Previous Tours - DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.
DAUPHIN ISLAND ALABAMA
"Thanks Bob, for a grand tour. Thanks for stopping for every snake that we saw so that Rich could see it well. Thanks to Kim and Mark who were such charming and delightful tour companions. And thanks for all of those WOW moments, like having Ruby-throated Hummingbirds perch on our finger as they fed from Mary's feeder!"
- - Sincerely, Jeanne and Rich
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA TOUR
9 - 16 April 2016
1) PAINTED BUNTING - - A male Painted Bunting was part of a large flock of Indigo Buntings (75), Blue Grosbeaks (50), and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (12) on the lawn of a private residence on Dauphin Island. WOW!
2) Chuck-will’s-widow - - Kim found a male perched in a live oak tree, less than 20 feet from Mary’s deck on Dauphin Island, one of our favorite feeding stations. It spent the entire day there.
3) Ruby-throated Hummingbird - - It was quite easy to entice one to perch on our finger as it fed from Mary’s feeder. What an experience!
4) American Avocet - - A flock of ten, all in full breeding plumage, was at the West End Beach of Dauphin Island.
5) Magnificent Frigatebird - - We viewed two females soaring above the highway a few miles east of Fort Morgan.
6) Hooded Warbler - - We saw numerous individuals daily, at every migrant trap that we visited.
7) Red-headed Woodpecker - - Good views of two different individuals, one at the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, and another along a country road on mainland Alabama.
8) Scarlet Tanager - - We found many in the same places that we found the Hooded Warblers, wherever there were trees.
9) Brown Pelican - - Great looks over the open water, with as many as 15 in a single day. Magnificent birds!
10) Cape May Warbler - - A single male was attracted to the red flowers of the bottle brush bushes at the Dauphin Island cemetery. What a gorgeous warbler!
Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins showed off nicely, with as many as eight in one day. We all enjoyed the Southern Black Racer (snake), and the 6-lined Racerunner (lizard). Butterfly sightings included numerous Monarchs and Cloudless Sulphurs, plus Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral, and Little Yellow. The fossilized Shark Tooth on the beach at the West End of Dauphin Island was a wonderful find.
“Kim, what a beautiful trip report.
And Oh! the lovely memories it called up.
What a wonderful trip! Thank you.”
Jeanne Kern, tour participant
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Conducted 9-16 April 2016
Trip Report by Kim Schutsky,
It’s always fun to return to a location you’ve been to before. It’s even more captivating and intriguing when you return at a similar time of year to engage in similar activities. I had the opportunity to do just that recently - a repeat birding trip to Dauphin Island, Alabama with Bird Treks, scheduled to coincide with the annual spring migration of songbirds and shorebirds across the Gulf of Mexico. A tour with Bird Treks is unmistakably a bird watching tour, with Bob Schutsky as our expert leader. But it is also made of many memories and moments, ones that cannot be captured in a checklist of birds seen.
There were many things that remained the same between 2015 and 2016 ---
- The excitement of the initial drive to Dauphin Island, culminating in the grand view of the island and water from atop the causeway
- The feeling of home a rented beach house brings, along with daily home cooked breakfasts
- Bustling birding spots and migrant traps of Dauphin Island and nearby locales: Goat Tree, Shell Mound, West End Beach, Fort Morgan & Fort Gaines, John Stower’s deck, the local airport, and the cemetery with its bottlebrush bushes
- Diverse ecosystems to explore including forest, sand beach, marshland, open ocean, freshwater ponds, agricultural fields, and backyard feeding stations
- Flooded roads after a very heavy rain
- Flocks of Brown Pelicans flying low over the ocean waves, Clapper Rails along and across the airport road, and colorful congregations of Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (as many as eight of the latter on one platform feeder!) feasting at islanders’ backyard feeding stations
- Every birder’s wish for weather conditions to align for a migratory “fallout”
- Fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, grits, and fried okra
- The joy an unimaginably stunning male Painted Bunting or a friendly male Hooded Warbler bring to the group
- And the sheer exhaustion, followed by the feeding frenzy, of songbirds that had just completed their journey across the vast Gulf of Mexico
On the flip side, there were the new and unique experiences that made this trip one-of-a-kind:
- Camaraderie of new tour participants
- Mary’s deck --- a birding hot spot of its own --- complete with a Chuck-Will’s-Widow at eye level less than 15 feet away, and hummingbird feeders where the activity rivals those found in southeast Arizona
- Having a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird use your finger as a perch to feed from - and the unparalleled brilliance in the smile of all in our group as each experienced the same magical moment
- Eating lunch at Lambert’s Restaurant, Home of the Throwed Roll - the staff really does throw rolls to you!
- Taking time to visit the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to gently touch rays, skates, and even a small hammerhead shark at the “Rays of the Bay” exhibit
- Finding a dead sea turtle on the beach and consulting with staff from the Sea Lab to identify it as a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
- Discovering a fossilized shark tooth on the West End Beach
- The Red-headed Woodpecker at the Audubon Sanctuary - this beauty escaped our view in 2015 - as did the Least Bittern, seen this year in the dune grasses along the tidal pools of the West End Beach
- Testing our observation and record-keeping skills by reporting numerous color bands seen on the legs of Piping Plovers at the West End Beach. We learned that reporting banded birds is quite challenging - but we did well and added important information to the study of their migration routes!
