Cochran Shoals is a Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, owned and operated by the National Park Service. It is a large area of generally low-lying land with approximately 1.4 miles of riverfront along the Chattahoochee River. It is used primarily by joggers, bikers, and walkers for its miles of level gravel trails. It features several distinct habitats which are used by a nice diversity of birds, from waterfowl to waders, warblers to vireos, wrens to sparrows, and much more.

This IBA nomination includes Sope Creek Unit, which is contiguous and forms a large and rare piece of habitat in metro Atlanta.

Ornithological Summary

Cochran Shoals is utilized by many species of birds at various times during the year. It is perhaps most important to birds as a migratory stopover, but also provides breeding and wintering habitat for many species. During both spring and fall migration, it is a very important feeding area for migrating wood warblers. It is not unusual to observe 12 or more species of warblers in one day at the peak of migration, from mid-April to early May in spring and from mid-September to late October in fall. The most common warblers include Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Yellow-throated, Prairie, Pine, and Palm Warblers, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart. Other less common species are found regularly in migration as well, such as both Northern and Louisiana Waterthrush, Bay-breasted, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Yellow, Kentucky, Canada, and Blue-winged Warblers. Particularly in fall, the Golden-winged Warbler (endangered in Georgia) is found annually in good numbers at Cochran Shoals, indicating that the property is important for this species. In May, Connecticut Warblers have been found in dense brush along the river on several occasions.

Along with wood warblers, Cochran Shoals hosts many other species of neotropical migrants which are re-fueling during migration; several of these species (including some of the warblers mentioned above) breed at Cochran Shoals. These additional migrating and/or breeding birds include many vireos (Red-eyed, White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, and Philadelphia); Scarlet and Summer Tanagers; several thrushes (Wood, Swainson?s, Hermit, Veery, and Gray-cheeked); flycatchers (Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and more); and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers breed in numbers on the property (at least 11 pairs were already established, including nest-building activities, in mid-April 2009).

The property also hosts a major Great Blue Heron Rookery annually; in late spring 2008 eight nests with young were observed. Among many permanent residents at Cochran Shoals, of particular interest is the Red-headed Woodpecker. This declining species has a very prominent and visible presence, especially in areas of dead snags. Several breeding pairs are present, nest cavities have been found, and every fall numerous juvenile birds are found throughout the property; high counts of 10-15 individuals are not unusual. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds swarm the property in fall, utilizing vast low wet areas filled with blooming jewelweed.

The ?sparrow field? is a unique feature of the property and is an important migratory rest stop for many species of birds which rely on weedy fields, brush, and early successional habitat which is generally in decline due to human land management practices. In the fall, numbers of Marsh, House, and Sedge Wrens use the field, as well as many species of sparrows, including Song, Swamp, Chipping, and Field. Species recorded annually at the field during migration (especially fall), include Vesper, Savannah, Lincoln?s, Grasshopper, and Henslow?s Sparrows. Other birds, typically known to relate more often to wide open grasslands and agricultural areas, indicate how important this meadow is simply by their presence in the field in the middle of this otherwise suburban part of Metro Atlanta. These include Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, and Dickcissel. Eastern Bluebirds nest along the perimeter of the field, and form great flocks in mid-October; as many as 47 have been counted flying at once! Brown Creeper is uncommon in winter.

The river and wetlands areas of the property further enhance its ornithological significance. Wintering waterfowl/divers on the river include Hooded Merganser, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, and (rarely) Northern Pintail. Spotted Sandpipers are present on the river rocks in all seasons except summer. Wood Ducks breed on the property, and even a Hooded Merganser was seen with young in April 2002 (a very rare breeding species in Georgia). In the swamp/marsh, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is another annual breeder on the property, very local in the Piedmont. Also in this area, American Bittern, Virginia Rail, and Sora have been found in migration while King Rail has been present in multiple years calling throughout spring, with two observed together (April 2000), suggesting breeding. Also in the marsh, breeding birds include Orchard Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Green Heron, and Common Yellowthroat. Rusty Blackbirds, a species of special concern in the United States, use the swamp and hidden sloughs to forage and roost in winter. Flocks numbering 20-30 birds are not unusual during winter.

