Winter is Wonderful in North Georgia
With binoculars, birding scopes, field guides, and a free spirit, I am here in the North Georgia Mountains with my birding partner. We love this time of year! The long, dark nights and short days are starting to even out, day by day. This is the time of year when most people plan Spring Breaks.
Me? I plan winter breaks to see wildlife when they’re hardest to see. As a former high school biology teacher and amateur photographer, this is my way of having a blast!
We chose to hike and stay at Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge because of the appealing Winter Lodge Deal, which gave us 20% off double occupancy in a lodge room (through March; see select dates and terms).
Here on the outskirts of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest we are in a hiker’s paradise with winding trails, wild rushing creeks and rivers and of course, the cascading Amicalola waterfalls. Soaring above it all? There are more than 300 different species of birds in Georgia! Some are visitors. Some live here all year.
There are several birds to check out on my Winter Bird List that can be seen now in the mountains:
Look for Georgia’s State Bird, the Brown Thrasher, throughout the Appalachian range. They migrate north in the summer but spend much of the winter here in the Southeast.
They hide in plain sight with their camouflaged foxy brown backs with dark streaks and a white underside.
Fun fact: Brown Thrashers can sing more than 1,000 song types, including imitations of other bird calls and songs.
Hiking around Amicalola Falls is all about tackling elevation changes. Ever-flowing water from the 729-foot-high falls cascades to the forest floor. You can take staircases, trails, or view the falls from several angles without walking far from the car.
As winter continues the views are even better from higher elevations at Amicalola State Park because new leaves are not yet obscuring the views.
My birding partner wants to find a Barn Owl at sunset. We set out on the Appalachian Trail Approach which leads to Springer Mountain if you follow it for 8.5 miles, or Maine at just over 2,000 miles! This evening, however, we’re just going to go halfway (four miles) and back.
Barn Owls are one of the most widespread land birds – living on six continents and in Georgia year-round. They hunt rodents primarily, and lizards and insects, too.
Fun Fact: Barn Owl hearing and vision are so accurate in low light, they can snatch prey in complete darkness!
Being a bird nerd, there’s one more on our list and it’s the Cedar Waxwing.
The Cedar Waxwing is more easily seen, and heard, in winter. It’s no wonder it’s also called North America’s “most elegant bird.” This bird is a silky-smooth, shiny, wonder of bird design, with pops of color and stencil-like markings.
Fun Fact: Cedar Waxwings love fruit. Plant native trees and shrubs in your landscapes that bear small fruits, such as dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry.
Another part of late winter means black bear cubs. Generally, breeding occurs midsummer, and cubs are born in the den in late January or February.
With the coming spring, mother bears (sows) are now beginning to emerge from their dens with cubs. They are hungry and seeking food, while also keeping a safe distance from humans, and likewise.
Other than avoiding conflict while on the trails – and you may never see the elusive black bear – UGA Extension offers three simple tips to live and recreate with a bear-wise mindset:
- Stash your trash. Use bear bins in the park. If primitive camping, hang your food high in a tree bag.
- Clean your grill each time at the campsite, and at home – if you live near bear habitat (forests, swamps).
- Secure birdseed and pet food. It’s too easy for bears to create a habit when they can find food reliably.
Black bears are iconic to our Georgia wildlife. Let’s keep bears wild by safeguarding ourselves and them from distractions.
We love hiking and birding here in the winter. And we equally love the attention we receive at Cascade’s Restaurant inside Amicalola Falls Lodge, where buffets keep us coming back for breakfast, lunch and dinner, thanks to panoramic views of the mountain range. Watch how the colors change throughout the day, from rising mist in the mornings to deep shadows of sunsets.
Save the Date:
The A.T. Gateways (formerly the Appalachian Trail Kickoff the past 20 years) is March 1-3, 2024 presented by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in partnership with Amicalola Falls State Park. Past, present, and future thru hikers will gather to celebrate the trail journey with demonstrations, hiking vendors, and more fun.
Stay in the lodge or glamp in a safari tent. Come now, it’s winter! Come anytime to Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge. Stay a while.
– Samantha N.