- Meeting two famous authors and hearing about the world of writing under a pseudonym, or even under the guise of an author who is no longer with this world
- A crystal clear and smooth ferry ride from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan - and then the chance to explore the Fort on foot - last year’s extraordinary rains and flooding kept us out of this historic landmark
- Walking amongst the world famous, artfully decorated shrimping boat fleet of Bayou La Batre
- Write-Ins! Seeing birds that had yet to be seen on any of Bird Treks’ five previous tours to Dauphin Island, including two Magnificent Frigatebirds, Neotropic Cormorant, Upland Sandpiper, Chuck-Will’s-Widow, Bobolink, & Yellow-headed Blackbird!
Yet, at the end of every excursion is the return home - my own miniature migration of sorts from home to afar, and back home again. For me, home is shared between Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which I’ve known my whole life, and southern Maine where I pay attention to the avian visitors and residents of our backyard. Within days of having returned home to Maine, I was greeted by many of the same species we had just seen entering the continental USA through Dauphin Island. The weekend after my return, we saw our first Eastern Towhee, large flocks of White-throated Sparrows covered the trees and the ground under my feeders, a male and female Eastern Bluebird were scoping out various nest boxes, and the Tree Swallows returned! Shortly afterward, beautiful bird song erupted from the woods - the lyrical Wood Thrush, the echoing Ovenbird, and the zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee of the Black-throated Green Warbler. Within days of the first hummer, grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting being seen in Lancaster County, they were showing up in Maine. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was drinking from the hummingbird feeder. I enjoyed watching two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at our feeding station for a day (almost as spectacular as the eight we saw on one feeder on Dauphin Island), and now the dependable male Indigo Bunting sings from the uppermost branches of our 100-foot white pines - no longer part of a mass flock of color, but staking its own territory for the breeding season. The Yellow Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Bobolink have all returned to southern Maine - or are they simply passing through on the migratory flyway, just as they passed through Dauphin Island?
I have a deep appreciation for the “firsts” of every year. Yet seeing “firsts” on Dauphin Island, birds which had just flown non-stop across 600+ miles of open water, and then those same species being seen in Pennsylvania and then in Maine - the appreciation has gone even deeper. Just imagine if one of the two male hummers frequenting our feeder in Maine is the same bird that so delicately perched on my finger in Alabama. Just imagine.
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA TOUR:
11 - 18 April 2015
1) PAINTED BUNTING
2) Cape May Warbler
3) Blackburnian Warbler
4) Hooded Warbler
5) Sedge Wren
6) Black-whiskered Vireo
7) Cave Swallow
8) Snowy Plover
10) Brown-headed Nuthatch
People on the tour enjoyed some non-avian sightings. We saw numerous Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins, some of which were performing acrobatic antics just beyond the surf line. We saw two different Red Foxes, both at night in the town of Dauphin Island. A very attractive Eastern Fox Squirrel played hide and seek around the trunk of a tree. Three young Virginia Opossums put on a nice show one evening. There were dozens of rays (fish) near the beach on our way to the West End of Dauphin Island. Carolina Anoles (also called American Chameleons) put on a good display of changing colors, back and forth from green to brown, and showing their colorful dewlaps. An Eastern Fence Lizard was quite attractive, as was a Green Tree Frog sitting on a fern leaf. We saw numerous Luna Moths one night while watching a Great Horned Owl hunt from the Dauphin Island water tower.
DAUPHIN ISLAND & GULF COAST of ALABAMA & MISSISSIPPI
12-18 April 2015
Tour Leader - - Bob Schutsky
Trip Report - - Kim Schutsky
“Despite the sometimes lousy weather,
it did make for some of the best birding that we have seen.”
- - Paul & Darlene M., 2015 tour participants
The week’s rains and winds brought along with it birds - thousands of weary and wind-swept birds. Wet feet, damp optics, and a good workout for the rain gear were all part of the story as well, but inevitably the great birding is what we’ll all remember.
Our first day on Dauphin Island was a day of exploration, getting the “lay of the land”, and meeting the other island birders with whom we’d exchange daily information and sightings. We birded the island from the ferry terminal and Fort Gaines at the east end, to the wind-swept sands on the West End Beach, with many popular stops in between - - the Audubon Sanctuary, the Shell Mounds, the Goat Tree, and the Airport marshes. The varied habitats held varied birds, three of which stood out for the group, making top ten lists at the end of the week. After a chance meeting with the birding guru of the island, Andrew Haffenden, we followed him to the Shell Mounds where a Swainson’s Warbler was being reported. Not just any Swainson’s Warbler - - one that stayed in the same 200 square-foot damp area of the forest. When it came out to feed, it stayed there for up to 10 or 15 minutes at a time, flicking and flipping leaf litter in search of tasty morsels. While the species itself had been previously seen by many in the group, no one had ever enjoyed such lengthy, uninterrupted views. Next stop, the West End Beach, where our directions were to “walk along the north beach for about ? of a mile to the shallow ponds.” Our goal - - shorebirds. Along the way, we couldn’t resist taking time to watch the hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling along the sands. And then we caught sight of the dozens of rays gliding by a mere few feet from the shore line and we were captivated by their graceful underwater movements. But when we made it out to the shallow ponds, it was the hundreds of shorebirds that took our minds off the gentle, but steady rain. Having two scopes was helpful (thanks again Larry) and the two birds that were gone back to time and time again were the petite but stout Snowy Plover, and the flock of Sandwich Terns with their brilliantly pink breeding plumage. After dinner at one of the local dining spots, we made our first of many stops at the Airport. Swallows soared and Clapper Rails were in plain view. We would return another day.