Conservation Issues

The property was heavily invaded by Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), which choked up the understory for years. A major eradication project by the NPS in March 2008 had the dual effect of clearing out the understory of this nuisance plant but also of decreasing the numbers of brush and thick vegetation-loving bird species using this habitat layer during migration and/or for nesting. By fall 2008 much of the understory had been replaced with thriving weeds and other herbaceous plants and forbs, once again providing forage in the woods similar to its former condition. Not surprisingly, numbers of neotropical migrants which were down in spring 2008 were back up in fall of that year.

Other threats include diminishing water sources during drought?especially in recent years. Entire areas of the swamp/marsh dried up in late summer/early fall 2008. This negatively impacts plants and birds?particularly rails and waders.

Bird habitat is also ?threatened? by mixed usage. The NPS must consider the welfare of humans as well as the welfare of the birds and enjoyment of birdwatchers. Thus, sometimes decisions are made to bring brush-mowers through nice, overgrown weedy corridors such as the ?Philly Vireo Trail? or the west jogging trail because they are also easements for water and gas lines and require mowing for maintenance, and/or for what may be viewed as ?snake and insect protection? for visitors. The NPS should consider key times of the year to avoid mowing, as species such as Indigo Bunting and Common Yellowthroat have lost nests due to mowing in late summer. The ?sparrow field? is also under constant encroachment by surrounding woods. Efforts will be needed every 3-4 years to remove box elders and other saplings.

Also, the meadow cannot support vast numbers of birders for extended periods of time, day after day during migration. This negatively impacts resting and feeding birds as well as crushing vegetation. Birders should ensure that we do not harm this resource.

Ownership

Cochran Shoals is a unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, which is owned and operated by the National Park Service.

Habitat

The Cochran Shoals Unit is important for many species of birds due to its diverse habitats and status as a ?green island? amidst the sprawl of Metro Atlanta. The property features riverfront on the Chattahoochee River, a major migrant corridor. Here the river ranges from slow-moving and deep (3-4 meters) to very shallow and fast-moving with rocky shoals. There is a large wetland/swampy area which is inaccessible to humans. It ranges from a willow-dominated swampy area, to dense thickets of alder, to more open areas with cattails, rushes, and reeds. Many dead snags provide sites for nest cavities. Immediately upstream of this swamp is a small beaver pond with another marshy area with more large dead snags. Trails along the primary creek that feeds these wet areas eventually climbs a hillside to a ridge dominated by mixed hard- and softwood trees and some pines, and might be called a typical upland woods habitat. Another important area is the aptly named ?sparrow field,? a low-lying wet meadow managed by the National Park Service specifically for birds. Various seed-bearing plants and weeds (tearthumb, goldenrod, asters, etc.) abound in this area, as well as thick dense grasses, rushes, cattails, and thickets of rose bushes and briars. One side of the field is sometimes flooded and provides shallow foraging habitat for waterfowl and/or shorebirds. In the center of the property, between two long north-south gravel jogging trails, is a series of shallow, muddy sloughs which are also inaccessible to humans due to a thick, dense understory and extremely muddy ground. This area has many alders and willows and provides sheltered breeding and roosting habitat for ducks and other birds; Rusty Blackbirds roost and forage here in numbers in the winter. Habitat along the river could be characterized as typical eastern woods with some bottomland habitat as well. Tree species include oak, river birch, loblolly pine, willow, sweetgum, maple, and sycamore.

Land Use

Cochran Shoals is primarily used by people who are jogging, biking, and walking the gravel fitness trails that criss-cross the property. Both parking lots are extremely busy in the morning and evening hours; it is likely that up to 200 people are present on the property exercising at any given morning or afternoon peak time. The property is also a popular birding locale for Atlanta area birders, especially on weekends during migration. Trout fishing is a very popular activity out on the river in colder months, when the DNR stocks Rainbow and Brown Trout for anglers to test their skills on.

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