Alabama’s Eastern Shore: Day Two

The scouting continues, and I have to say that the Mobile area is quickly becoming one of my favorite spring birding spots. I wasn’t so sure when I got up early this morning to heavy rain, thunder, and lightning—but by the time we reached Village Point Park, the weather had begun to improve and excitement levels rose. It was still raining lightly when Larry met us in the parking lot, but the precipitation ended shortly thereafter, and our walk out to the bay found the clouds scattering until the sky was nearly clear.

We started with two of my favorite birds, the always appealing eastern towhee and a late white-throated sparrow. Warblers were scant on the way out, but on our way back, they included a prothonotary and a very vocal Swainson warbler, both species sure to be of interest to next year’s participants. I’ll admit that my first indigo buntings of the year took my breath away just as much.

We’d decided to defer breakfast in our hurry to take to the field, so stopped in Fairhope to make up for it; a flock of at least 60 cedar waxwings welcomed us in the parking lot, gorging themselves with only slightly less enthusiasm than we showed for our pancakes, omelettes, and biscuits. By now the sky was bright blue, and tempting as it was to linger over just one more cup of coffee, the thought of even more birds got us back out promptly. The Gator Boardwalk lived up to its name with at least two seven- or eight-foot reptiles floating deceptively placid in the water, while big painted-type turtles basked on the logs.

The Weeks Bay NERR could have been a disappointment: the buildings were deserted, the parking lot closed, a tree down on the boardwalk and the nature trail under a couple of feet of water. Three great crested flycatchers, though, rid our minds of any frustration, and a rose-breasted grosbeak was enough to draw a gasp as we watched it at close range in a brush pile. We were due anyway at Five Rivers, where a boat was supposed to be waiting for us at the landing named for William Bartram, whose explorations of Spanish Florida brought him here 250 years ago. The boat canceled, on strength of a decidedly faulty weather forecast, but our wait was enlivened by ospreys, bald eagles, and the first anhingas of our visit so far. Meaher Park, just across the road, made a poor first impression with its ranks of enormous rv’s and campers; the east end of the park, though, turned out to be peaceful and pleasant, and I’m sure it can be very birdy in the right conditions.

The lost boat trip meant that we had time to drop in to Battleship Park, just ten minutes short of our hotel. The park and the eponymous big boat were crowded on a lovely Sunday afternoon—crowded not just with people. The extensive rain pools were obviously irresistible to shorebirds put down by the early morning’s bad weather, among them some 160 short-billed dowitchers (most griseus, with a few apparent hendersoni, too) and a couple of dozen pectoral sandpipers. The adjacent marsh turned up four glossy ibis, a few common yellowthroats, orchard orioles, blue grosbeaks, a tricolored heron, a marsh wren, a black-necked stilt. . . . It’s nice indeed when the day ends as well as it began!

Tomorrow we plan to start with a quick drive to Florida, a state I haven’t birded for some years. Rare woodpeckers are on the menu, and who knows what else spring on the Gulf Coast will bring us. Stay tuned.

And don’t forget that more details are available in the eBird trip report for this outing.