A storm arrived Monday - - the winds howled during the night and the rain pelted against the side of our house. But by daybreak it was calm enough for two stops, another visit to the Airport, and then on to the Shell Mound. The threat of another massive downpour turned to reality and the group decided to take an early lunch and an afternoon break back to our bayside house.
It felt a bit odd, to be sitting inside while on a birding tour. But the rains were torrential, and the streets were flooding, and nothing was letting up, so we stayed at the house. We tried birding from the back deck that overlooks the bay, but the rain and wind made that impossible. So someone opened the door to the front deck - - the one that looks south over the flooded road and neighboring houses - - and that’s when we saw the spectacle. A spectacle of epic proportions - - thousands of birds careening along the length of the island, from west to east and beyond. We were entranced (and in a protected dry location) and watched for hours. Flock after flock of storm-driven migrants sailed by. They had made it across the Gulf of Mexico and likely would be landing in the trees of the island’s eastern end. But some landed in the palm tree just feet from the deck - - Northern Parula, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, three Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on one branch, Purple Martins, Orchard Oriole, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler - - and once they had landed, they stayed. The parula and grosbeak didn’t move for more than an hour! They rested, and they rested, and they rested, and eventually we saw them preen a bit, and a bit more, and then, as the rain let up they flew. We took their lead and packed into the van to see more migrants on the east end. We took the drive along the flooded roads slowly, and then we took hours exploring the trees of Cadillac Park, the Shell Mounds, and the Audubon Sanctuary. Birds were EVERYWHERE! Nearly two dozen warbler species, including a Cerulean and Blue-winged flitted amongst the trees, the yard puddles played host to flocks of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks, there were countless Summer Tanagers and Orchard Orioles, and ducks paddled by along the flooded road edges. We had witnessed a migratory fall-out of massive proportions, and we were grateful for it!
While we suspected the song birding would continue to be productive on the island, the group came to the consensus that it was time to explore new habitats. That meant a 4-mile ferry ride across Mobile Bay, from Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan on the Alabama mainland. Exciting! And a bit eerie - - the fog was heavy just off the land, and we sailed into it within minutes of leaving the docks. Still, we had great views of Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins, a Merlin, a drake White-winged Scoter, and the well-lit oil rigs that dot Mobile Bay. Safe and sound on the east side of the bay, we knew from the captain that a return trip was not a guarantee. He’d be watching the weather, and would stop running the ferry if necessary. We’d be watching the weather as well, and in the meantime we’d bird! Fort Morgan was closed to visitors - - the grounds were flooded. But from the roadside we had great views of a Black-necked Stilt and many other shorebirds enjoying the flooded areas. The walking trails of “The Stables” were quiet, a good resting spot for a storm-weary Wood Thrush in the path. We took lunch, took a peek at the weather, and decided that we’d be on the next ferry out - - storms were a brewin’ to the west. But, the captain had already pulled the plug on the day’s remaining trips - - looked like we’d be taking the long way home! From Fort Morgan we explored the coastal area known as Gulf Shores. A Swallow-tailed Kite was a beautiful fly-by - - an incredible flock of Cedar Waxwings busily ate berries from a small oasis of habitat - - an Eastern Towhee sang in that same area - - ice cream for all - - a Swamp Rabbit (they have very small ears) - - and then we watched the storm roll in before making the long drive back around Mobile Bay to our beach house.
After yesterday’s lengthy drive back to Dauphin Island, we were happy to spend today birding the local hot spots of the island. First stop - - the public beach and the area known to birders as “Pelican” or “Sand Island” - - an area of incredible shorebird habitat that used to be separated from the mainland, but a storm, Katrina, some years past linked the two. The walk out the long fishing pier helps you understand how different it must have been at one time - - that you could have actually fished from the pier. The way it stands today, you exit off the far end of the pier and have another three hundred yards to get to the water! As we approached the gulf waters, we watched four or five Dolphins leaping and spinning and surfing the shallow waters by the shoreline, the oohs and aahs from the group signaled another mighty leap of this magnificent marine mammal. The morning was leisurely and filled with shorebirds - - close looks and lengthy looks so the learning potential was huge. We studied Black-bellied Plover vs American Golden-Plover, Least vs Western Sandpiper, Short vs Long-billed Dowitcher, Royal vs Caspian Tern, Stilt Sandpiper, Snowy Plover, and many more.
That afternoon we continued to explore areas of the island we hadn’t yet seen. At the Audubon Sanctuary we took the “long way” to the banding area so as to avoid the many flooded wooded trails. We linked together the Lake Trail and the Dune Trail, adding a perched Mississippi Kite to our trip list, and a male Eastern Bluebird. The pond of the sanctuary holds a healthy population of turtles - - the Spiny Softshell, Yellow-bellied Slider, and River Cooter. We got the impression that they are often fed by humans, but enjoyed looking at them from such close proximity. It was back to the Airport for the evening; everyone really wanted to see a Sora. As many rails do, this bird required quiet patience from the group, and eventually there it was - bravo!
