Dauphin Island is for the birds!

I know what you must be thinking – I just completed four months of gawking at birds while we were in Florida, and here I am talking about birds again.  Lucky for me, we arrived at Dauphin Island, AL where neotropical migratory birds make their first landfall at the beginning of the spring season.  Migration begins in March and peaks in mid-April. If you’re not a “bird fan”, then you probably won’t be interested in the rest of this post. Even my hubby gave me an agonized look when I asked him to edit yet another bird story!

Dauphin Island

But first, what the heck is a neotropical bird?

A neotropical migratory bird is one that breeds in Canada or the United States during our summer, then spends our winter in Mexico, Central America, South America or the Caribbean islands.  The majority of neotropical migratory birds are songbirds, such as warblers, thrushes, tanagers, and vireos.

Dauphin Island is the first landfall for many neotropical migratory birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Map of Dauphin Island Alabama

Map of Dauphin Island, Alabama

After a recent storm here I ventured out to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and the Indian Shell Mound Park, where I was amazed by the abundance of “fall out”, a term used to describe these large groups of arriving migrants.  The cute little colorful birds were all over the place, hopping and foraging.  And it seemed like their stopover lasted only a single day, for when I went back the following morning the area was already quiet.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary

Audubon Bird Sanctuary

The Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary Center lists 347 species that have been sighted on the island.  The Center distributes a migration calendar which lists each bird species expected to arrive, and on what dates.  This year, it’s estimated that the peak spring migration will be around April 15-25 – depending on the weather – but I’ve already seen lots of birders and photographers swarming the island.  Although we’ll be at Gulf Shores in late April, I might just hop on the ferry to come back here for another look!

Dauphin Island Shell Island Park

Some of the many birders and photographers at Shell Island Park

Here are a few snaps that I managed to capture that day.  These tiny birds are skittish and move around a lot.  To make it more interesting, I added some fun facts that I learned about these particular neotropical migratory birds:

  • Migrating birds cross the 600 miles of the Gulf of Mexico without resting.
Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler – these cuties were literally all over the place that day.

  • For most long-distance migrants, the birds are born genetically programmed to fly in a certain direction for a certain amount of time.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The most challenging bird for me to capture – Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

  • The time it takes a single bird to complete a full one-way migration can range from a few weeks to up to four months, depending on the total distance, weather, flight speed, route and stopovers.
Yellow-throated Warbler

I froze when this Yellow-throated Warbler posed right in front of me.

  • Ninety percent of migrating birds fly at airspeeds between 15 and 45 miles per hour.
White-eyed Vireo

The White-eyed Vireo was checking me out as well.

  • Many songbirds migrate at night, in part to avoid the attention of predators that are also migrating, such as raptors.
Prothonotary Warbler

Four of these Prothonotary Warblers were competing for seeds.

  • Migrants have an internal clock that controls the onset of migration and their pre-migration preparations.
Scarlet Tanager

The Scarlet Tanagers were way up there in the trees

  • Migrating birds use the stars and sounds from the earth below to find their way at night.  Buntings specifically use the pattern of stars around the North Star for navigation.  Amazing!
Indido Bunting

Steve was even excited when an Indigo Bunting visited our site (blue is his favorite color)

And that’s just a few of the gorgeous specimens I’ve seen the last few days!  In addition to all of the migrants passing through, we’re also being entertained daily at our campground (Steve’s review here) by the constant sounds and visits from the locals – Cardinals, Finches, Mockingbirds, Grackles, Doves and Blue Jays, who seem to rule the island.  These guys are eating us out of house and home, as we’ve been refilling our feeder every day.  But there’s nothing like waking up every morning to the sounds of all these wonderful birds singing to us!

Next up:  We go our separate ways