Get Outdoors and Go Birding at Jordan Lake

by Caroline Gilmore


Spring is in the air! And with spring, we start spending more time outdoors enjoying springtime things. Jordan Lake is a wonderful place to enjoy springtime activities – boating, fishing, hiking, biking, cooking out and birding. Birding you say?! Yes, Jordan Lake is a terrific place to go birding! And one of the best things about birding is that you can do it while you are boating, fishing, hiking, biking or cooking out. Here are the basics on where and when to go and what to look for as a birdwatcher at Jordan Lake.

You’ll need a bird field guide and possibly a pair of binoculars. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America is a good starting field guide. A good online reference for birds is All About Birds.

Once you have these, you’ll need a place to go. There are good birding spots all around the lake. Three of the most popular spots are Farrington Point, the Wildlife Observation Platform and Ebenezer Point.

The Farrington Point Boat Access is located at 605 Farrington Point Road (SR 1008) north of the causeway. It offers an expansive view of the lake to the west of the bridge. There are two boat ramps, with a small beach next to the left boat ramp. There is no swimming allowed and there are no restrooms at Farrington Point, but it is open year round, offers free 24-hour access and is a good spot for spring birding.

To get to the Wildlife Observation Platform, continue south on Farrington Point Road across the causeway (SR1008 turns into Farrington Road), turn left onto Martha’s Chapel Road, go 0.6 miles and turn left at the brown-and-white binoculars sign. The Wildlife Observation Platform provides a good vantage point for viewing Bald Eagles, Osprey, Belted Kingfishers and other “fishing” birds. The platform was a collaborative effort between the New Hope Audubon Society, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and was installed in its new location in late 2009. There are two trails leading from the parking lot; take the right-hand trail the leads down through the woods to the platform.

To get to Ebenezer Point, continue south on Farrington Road, cross US 64 (SR 1008 turns into Beaver Creek Road), continue 2.2 miles and turn right at the sign for the Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. Between April and September, a park entrance fee of $6 per car ($4 for senior citizens) is charged. Stay straight on the park road to go to the beach. This is a good spot for seeing water birds and migrating birds. Start at the beach on the left side of the point and scan the water for water birds. Then walk around the point to the edge of the woods on the right, scanning the trees and bushes for land birds. There are also two loop trails there—the Ebenezer Church Trail and the Old Oak Trail—each about a mile long, that lead from the lake back into the woods.

The best chance of seeing the most birds is in the early morning or late afternoon when birds are most active. The best time to see migrating birds at Jordan Lake is in April and May.

The most common shorebirds, water birds and land birds are described below, with colorings noted for male birds in breeding plumage. Female and juvenile birds may have different colorings.

Look along the shoreline for small groups of brown-patterned Killdeer. During April and May, you may also see Spotted Sandpipers on steep or rocky banks or Solitary Sandpipers in the ditches or brushy edges around the lake. Both birds are brown on top with white bellies.

One of the most beautiful and stately birds found year round at Jordan Lake is the Great Blue Heron. Standing about 4 feet tall, it is the largest heron in the US. It has beautiful blue-gray plumage and a thick, long, yellow beak. Scan the edges of the lake to look for Great Blue Herons standing motionless or slowly wading in shallow water. In flight, they have a tucked-in neck, trailing legs, a 7-foot wingspan and slow, deep wing beats.

Many of the ducks and other water birds that winter on the lake start migrating north in March and April. In March look for black-and white Ring-necked Ducks, brown Pied-billed Grebes, white-billed American Coots, sinuous, black Double-crested Cormorants and delicate Bonaparte’s Gulls floating on or flying over the water. Through April, look for the relatively large Ring-billed Gulls that have a black band around their beaks. All spring, look for classic Canada Geese, stunning Wood Ducks and green-headed Mallards.