Well rested and ready for a road trip, we packed up Thursday morning for a day-long adventure to Mississippi - - first stop, the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. We had crossed the border, had just gotten beyond the large bayou separating Alabama from Mississippi, and were traveling at 65 mph on the interstate, when Bob casually asked, “Are those two Sandhill Cranes in the field on the left?” They were! We stopped at the NWR visitor’s center and learned that we had been lucky - - the majority of the local crane population was nesting and very secretive. The likelihood of us seeing a crane in the refuge was very low, so we explored trails and other nearby sites, finding the trip’s first Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Sedge Wren, and hearing Tufted Titmouse, Common Yellowthroat, and Eastern Meadowlark. Traversing coastal Mississippi’s trails was a challenge - - they too had endured incredible storms the past few days and trails were flooded. Keeping our feet dry wasn’t an option if you wanted to get out there and explore! We took our time after leaving the NWR, exploring other trails, a nearby state park, the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Bayou La Batre, and the Henderson Campground Road where we all got to see an Eastern Fox Squirrel. It was a new mammal for many of us, and one which won’t quickly be forgotten with its massive size, thick buck teeth, and beautiful reddish coat.
Our last day already? Yes. And it was sunny - gorgeous even - a delight, but the change in weather would mean a change in the birding. Yet still, it was a lovely day. Finally the entire group had incredible looks at a male Painted Bunting at the Shell Mounds. Two different male Cape May Warblers were seen amongst stands of the bottlebrush bushes. We helped a land-stranded Common Loon back into its preferred habitat of open water, and then continued on to John Stower’s deck (perpetually open to birders) for scope views of American White Pelicans. While at the ferry terminal, an exhausted Cave Swallow sat for at least ten minutes on the railing of a dock, and we studied it closely. And after a quiet walk through the Audubon Sanctuary, Paul spotted a hand-written note in the tree. It mentioned three Great Horned Owls in a “swervy pine” and it gave directions of how to position yourself to get the line of sight needed. It also had a date - the 17th - today! We had to find these roosting owls! Mary went ahead to get the rest of the group while Kim and Paul tried to identify the “swervy pine”. It was like a treasure hunt - and we found the treasure! A beautiful Great Horned Owl perched in broad daylight. WOW! We were able to share the scope views with three young men who were working for a cross-country bike tour, and their reactions to what they saw through the scope were wonderful. Our many thanks to whoever left that note, stuck behind a chunk of bark on a pine.
What is challenging to capture in a day by day trip report is the day to day normal sightings - the gorgeous Great Blue Heron that was omnipresent along the seawall at the house - the flocks of Brown Pelicans that soared and dipped above the water surface - the Common Loons diving for food - the ebb and flow of the migratory flocks, from Summer Tanagers to Orchard Orioles and Indigo Buntings, Purple Martins, and Eastern Kingbirds to White-eyed Vireos - the mama Mottled Duck and her ducklings along the flooded roadside - the Hooded Warbler that was “just another Hooded Warbler” because we had seen so many - the Green Anole changing color on the agave leaf - the sheer volume of birds that make Dauphin Island one of North America’s migratory birding hotspots. These normal sightings add a layer to the memory of the trip - one filled with both migratory phenomena and “regular ol’ birds” - reminding us all that every bird is spectacular to watch.
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA TOUR:
4-10 April 2010
1) CERULEAN WARBLER
2) Swallow-tailed Kite
3) Scarlet Tanager
4) Black-necked Stilt
5) Prairie Warbler
6) Brown-headed Nuthatch
7) Prothonotary Warbler
8) Common Loon
9) Worm-eating Warbler
10) Yellow-throated Warbler
Non-avian highlights included Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins and American Alligators. Three species of swallowtail butterflies were observed: Giant, Black, and Tiger.
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA & COASTAL MISSISSIPPI
4-10 April 2010
Trip report by Dan Watkins, tour leader
It was a tour of extremes this year. It was like riding a roller coaster. Many of the mornings started with a great bird from the back deck. The days were good for migration, but not for people watching the migration. Thursday and Friday were days of marvelous birding!
After picking up Loree and Betty in Mobile, we drove to Dauphin Island where we met Eileen and Dave. After unpacking and relaxing on the back deck, we scanned the broken pier and came up with Gull-billed, Caspian, and Royal Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, and the ever present Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans. However, the best surprise was a Stilt Sandpiper. A quick trip to Shell Mound produced warblers including Prothonotary (#6), Black-and-white, and a singing Northern Parula.
Day 2 After watching several Common Loons from the deck, we took the ferry to the Fort Morgan side of Mobile Bay. The banding station at Fort Morgan, which usually has numerous birds to band, could only show us two birds! They were a very nice Hooded Warbler and an absolutely beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler (#9). Breaking for lunch, we overate and laughed at ‘Lambert’s, the home of the Throwed Rolled’. Leaving Lambert’s, we traveled to a small lake near Foley, Alabama. On the way, the surprise bird of the day showed up on the wires, a Loggerhead Shrike. Traveling around the lake we found Eastern Bluebirds, Brown Thrasher, and Green Heron. Driving around the bay to get to the beach house yielded birds that we had seen earlier. Arriving at the beach house we watched from the deck as an Osprey sharpened its fishing techniques. A short stop at the Airport allowed us to find a nice variety of herons and egrets. The best sighting was a pair of Clapper Rails that gave us great looks while swimming and walking right past us!
