Birds still thrive amid Atlanta’s asphalt and concrete

On one of the season’s coldest days so far, dozens of us Atlanta Audubon Society members fanned out across the city and adjacent areas last weekend to revive a tradition missing from the city for nearly 40 years.

Our goal was to bring back the annual Christmas Bird Count in Atlanta, which was moved to Cobb County in the early 1970s. Birders declared at the time that too much of Atlanta’s green space and bird habitat had become buried under asphalt and concrete; it had become difficult to find enough birds in the city to make a Christmas count worthwhile.

Then, a few months ago, Audubon leaders began poring over maps, charts and other information and determined that a lot of open greenery still exists in and around the city. The bet was that a lot of birds could still be found in Atlanta.

“Our thinking was that there are a lot more birds — and a lot more habitat — intown than people realize,” said Atlanta Audubon President Joy Carter.

So, 12 groups of birders set out last weekend to conduct the Intown Christmas Bird Count — counting all the birds we could see or hear during the day within a 15-mile diameter circle centered near the intersection of Briarcliff Road and Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The count area included well-known green spaces such as Piedmont, Centennial Olympic and Gresham city parks. On the north side, a group trekked through a lush hardwood forest surrounding Atlanta’s water intake on the Chattahoochee River. On the south side, birders walked a long stretch of the PATH Foundation’s South River Trail, combed the relatively new Constitution Lakes park off Moreland Avenue and ventured onto the grounds of the old, long-abandoned Atlanta Prison Farm.

“I didn’t know a lot of these places even existed,” said Charlie Haynes, a group leader who lives in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood.

In all, we tallied 84 species — a “resounding success,” Carter declared. Among the highlights: high-flying flocks of sand hill cranes; several redheaded woodpeckers, brown creepers, purple finches, pine warblers, pine siskins, red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks; three American woodcocks; wood ducks; hooded mergansers and a green winged teal.

“Are there birds in the concrete and asphalt of Atlanta? The answer is ‘yes,’ ” Carter said.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be new on Jan. 11, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Venus rises out of the east about an hour before sunrise and appears near the moon Wednesday morning. Mars is low in the southwest just after dark and sets a few hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east about an hour before sunset. Saturn rises out of the east about midnight and will appear near the moon Saturday night.