Mid-April is a wonderful time indeed here on the Gulf coast, with bright, cool mornings followed by bright, warm afternoons. And birds, lots and lots of birds.
I’d decided to devote our last day of scouting (already?!) to firming up our impressions of some of the sites that had earned a place on the itinerary for next year’s VENT tour to Alabama. We started on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, stopping at D’Olive Park to look for marsh birds; two common gallinules were our reward, the first of this scouting trip.
We would have seen more had I been less impatient to return to Village Point Preserve, in Daphne. Things started off with a bang—or rather, a series of slurred whistles—when a Swainson warbler began to sing just below the parking lot, presumably the same individual we’d heard on our first visit a few days ago. White-eyed vireos, gray catbirds, and great crested flycatchers seemed to be everywhere; a flock of some 700 tree swallows was resting on the beach, and a swamp sparrow fed quietly on the sand at the edge of the phragmites.
With the temperature rising into the high 60s, our quick visits to a few sites in Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge weren’t overly productive. Good encouragement was provided, though, by the birds at the oddly named Tacky Jack’s, a bayside restaurant near Fort Morgan. Green, little blue, and great blue herons fished the waters beneath us as we enjoyed our food; the adjoining yard was a feeding spot for blue grosbeaks and house finches. Among the many royal terns loafing on the jetty were a few Caspian, Forster, and sandwich terns, and of course there were brown pelicans and laughing gulls aplenty—a shame that their abundance makes it so easy to overlook the dramatic beauty of these conspicuous and easily watched birds.
Fort Morgan is just a few minutes farther down the road. Blue grosbeaks dominated the fields and lawns here, too, but they were overshadowed by the first (and only) scissor-tailed flycatcher we would find, hunting patiently on the ground on the sloping lawns of the ancient fortress. The woods at the ferry slip were fairly quiet, but an eastern bluebird, a summer tanager, and a palm warbler added a bit of color; two swamp sparrows, in conjunction with the Daphne bird from earlier in the day, were a clear sign that that species, too, was on the move.
The afternoon got lovelier and lovelier, with temperatures in the 70s and a fine onshore breeze. The white sands of Pelican Point were haunted by least and royal terns, sanderlings and dunlins, and great blue herons; the shores of a small island just offshore were lined by black skimmers. Toward the end of the walk, we found no fewer than five piping plovers darting along the beach. Delightful as they were, none of those birds were unexpected—unlike the reddish egret we found dancing in the shallows. On the way back out, we paused to check one of the small ponds and discovered that two of the noisy clapper rails had actually emerged from their fastness to preen and bathe and generally stomp around on the mud.
Our last stop of the day, was a final brief visit to Shell Mounds. It was getting on to suppertime, so more birders were leaving than arriving, but the birding continued to be exciting, and a bit wistful for us, as this would be the last stop of the entire trip. The orange feeders attracted orchard and Baltimore orioles and indigo buntings, and yellow-throated warblers and scarlet tanagers foraged on the roadside. And the white-eyed vireos we had with us always.
Fittingly, John had booked us at Hummingbird Way for our last dinner together. Quite a dinner: we started with oysters, crab soup, and biscuits, followed by macaroni and cheese, red snapper, crab cakes, and the entire suite of desserts, my favorite the pineapple upside down cake but none anything short of delectable.
And so it came to an end. But we’ll be back in exactly a year! Give Greg a call and come along in April 2024 for what is sure to be another spectacular excursion to Alabama’s Gulf Coast.