Falls Lake Mud Flats
by William Majoros
When the level of Falls Lake drops in late summer, mud flats may form at various locations. One of these is the section of lake lying immediately north of where Interstate 85 crosses the lake. This low, shallow area is covered by only a few feet of water at normal lake levels (251.5 feet) and is one of the first areas to attract migrating shorebirds when lake levels drop below 250 feet. As water levels drop the most productive areas for shorebirds change, with most birds preferring the newly exposed flats to ones that have been above water for some time. As one might imagine, the best birding areas tend to move downstream as the lake level drops.
In the fall migration season, when lake levels are most likely to be low, numerous shorebirds may be on the bars and flats in this area. Pectoral, Least, Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers are the most likely visitors, but with some luck additional species such as Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover may be found. Falls Lake has the potential to produce rarities as well, and less common birds such as Baird's Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Marbled Godwit have been reported.
From US 85, take Redwood Road north. A small parking area is visible straight ahead as the road turns sharply left. Park here and follow the trail into the woods, to the railroad tracks. Turn right onto the tracks and follow them until the mudflats become visible on the right.
Birders with access to a small boat (canoe, kayak, john boat) can launch at the Hickory Hill boat ramps (24 hrs/no fee) just south of I-85 on Redwood Road. From the ramps paddle toward and under the interstate bridges to the flats on the far side.
- The hike out to the mudflats can be fairly strenuous in 90+ degree weather; bring water
- A spotting scope is recommended for seeing birds at a distance