Day 3 Checking the back deck allowed us to watch a Reddish Egret doing the canopy feeding dance to the enjoyment of all. Our first stop away from the house was Blakeley Waste Management Area. As we mounted the dikes that separate the holding ponds, we were greeted by a large flock of shorebirds. Both yellowlegs, both dowitchers, numerous peeps, and several of my favorite, the Black-necked Stilt (#3). All this occurred as a Bald Eagle watched over us from a far tree. A short drive over to Meagher State Park gave us looks at White Ibis, American Coots, Moorhen, and an elusive Pine Warbler that would not present itself --but it did sing several times. On to the cliffs where we searched for Swallow-tailed Kites (#2). We were about to give up when a bird came across the river and announced its presence with its brilliant shining white head. After that several more popped up and we watched from across the river as they hunted for lunch. We were lucky enough to get closer looks on Dauphin Island two later days.
Day 4 Once again we started the day with a good bird from the deck. Today we were greeted by two American Oystercatchers. After breakfast, we headed for Mississippi. We got very nice close-up looks at Least Terns in the small Katrina-damaged town of Coden. A stop at the Sandhill Crane Refuge did not produce any Sandhill Cranes, but did produce Brown-headed Nuthatch (#6). Other than seeing a large American Alligator at the Gulf Island National Seashore, the day was rather slow. The beautiful weather was just not conducive to birds dropping out of the sky. The last birding spot of the day was Moses Pier at Gulfport, Mississippi. While looking at a very large flock of Black Skimmers, with a few Marbled Godwits scattered about, the quiet calm of the Gulf of Mexico hardly looked like the violent storm that hit the area in 2005, until you turned around and looked inland and realized the old churches and antebellum homes along the beach were no longer to be seen. A drive along the beach showed us the rebuilding that has continued in this area of Mississippi. A day ending stop at Shell Mound produced Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireoes. We found a Louisiana Waterthrush at the Drip.
Day 5 Once again the deck started us off with good birding. As I sipped my coffee, a flock of Northern Gannets flew by on their way to the feeding grounds. Some people were finished with their morning routines and some were not, so everyone did not get to see the impressive gannet flight. After breakfast we drove along the beach hoping to find the gannets for the rest of the group. We were successful! Then the prayers for rain finally took hold. When the rain slowed down, we headed for the Goat Tree. The flight of the Scarlet Tanager (#3) was on! Everywhere you looked there were tanagers--sometimes four or five in one tree, easily the most I have ever seen in one day. It was not a full-fledged fallout, but it certainly was close. One participant said ‘It was the best day of birding she had ever taken part in’. There were Eastern Kingbirds, where yesterday there were none. White-eyed Vireoes were in every bush. Worm-eating Warblers were being seen in the heavy thickets. Over at the Shell Mound, Orchard Orioles were filling the tops of the large oaks and Summer Tanagers began to make an appearance. Indigo Buntings were in good numbers, with a Blue Grosbeak right in the middle of the flock. Back at the house we finished the day with a pair of Sandwich Terns. WHAT A GREAT DAY!!!!!!!
On the last day of birding, we started at the West End and found a small puddle that had Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, and the last of the peeps…….a Western Sandpiper. At the Audubon Bird Sanctuary we encountered our first look at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. We had several good looks this day. At the end of the trail we ran into a nice wave of warblers that allowed us to add Blue-winged and Tennessee to our list. We stopped at Goat Tree on our way to Shell Mound and got a very good long look at a Prairie Warbler (#5), while a Swallow-tailed Kite flew over. This was our third day with a Swallow-tailed Kite. At the Shell Mound we counted our last bird and the #1 bird for the tour. This bird popped out of the trees just above eye level and gave us one of the best looks I have ever seen. With this performance, it became the bird of the trip, a CERULEAN WARBLER.
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA and nearby COASTAL MISSISSIPPI TOUR:
6-12 April 2008
1) SWAINSON'S WARBLER
2) Reddish Egret
3) Swallow-tailed Kite
4) Blue-winged Warbler
5) Least Tern
6) Clapper Rail
7) Cape May Warbler
9) Black-chinned Hummingbird
10) Hooded Warbler
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA & THE MISSISSIPPI COAST
6-12 April 2008
Trip report prepared by leader Dan Watkins
This year's tour was composed of different people looking for different things from the trip. From seeing that life bird to getting the right photo, I believe the tour met the expectations of all our participants.
The trip started earlier for our California participant (Fred) than the rest of the group. At his motel he was able to find 15 species including one lifer that the rest of the group never did see, Painted Bunting. After picking up the rest of the participants we headed to Dauphin Island. First stop, Bayfront Park for a little lunch and birding. We didn't even have the food out when Bev heard a Pine Warbler singing in the pines. We found the bird rather quickly and then turned our attention to some terns. A quick stop at Cedar Point produced a Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, and some Bufflehead. The Bufflehead are unusual for this time of year. After unloading the van, we made two quick spots and had our first of many looks at Clapper Rails (favorite species #6), Tricolored Heron, and Reddish Egret.
