Trip Report

 

VENTURE to:

Dauphin Island

April 15 - 20, 2015

 


Birding at Fort Gaines Black-Whiskered Vireo Caspian Terns Dickcissel, Fort Morgan Group on Beach Group on Fort Morgan Ferry

 

Trip Report

 

 

VENTURE to:

Dauphin Island

April 15 - 20, 2015

 

Birding at Fort GainesI always enjoy our tours down to Dauphin Island. It’s never a sure thing that we would get a major fall-out of migrating birds, but there is always the chance. Looking at the weather before we went down, it was certainly unstable as there were major storms and unsettled weather moving across the Northern Gulf of Mexico with perfect conditions in Mexico and the Southern Gulf for departing migrants. We drove through several torrential downpours on our way to Dauphin Island, including almost stand-still driving conditions in and around Mobile. Needless to say that when we arrived most of the island roads were flooded; certainly one of the wettest visits I had experienced on Dauphin Island.

 

Black-Whiskered Vireo

A quick stop at the Shell Mounds proved that the bad weather had indeed been forcing birds to land on Dauphin Island once they had crossed the Gulf. There were good numbers of warblers moving in the trees, and at least 2 Painted Buntings were feeding on nearby lawns. Things were certainly looking good for the upcoming week.

After a great seafood meal at a local restaurant we crashed for the night, ready for a good birding start the next morning.

 

Caspian TernsCadillac Park is a somewhat overlooked local birding spot, but always a very enjoyable place to check for small flocks of arriving migrants. This morning is was a little quiet, but a couple of Great Crested Flycatchers showed well and a Wood Thrush allowed us to enjoy this somewhat shy bird. We spent the rest of the day checking a multitude of other local birding areas. It was a great first day on the island with the highlights being a large number of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager and especially Red-eyed Vireos moving through the woods at the Audubon Sanctuary.

 

After a day in the field, we always look forward to a local seafood dinner and some birding friends from Mobile have been so good to us over the years and this evening we were treated to a delicious meal of fried shrimp, Cole slaw and salad- thanks again for a wonderful Dauphin Island welcome.Group on Beach

 

The sand flats and a long walk to the point at West End were our highlight the next day which made for a pleasant change from migrating songbirds to migrating shorebirds. Three American Avocets on the beach were a real surprise and difficult to tear ourselves away, but watching Reddish Egrets dash around is always entertaining. During our study of shorebirds we were lucky to see all the regularly-occurring plovers. From the large Black-bellied Plover to the small Snowy Plover, and  had great comparisons with all 5 species; something that does not happen very often. Another highlight had to be the family of Red Foxes that emerged from the rocks to play in the afternoon sunshine.

 

Dickcissel, Fort MorganThe next day produced the biggest surprise of the trip as other birders had found a male Vermilion Flycatcher along the airport road. After an excellent lunch with all of the visiting birders at Stow’s house we sped that way but alas, the bird had vanished. Thankfully after a bit of deduction we amazingly re-found the flycatcher while walking along the beach east of the airport. The bird then returned to the airport runway, where it was enjoyed by the whole AOS contingent. We then spent the afternoon checking the other local birding spots, adding more warblers at every stop. This afternoon added a stunning male Blue-winged Warbler, as well as a roosting Great Horned Owl that the local birders alerted us to – very nice.

 

We eventually caught up with a Black-whiskered Vireo at the Shell Mounds the following morning which allowed for lots of folks to get photos of this uncommon migrant. Funnily enough we found our own vireo about an hour later at Fort Gaines – this is how it often goes in birding!  Group on Fort Morgan FerryEveryone loves a boat trip and this afternoon we decided it was time to get off the island and enjoy adjacent Fort Morgan; only a 40 minute ferry ride across Mobile Bay. What an afternoon we ended up having as we slowly walked the trails around the old banding station.  A local birder had sprinkled some bird seed under the bushes, attracting in a number of seed-eating birds, such as Painted and Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a beautiful male Dickcissel. Warblers were literally dripping from the trees and we ended up with 16 species in a little over 2 hours. These included Golden-winged, Cerulean and a surprising number of Tennessee Warblers; the weather must have moved them a little east of their regular migration route. What an end to a great week with 29 species of warbler and a great supporting cast of tanagers, orioles and buntings. A total of 20 shorebirds added to the many highlights; all considering the weather was unstable at best! I would sum up the trip in one sentence: great birds, great food and great company – same time next year?

 

Simon Thompson