Jordan Lake Mud Flats
When a late-summer drought reduces the lake level, mud flats appear and provide good habitat for migrating shorebirds. A lake elevation of 214 ft above sea level is considered to be the point at which there begin to be mud flats sufficient to attract significant numbers of shorebirds. The Jordan Lake level can be monitored online.
New Hope Creek, east side
Mud flats along the east side of the New Hope Creek arm of Jordan Lake can be reached from NC 751. To get to the area from I-40, take the NC-751 exit (exit 274). Go south (away from Durham and toward Jordan Lake) on NC 751 for about 5.3 miles. The unmarked dirt and gravel parking area is on the west side of the highway, about 0.3 miles before the NC 751 bridge over the lake. Reach the lake by walking westward half a mile over the unmarked trails (navigation may not be obvious the first time). When you reach the lake, take careful note of landmarks so that you will know where to turn off onto the trail on your return.
The first area that you walk through includes fields that are state gamelands maintained for dove hunting, and dove seasons overlap shorebird seasons. During hunting seasons it may be more considerate to the hunters and safer for you to circumnavigate the fields by walking to the shore from 751. There is no hunting on Sundays in North Carolina.
When the lake level is around 213 feet, the best mudflats begin at the mouth of Crooked Creek (about 1.2 miles from the point where you reach the lake shore) and extend northward from there for about an additional 0.7 miles. The furthest extent of the lake arm tends to dry out quickly and be less attractive to shorebirds.
Here's a Google map that illustrates these directions.
Be prepared with lots of water, sunscreen, and anything else you need for a hot weather hike before venturing out here. You will certainly want a spotting scope. Crooked Creek may have an inch-deep trickle that you will need to ford.
Another guide to birding this area can be found at Will Cook's web site. Will's page also links to descriptions of other nearby mud flats.
Most any shorebird species might turn up here. Representative species include: Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Long-billed Dowitcher. Bald Eagles are also likely to be seen here. Species that are infrequently seen inland that have occurred here include American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Baird's Sandpiper, and Wilson's Phalarope, and also Wood Stork and White Ibis.
New Hope Creek, west side
Mud flats on the west side of New Hope Creek can be reached from Old Hope Valley Farm Road—this is useful in the afternoon, when the sunlight will be in your eyes if you approach from the east. Take Old Farrington Road to Old Hope Valley Farm Road, which is a long gravel drive. Room for several cars is available at the very end of the road. Park here and proceed past the roadblock into the powerline cut. Turn left (toward the east) and follow the powerline cut—there is a rough trail along the northern edge of the cut. It's about a half mile to the lake from the road. Upon reaching the lake, you will see an old railroad grade to your left; this sometimes attracts songbirds crossing the lake. As the lake dries out it will be necessary to walk south along the dry lake bed to find the mudflats. In total, the hike from the road to the mud flats can be as long as a mile and half.