Day two started out by heading to the ferry to cross Mobile Bay. Only trouble was that the wind was blowing hard enough to stop the ferry for the day. So we spent all of this day birding Dauphin Island. While driving toward the beach house, two of our people (Kathleen & Fred) yelled at the same time "Swallowtail"! We pulled the car over and watched as three Swallow-tailed Kites (tied for #2) gave us great views. We then drove to the west end of the Island to see what shorebirds the high tide was going to bring in. Shorebirds were everywhere, including a nice variety of plovers - Black-bellied, Wilson's, Semipalmated, and Piping. There were a number of Wilson's with one in particular being of great interest. Instead of the normal coloring this bird was almost all white with a little dusky shading. It was the first of two very "colorful" birds that we had on the tour. We were able to obtain really good photos of this leucistic individual. At this point the Reddish Egret (tied for #2) made one of its several appearances and did its feeding dance. Dick got some great photos. Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, American Oystercatchers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Dunlin, and Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers were everywhere. Going back to the Shell Mound we found a Black-chinned Hummingbird (#9) mixed in with the 100s of Ruby-throats. At the Mound, we also had three types of vireos: White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated. Warblers added this day were Blue-winged (#4), Tennessee, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Black-and-white, Prothonotary, Kentucky, and Hooded (#10). We also saw Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, and both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.
Day three began the same way: ferry cancelled. So, with a change of plans we headed for Mississippi. On our way to National Park at Ocean Springs, we found another bird that was not its proper color. We had a disagreement as to what type of hawk this was. We ended up calling it a melanistic Broad-winged Hawk. The bird was black with different dark shading. At Island National Seashore we had great looks at a nesting pair of Osprey (#8). At this point we added Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Least Tern. Up to the Peaceful Swamp where the target birds were the Black Vulture and Anhinga. We had good looks at both. We also saw Red-headed Woodpecker and Red-shouldered Hawk before going to the beach at Biloxi. The beach did not disappoint, with a massive colony of Black Skimmers and a few Marbled Godwits for good measure. Blue-winged Teal were found floating in the surf. The drive along the shore (RT 90) showed little or no re-construction, except for the casinos.
Day four we finally got on the ferry, only they shut it down again as we got off on the Fort Morgan side of the Bay. So, we had to drive all the way around the Bay to get home. Among the birds seen while on the ferry was a great look at a Northern Gannet. One of our people is a bander on the East Coast and had interest in seeing Bob Sargent's banding station. While the numbers were down, the quality was up. The very first bird we saw was a Swainson's Warbler! So, after being seen, handled, photographed and finally adopted by our group, the Swainson's became our number one bird of the tour. Other birds at the station were Blue-winged Warbler, Ovenbird, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers. We found a Merlin that seemed to be observing the banding operation. We then headed up to Foley, Alabama for some lunch at Lambert's. A good time was had by all as we enjoyed down home cooking along with some "Throwed Rolls". Driving around some of the back roads, we found several new birds including Loggerhead Shrike, Common Ground-Dove, Red-necked Grebe, Pileated Woodpecker, and Eastern Meadowlark.
Day five was planned for the Waste Management Area and for a change we didn't have to change our plans. At this spot we were after Mottled Duck and Black-necked Stilt. We got very nice looks at both species. In a very small pool just outside the Area we had close looks at both Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, and a Baird's Sandpiper. While looking at the ducks we had a Swallow-tailed Kite fly right over us one more time. Also, we came upon a flock of American Avocets. This flock of 50 gave us the opportunity to study the various plumages of this bird. While I was checking out a Barn Owl nest, the rest of the group picked up a small flock of White Ibis. The Barn Owl wasn't home. Resting on the deck before going for seafood dinner we were able to find two Sandwich Terns. We had searched for this bird previously with no luck.
Day six was a relaxing day birding the island. We visited many of the Dauphin Island hotspots one more time. At the west end we were able to pick a Western Sandpiper out of all the peeps. A Prairie Warbler was found at the drip and gave us a great look. At the Shell Mound Bowl we had a very fleeting but decent look at a Cape May Warbler (#7).
Day seven was the day a small front came by the Island, but not with enough force to cause fallouts. A few Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks showed up, but that was about all. So, after one last look at Shell Mound and The Airport we headed up to Mobile to catch our flights home.
One last note: The Least Tern (#5) that was hit so hard by Katrina is making what looks like a great comeback!
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA
8-14 April 2007
1) SANDHILL CRANE
2) Snowy Plover
3) Sandwich Tern
4) Cave Swallow
5) Hooded Warbler
6) Indigo Bunting
7) Scarlet Tanager
8) Worm-eating Warbler
9) Swamp Sparrow
10) Black-necked Stilt
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA
8-14 April 2007
Trip report by Dan Watkins, Tour Leader
This year's trip began with lunch at Bayfront Park on the west side of Mobile Bay. While we ate, a Red-headed Woodpecker entertained us with its antics. While unpacking at the beach house a scope was set up on the back deck. The scope produced four types of terns, with Sandwich (# 3) and Gull-billed being counted among the many Royal Terns. A quick trip to the Shell Mound gave us our first Northern Parula, but very few other warblers. What was unexpected was a Black-chinned Hummingbird mixed in with the many Ruby-throats.
