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Discovering the birds of Monte Sano

 My wife and I moved to Monte Sano in 1997 after living for more than 20 years in the city's Blossomwood area, portions of which are nestled against the western slope of Monte Sano. The fact that the mountain had long been known as an excellent birding location was not lost on me. I had spent hours on the trails and at the several hotspots looking for breeding, wintering and transient species.  But actually living on the mountain opened up countless additional possibilities. I no longer had to drive to a renowned birdwatching area: I could hike or ride my bike and cover almost any of the better birding locations in a matter of minutes.  Each spring, (I actually start in very late winter), I check almost daily the woods around the Japanese Garden for the season's first Louisiana waterthrush. I usually find the bird the second week of March in the pond in front of the pagoda or on the Fire Tower Trail that runs behind it. The Louisiana waterthrush nests in this area, and the same locale often attracts the northern waterthrush as it migrates toward its breeding grounds a few weeks later.   March, April and early May bring a steady flow of neotropical migrants, including various warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers and others. Spring also sees the arrival of broad-winged hawks, whose loud, hoarse calls carry far distances through the greening foliage.  Several years ago, birders Milton and Bert Harris discovered singing cerulean warblers on the slopes behind the state park cabins. Finding the species in late June suggests the possibility that the cerulean, which should be on the endangered species list but isn't, may actually breed on Monte Sano. While the jury on that question is still out, it’s undeniable that as the Monte Sano second-growth forest continues to mature, it takes on more of the aspects of an old-growth forest.  In any case, the state park and the adjoining forests of the Land Trust North Alabama and Burritt on the Mountain attract birders from as far away as Nashville and Birmingham. Especially fruitful on a spring morning is the scenic overlook at the end of Nolen Avenue. If you're interested in birding the woods and slopes of Monte Sano, a good source is A Birder's Guide to Alabama, edited by John F. Porter Jr. and published by the University of Alabama Press. For current information on bird outings, consult the newsletter of the North Alabama Birdwatchers Society.  It's available at northalbirding.com. The organization’s outings are open to anyone interested. For a broader selection of birding locations in the area, take some time to study the sites of the North Alabama Birding Trail. Information is online at northalabamabirdingtrail.com.  A warning, though: This activity can become addictive.