Third time’s a charm – Dauphin Island, AL

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Leaving Florida behind was the “official” beginning of our 2019 westward migration.  We started earlier this year than we did in 2014, and moved more quickly through Alabama and Mississippi.  We’d learned our lesson on that last trip at the end of April – the tremendous thunderstorms we rode out one night near Pensacola still hold the record for dumping the most rain there in a 24-hour period. Continue reading

Dauphin Island is for the birds!

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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


A detour to one of our favorite places – Dauphin Island, AL

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Great Horned Owl

Since it’s still a bit early to continue our northward trek, we’re chillin’ for a couple of weeks at one of our favorite Gulf Coast stops, Dauphin Island.  Unfortunately, a severe weather system slammed the area just a day after our arrival, the worst storm we’ve endured since we began our travels.  It wasn’t just the buckets of rain, but also the lightning and fierce winds that made us hunker down in Betsy.  Our windshield cover even blew off in one of the wind gusts, and that’s never happened before.

Dauphin Island Beach Campground

Poor Steve had to wade out into the water in pouring rain to retrieve our windshield cover

Although this was an unplanned stop, we were excited to be back.  After a couple of weeks here we’ll move back to Gulf Shores, AL for a final three weeks on the shoreline.  That will take us up to May 1st, when it should be warm enough to head north and leave the beaches behind for quite a while.  Our pace will be more leisurely this summer, as we don’t see ourselves visiting as many historical and resort spots as last year.  In keeping with our goal of visiting all 49 states, we’re guessing we’ll be able to add 9 or 10 to the midsection of our map by the end of the year.

The planned route will take us to Michigan by mid-summer and back to Texas by December, where we plan to spend next winter.  The stops along the way will be determined as we move along, and by the end of our third year we will probably have visited at least 38 beautiful states.  Well, that’s the “jello plan” for now, we’ll see what surprises this part of the journey brings – hey, that’s the fun of it!

2014 planned route

Rough outline for our 2014 adventure route

Back to Dauphin Island.  Although we were here around the same time last year, there were a few things we missed during that short stay that we wanted to explore this time around.  Our first couple of days were spent waiting for better weather and doing fun things – like finalizing our taxes 😦  But we tend to get “cabin fever” fairly quickly, and we couldn’t wait to get out to breathe the fresh air and get moving again.  The good news is that our home base at Dauphin Island Campground had private access to the white sand beach, trails to the bird sanctuary and access to the bike path that runs the length of the island (8 miles).  There are other activities within walking/riding distance that made our car almost unneeded here – a pair of healthy legs were the only requirement!

 

Dauphin Island Beach

We’ll definitely be missing this in the months to come

So, what have we done so far?  Well, I did mention that the RV park had direct access to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, and that was my first destination.  Actually, the whole island is designated as a bird sanctuary, just for good measure.  Everywhere we went the birds could be seen and heard – heaven!  Steve even got caught up in the possibility of seeing new and beautiful birds, so he grabbed our binoculars and tagged along.

We were not disappointed. A great horned owl had established a nest by the beach and was nurturing her two young ones.

Great Horned Owl

This Osprey nest was taken over by a Great Horned Owl, and she and her owlets were the talk of the town

Great Horned Owl

They seem to be saying, “What’s all the fuss about?”  Aren’t they the cutest?

Dauphin Island is the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.  In inclement weather, the island has been known to receive large flocks of exhausted birds landing all at once, in what is called a “fall-out.”  Having my first Alabama bird-watching experience after that storm hit was quite amazing.  And that will be covered in my next post.

Finally, our first sunset taken at the west end of the island.

Dauphin Island Sunset

 

Next up:  Dauphin Island goes to the birds!