Day two was reserved for a ferry ride to the east side of Mobile Bay. We headed for Bob Sargent's banding station. On this day the banding station was sensational! Many different types of birds were being banded, but it was the warblers that stole the show. We saw Prothonotary, Prairie, Yellow-throated, Hooded (# 5), along with Ovenbirds and a Northern Waterthrush. However, for Judy the star was a Worm-eating Warbler (# 7) that she saw for her first sighting. While at the station a flock of swallows was flying overhead. CAVE SWALLOWS (# 4)! This is one of the very few times that this bird has been recorded in Alabama. We soon headed for Lambert's and the "Home of the Throwed Roll" for a down home southern meal. Returning back to Dauphin Island we stopped for a first of several trips to the airport to see Clapper Rails and the secretive Sora.
Day three was set aside for a trip to the Blakeley Waste Management Area and the Delta Region. En route we stopped at Degussa Nature Trail that produced Wood Duck and Black Vultures along with the expected woodland birds. Just before entering BWMA we came across a small pool right next to the highway. This little 30-foot pool of water had six Black-neck Stilts (# 10), both types of Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and three Semipalmated Sandpipers. Inside BWMA many of the same birds were seen along with Dunlin, Cedar Waxwings, Solitary Sandpipers, and Mottled Ducks. That night a thunderstorm shut down the power for 30 minutes.
Day four --- FALL OUT --- FALL OUT! The thunderstorm from last night set up conditions just right for a fall out. So, after a very quick stop at the airport to see our regularly occurring Clapper Rails, herons and egrets, we drove to the Shell Mound. Where yesterday there were no Summer Tanagers, today they seemed to be everywhere. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seemed to be on every flower. There had to be more than 30 Worm-eating Warblers. Scarlet Tanagers (# 7), Prothonotary, Hooded, both Waterthrushes, and Yellow-throated Warblers were all there in good numbers! In one tangle of driftwood we counted over 80 blue birds, 71 were Indigo Buntings (# 4) and the other 9 were Blue Grosbeaks. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Orchard Orioles were among many other birds. We took a break and had lunch at Cadillac Park with the Tennessee Warblers. After lunch we headed for the west end of the island. We found a little space of water with a nice mudflat that was occupied by Reddish Egret, Piping Plover, Wilson's Plover, Red Knots, Dunlin, and several peeps. Common Loons (# 10) were seen in several locations.
Day five was a short boat trip to Sand Island with "Bubba and Fuzzy". We walked on the island for a little while and had seen nothing new, when a little pale bird was found on the edge of the grass and sand: A SNOWY PLOVER (# 2). Actually it turned out to be a pair. In looking out to the Gulf from Sand Island two Northern Gannets were seen flying overhead. While drifting along the edge of Sand Island we came upon a school of Manta Rays and Sting Rays. This provided us with an unexpected non-birding experience. Back on Dauphin Island we found a Sora. Swamp Sparrow (# 9), Eastern Phoebe, and a Marsh Wren were added to the list.
Day six was a trip into Mississippi to the National Seashore National Park, Peaceful Swamp, and to drive the coast that was decimated by Katrina. This day produced the most favorite bird of the tour. While everyone in the group had seen the tremendous flocks of Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska and Arizona, the Sandhill Crane became our # 1 bird as we were driving near the area of the Sandhill Crane Refuge. I was explaining that the refuge was closed for repairs and that our only chance of seeing one was in the pastures along the road, and a poor chance at that. At precisely that moment Dutch said, "Like those two over there?" The Peaceful Swamp gave us a very quick look at a bird that we had whiffed on earlier, SWALLOWTAIL KITE. Other birds of the day included, Black-bellied Plover, Cerulean Warbler, Black Skimmer, and Marbled Godwits.
The last morning of the trip we said goodbye to our beach house that produced twenty-five birds from the back deck!
Next year's tour will follow the same itinerary and is scheduled for 6-12 April 2008. Please consider combining it with a week in Southwest Louisiana for a Gulf Coast birding extravaganza. The Louisiana Tour begins 13 April 2008.
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA
2-8 April 2006
1) Summer Tanager
2) Swallow-tailed Kite
3) Swainson's Warbler
4) Black-necked Stilt
5) Prothonotary Warbler
6) Orchard Oriole
7) Cliff Swallow
8) Kentucky Warbler
9) Northern Parula
10) Baird's Sandpiper
DAUPHIN ISLAND, ALABAMA
2-8 April 2006
Trip report by Dan Watkins, Tour Leader
"Oh, the weather outside was . . . wonderful"? Unfortunately that was not what we wanted. As we waited for that front to come in and bring down the birds after their flight across the Gulf of Mexico, the weather remained clear and in the seventies and eighties--much to our frustration.
Day One. The day began with picking up the participants in Mobile, Alabama and birding our way to Dauphin Island. As we were coming onto the island, one of my contacts called and said he had a pair of Black-necked Stilts (favorite species # 4) along his beach. So, we added a quick stop for these birds and several others that would be our constant companions throughout the week, such as American Oystercatcher, Willet, both dowitchers, Royal Tern, Sanderling, Black Skimmer, Laughing Gull, and Brown Pelican.
