This IBA lies within Alabama's "Black Belt", a botanically distinct prairie peninsular region that extends through west-central Alabama. The IBA includes the former State Cattle Ranch. This ranch, located in west central Alabama was established in 1941 on a 4,680 acre site. The ranch served as a low security prison and housed 50 convicts who worked at the ranch - duties of which included tending the 12,000 head of cattle. Three thousand acres of this site was purchased from the Department of Corrections under Alabama's Forever Wild Program.

Ornithological Summary

The diverse habitats of the State Cattle Ranch and vicinity provide breeding, migratory, and wintering habitat for both Globally Important Species and other species of conservation concern. Globally Important species such as Northern Bobwhite, Bachman's Sparrow, and Painted Bunting are reported to breed on site. LeConte's Sparrow and Henslow's Sparrow find suitable wintering habitat on site.

Numerous farm ponds occur on the property. These ponds provide breeding, wintering, and migratory stopover habitat for waterfowl. Pied-billed Grebes use some of these ponds for breeding. American White Pelican, and numerous dabbling ducks visit the ponds during migratory stopovers, or for winter residency. This site and surrounding area is reported to contain one of Alabama's largest summer population of the endangered Wood Stork which visit now or formerly active catfish ponds as summer visitors dispersing from breeding grounds elesewhere. At one specific location within the IBA, an estimated 200 Wood Storks roosted in 2009. That same year, a Roseate Spoonbill turned up to roost along with the Wood Storks.

Ownership

The majority of this IBA lies in private ownership. A portion of this IBA is owned by the State of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Approximately 3,700 acres of property was purchased from the Department of Corrections using public funding available under the "Forever Wild" program. An additional 638 acres are owned by the AL DCNR for conservation purposes.

Habitat

This IBA lies within the "Black Belt" a distinctive ecoregion that is rare in Alabama but more extensive in Eastern Mississippi. Large extensive grasslands dominated by Fescue occur in the IBA and adjacent areas of the Black Belt region. These grasslands are similar in composition to the Tall Grass Prairies of the midwestern states. Portions of the site also include cedar woodlands and bottomland hardwood forest likely dominated by ash and cottonwood. Bois-d?arc (Mock-Orange or Hedge-Apple), sugarberry, persimmons and post-oaks, which thrive in this region*, are typically common to dominant in shrubland areas and at field/forest ecotones.

*http://alblackbeltheritage.org/info.php?page=downloads

Numerous impoundments exist on site as well providing habitat for long-legged waders (Herons, Egrets, Ibis, and Storks), American White Pelican, shorebirds, ducks and geese, grebes, and other waterbirds (e.g., coots, cormorants, etc.).

Restoration actions are currently taking place to eradicate fescue and reestablish the native, warm-season grasses associated with the Blackbelt region. These actions will benefit an entire suite of grassland species including Northern Bobwhite, Grasshopper Sparrows, other wintering Ammodramus sp., Lark Sparrows, Dickcissels, Horned Larks, Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrels, and quite possibly Painted Buntings.

Land Use

A portion of the site was acquired by Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources using public funding available under the State's "Forever Wild" program. Management options are currently being assessed to address a number of multiuse options, both consumptive and non-consumptive. This portion of the IBA (the former State Cattle Ranch) has significance to Alabama's natural history and cultural heritage. Former catfish aquaculture ponds attract some of the State's largest concentrations of Wood Storks and White Pelicans. A majority of the lands within this IBA are under private ownership and exist as pasture lands or hayfields dominated by warm season grasses.

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