Some easy-to-recognize, year-round residents include medium-sized land birds such as: noisy Blue Jays, black American Crows, grey Mourning Doves, beautiful Eastern Bluebirds, rust-and-black American Robins, gray Northern Mockingbirds, brown-and-yellow Eastern Meadowlarks, brilliant red Northern Cardinals, striped-winged Red-winged Blackbirds, black-red-and-white Eastern Towhees and iridescent European Starlings.

Smaller year-round land birds to look for include: gray-and-black Carolina Chickadees, gray Tufted Titmice, perky brown Carolina Wrens, active yellow-and-gray Pine Warblers, reddish Field Sparrows and yellow-and-black American Goldfinches. In April and May, look for Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, olive-and-yellow Common Yellowthroats, yellow-and-black Hooded Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, golden Prothonotary Warblers, blue/gray-and-yellow Northern Parulas and red-and-black Scarlet Tanagers that have migrated here to breed.

Woodpeckers are always around. They include larger Red-bellied Woodpeckers, smaller Downy Woodpeckers and golden-winged Northern Flickers. There may also be classic Red-headed Woodpeckers and very large Pileated Woodpeckers present. Most woodpeckers are found climbing up tree trunks, while Northern Flickers may also be seen on the ground looking for grubs. The most commonly occurring raptors around Jordan Lake are Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures, Osprey and Bald Eagles. Both vultures are black birds about 2 feet in height when perched and soar holding their wings in a “V” shape; Turkey Vultures have red heads while Black Vultures’ heads are black. Vultures are most often seen soaring high overhead in small groups. Osprey are about the same size as vultures and can be found perched on poles or trees near the water starting in March. They will hover over the water and then dive headfirst and catch a fish with their talons. Look for Osprey nests high up near the crown of trees. Other raptors you might also see are Red-tailed Hawks or Red-shouldered Hawks soaring high over the lake or in the woods near a clearing.

Immature Bald Eagle at Jordan Lake ©2013 Caroline Gilmore

Bald Eagles are the largest raptors around Jordan Lake and are among the largest raptors in the US, with a height of up to 3 feet and a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet. And Jordan Lake has one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles in the eastern US! A mature Bald Eagle has a heavy dark brown body, a large white head, white neck and tail and yellow legs, beak and eyes. It takes Bald Eagles up to five years to achieve the classic white head and tail. Before this, they are brown above with white mottling under their wings and possibly on their belly and have a dark eye and beak (see photo). So bear in mind that you might see an immature Bald Eagle and not recognize it.

To find Bald Eagles, look for tall trees that afford a wide view of the surroundings. Then look for a “golf ball” perched in these trees - that would be the head of a mature Bald Eagle and is typically what you see first. Scan above the water for Bald Eagles soaring or hunting. When soaring, Bald Eagles hold their broad wings flat like a board. Fish accounts for about 80% of the Bald Eagle diet, so you may see hunting eagles dive down and grab a fish out of the water with their talons. Sometimes Bald Eagles will chase other birds like Osprey that have caught fish and will steal the fish from the other bird!

Resident pairs of breeding Bald Eagles returned to their nests in the forested areas adjacent to the lake during January through March. One pair of breeding Bald Eagles is the subject of the Jordan Lake Eagle Cam. Their one eaglet hatched on January 17th and its growth and progress can be viewed live online. Migrating Bald Eagles can be observed at Jordan Lake during their northward migration from Florida from April through June. Look for the extremely large (typically 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall) Bald Eagle nests in the tallest conifers that protrude above the forest canopy and provide easy flight access and good visibility. If you find a Bald Eagle nest in spring, you may see eaglets that remain near the nest for a couple of months, taking short practice flights while their flight feathers grow and strengthen. Their parents still provide all of their food, so if you find a nest with eaglets, the parents can’t be too far away.

Birds are everywhere. And spring is one of the most exciting times to watch them. So get outside and enjoy the show! You’ll be glad you did.

Article posted online: 2/27/2013.