We arrived at our beach house, moved in, and then set out to do some birding. Later in the afternoon we joined this same fellow as he took us to nearby Sand Island. This location produced a large number of birds, including four Gull-billed Terns at close range. We made our first stop at the Airport Marsh for easy viewing of Soras and Clapper Rails. While there one of our participants got a quick view of a Wilson's Phalarope. We got our best view of a Reddish Egret with its magnificently colored bill while it did the feeding dance.
Day Two. On our drive to the ferry to cross Mobile Bay, we came upon a Cattle Egret in full breeding plumage that gave us very good looks. While waiting for the ferry we found two surprise birds: a Loggerhead Shrike and a pair of Purple Sandpipers. The Purple Sandpipers were far out of their normal time and range. While ferrying across Mobile Bay we saw Northern Gannets and Black Terns. Next stop was the Fort Morgan Banding Station where we watched our first of many Prothonotary Warblers (favorite species # 5) being released after banding. While there we got the closest view of a Swainson's Warbler (favorite species # 3) that you will ever get. This secretive warbler was bird-in-hand for our participants. We then went on a long walk through Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge that unfortunately produced relatively few birds. Afterward we took a much needed lunch break at Lambert's (Home of the Throwed Roll) to enjoy some down home southern cooking. One of the participants even had "Hog Jowls." A pair of Caspian Terns awaited us on our return to Dauphin Island.
Day Three. We were up bright and early to be at the Airport Marsh at first light. Our efforts were rewarded with great looks at Sora and Clapper Rails, plus Black-crowned Night-Heron and Tricolored Heron. Our next stop was Goat Tree and Shell Mound. Goat Tree had a Prairie Warbler that allowed us to check him out from every angle. Shell Mound gave us our first look at an Orchard Oriole (favorite species # 6). We would see this bird numerous times over the next few days. They were particularly interesting because of the color differences between adult male, female, and first year birds. We birded a broken pier that allowed us a great study of Forster's, Common, and Royal Terns. These birds were lined up next to each other and the differences were easy to observe. We searched for Sandwich Terns at the Coden Pier to no avail. On the way out, we found a tree that was just loaded with birds including Kentucky Warbler (favorite species # 8), Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Bluebird, Common Yellowthroat, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Day Four. I enlisted a local birder to help us gain entry into the Blakeley Waste Management Area, a location that is only accessed by special permit. Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Marsh Wren, Northern Shoveler, Greater Yellowlegs, and Spotted Sandpiper were among the birds we spotted. Our next destination was Hurricane Landing to search for Swallow-tailed Kite. We were rewarded with a brief but great look as one flew twenty feet above us--favorite species # 2. At Meaher State Park we observed a simply brilliant Yellow-throated Warbler. Our walk on the boardwalk produced a distant flock of small sandpipers that caused us much debate. We finally identified them as Baird's Sandpipers (favorite species # 10).
Day Five. This day was set aside for our excursion into Mississippi. First stop was the Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge. This was like a walk in the hills back in New York, where all of our participants live. The only birds not a normal part of the New York landscape were a Brown-headed Nuthatch and a meadowlark that sounded strangely like a Western Meadowlark, a true rarity in this part of the country. We saw a Palm Warbler whose colors were fantastic. At the refuge there was a field of yellow flowers that turned out to be one of the biggest fields of Pitcher Plants I had ever seen. Peaceful Swamp yielded a Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Anhinga. Great Crested Flycatcher and Orchard Oriole were flying about very close to us. At National Island Seashore we saw our largest of several American Alligators, always a treat for folks from up north. We also saw four Ospreys flying overhead and one in a nest. What a great sight! We had our first distant looks at Least Terns. We would get a much better look at Moses Pier, our next stop. We also had nice close-up looks at Black Skimmer, Black-bellied Plover, and Marbled Godwit. Leaving Moses Pier in Gulfport, we drove the heavily damaged Route 90 to Biloxi. Seeing the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was a mixture of awe from the force of the storm and a feeling of sorrow for the lives turned upside down by this devastating natural event. That night we dined at a seafood place on a bayou and watched terns, herons, and Snowy Egrets while eating our shrimp and scallops--very nice!
Day Six. We made a trip around Dauphin Island in the hope that a slight change in the wind direction would bring the warblers that make Shell Mound famous. While it was still not up to Shell Mound standards, the mound did produce Northern Parula (favorite species # 9), Prothonotary Warbler, and the # 1 bird of the tour, Summer Tanager. It was a brilliant two-toned red male that kept our attention for quite some time. All week long we had searched the Barn Swallow flocks looking for a different swallow, but with no luck. As we pulled into the beach house a swallow flew by that turned out to be a Cliff Swallow (favorite species # 7). We drove to the west end of the island and found several small tidal pools that were just full of birds. Besides the peeps, the pool contained both species of dowitchers, and Black-bellied, Semipalmated, Piping, and Wilson's Plovers.
While packing and loading the car the weather front came through in full force. That afternoon would be outstanding birding, but the folks on the tour had to get to the airport for their flights home. It was the end of a great week, our first Dauphin Island Tour that will now be an annual event.
PS: I saw Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 14 different warblers, and four species of vireos later that afternoon, the best being a great look at a Black-whiskered Vireo.