Cardinal, which was believed to be an escapee. Unfortunately, we didn't see that bird, but we were treated to a couple of fledglings, including a little Mockingbird and a Robin following its parent.

Me within the plexiglass tube that gets you right next to the African Penguins!

Nick amongst the African Penguins

Mockingbird fledgling

Hungry Robin chick following its parent

Our last day was a "free" day, so we decided to drive a little out of the way to check out Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park. This is supposed to be one of THE hot spots in the Atlanta area for migrants, including one of our target birds, the Cerulean Warbler. Alas, we didn't see the coveted warbler. We tagged along with some top birders that we ran into at the park, some of whom we met during the Black-headed Gull bonanza. They were kind enough to show us around the area, as well as show us how much we still have to learn about bird calls. I swear they all had superhuman hearing. But they were all so patient with us and very willing to give us pointers.

Male Eastern Towhee

If you look closely, you'll see the tiny Eastern Towhee fledgling

Male Summer Tanager

They said it was one of the slowest days in terms of birding as we didn't seem to find many warblers or other migrants. But Nick and I couldn't really feel bad at all as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and saw 35 species, including our first ever male Summer Tanager, who was singing so lovely, as well as two male Scarlet Tanagers. We had our FOTS (First of the Season) Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Indigo Bunting. We also found that the Eastern Towhees were not as shy here. One was giving a little performance (and maybe checking himself out) on a truck's side mirror. Additionally, we had the privilege of seeing a mommy Eastern Towhee feeding her very freshly fledged chick. And right as we were leaving, we got to witness a little bit of a live cannon firing and reenactment, hence demonstrating why this is called a battlefield park. This may have been a slow day at Kennesaw, where they can find over 20 species of warbler in a day, but we still left there very happy. We will surely be back!

View from on the way to the top of Kennesaw Mountain

Cannon firing demonstration


  1. Nice post Maureen. Congratulations on 6 years!

    That Mockingbird Fledgling is one of the greatest things I've ever seen, even greater than a Whale Shark playing the saxophone (ok, I've never actually seen that). On that note, did you know sailfish can swim 70mph? That's as fast a Jamaican Cheetah can run! Just something to consider when you decide on your favorite fish...clearly you can see whose side I'm on.

    I'm really enjoying the southern birding seen y'all have here. The humid combination of Tanagers with Warblers and Towhees, always with plenty of verdant foliage all around, is a lot of fun.

    1. Thanks, Laurence! The sailfish is impressive. But can you really beat the LARGEST fish in the world?!

  2. I realize that this is not a news flash, but:


    =) Thanks for sharing. NICE bird-age!

  3. Sounds like a fun trip! The photos of the Guira Cuckoo and the King Vulture are too much! I love the expressions on their faces. I'm writing on behalf of KEEN Footwear, because we're inspired by people like you who take advantages of the outdoors as much as possible. We'd love to have your input and expertise on our recess page: Check out the page where you can add your favorite birding spots and photos.

    KEEN Recess Team

  4. Happy anniversary! Looks like a really fun trip! I've heard so many good things about the Aquarium in Atlanta. I love the photo of the baby mocker; that is just too cute:)

    1. Thanks, Tammy! The Georgia Aquarium is almost like the Disney World of aquariums. I'm sure you and your little one would like it!

      And that baby mocker was so precious! I didn't see a parent around him, but he was just standing a couple of feet away from these two little girls that looked like they were watching over him.

  5. Looks like you saw some great things up there. One place I'd recommend in downtown Atlanta to hit on your next trip is the Oakland Cemetery. It's a beautiful old cemetery and they have a lot of birds there.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Dina! I believe we ate at a restaurant across from there. It did look like a cool old cemetery.