Mobile Bay: Day Four

A glorious morning, bright and cool, and we headed straight to Shell Mounds to greet whatever the nighttime breezes had brought in. The woods were lively, with Kentucky, prothonotary, hooded, yellow-throated, worm-eating, and Tennessee warblers all showing beautifully well to happy eyes. Black-bellied whistling ducks and a solitary sandpiper were quick flyovers, and a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers reminded us that more northerly climes still have a lot to look forward to too.

We kept an eye on our own migratory clock, and after a couple of other brief stops, made our way to the ferry terminal for the 35-minute voyage across the mouth of the bay to Fort Morgan. Least terns and piping plovers provided the entertainment as we waited to board, while an immature great black-backed gull was an exciting surprise. The crossing itself was enlivened by several pods of playful dolphins.

Fort Morgan looks every bit as good for migratory birds as Dauphin Island to the west. Cattle egrets, Savannah sparrows, summer and scarlet tanagers, and loads of indigo buntings crowded onto the roadsides. Our destination was the banding station maintained by Alabama Audubon. It was warm, but the net runners brought in a steady flow of indigo buntings, cardinals, and warblers for close-up views.

We returned to the western shore of the bay so John could introduce us to a site I hadn’t thought about, Bellingrath Gardens. On a hill above the Dog and Fowl Rivers, this colorful riot of native and cultivated plants was fairly quiet at mid-day, but we’ll definitely be including a stroll here on our 2024 VENT tour, in hopes of repeating our experiences with fishing herons (poor sunfish!), loud and tame summer tanagers, bald eagles, and pied-billed grebes. The skies were gaining a bit of overcast, but the beds and thickets of Bellingrath were still full of butterflies, too.

We stopped for an early supper, then moved on to one of the more mysterious birding localities in the Mobile area. The “disposal ponds,” whatever those might be in practical application, turned out to be quite attractive to birds, among them a few lingering green-winged teal, a merlin, lots of blue grosbeaks, and a nice smattering of shorebirds, most of them—at fifty each—lesser yellowlegs and dowitchers. The warm light of a glorious late afternoon turned even this industrial moonscape into a beautifully evocative experience.

We’d been watching the tide table all day, and as sunset approached, we resolved to take advantage of the falling tide to the east of Battleship Park. The mudflats revealed were few and relatively distant, but the thousands of terns and gulls were joined by the trip’s first American white pelican, while seven glossy ibis joined the herons in the shallow water. It had been a great day.

Remember that you can always see more details about our stops and the birds encountered there at the eBird trip page.