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Ken Hare's Natural Alabama: Sometimes weather good for birds, but not birding

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AOS members, never without their binoculars, at the Goat Trees in Dauphin Island. (Photo Ken Hare) AOS members, never without their binoculars, at the Goat Trees in Dauphin Island. (Photo Ken Hare)

Sometimes, what's good for the birds might not be good for the birders.

Each year, the Alabama Ornithological Society holds two of its three meetings on Dauphin Island specifically to try to be there when migrating birds are making stopovers during their spring and fall flights to and from wintering grounds in the Caribbean, South America and Central America.

But when about 100 AOS members gathered for three days of field trips in April, there were far fewer migrants than are usually seen. There were plenty of interesting and beautiful birds, but fewer of the warblers and other migrants that are often highlights of AOS meetings on the island in mid-April and mid-October.

Maybe, just maybe, that's a good thing.

I frequently heard comments at the meeting speculating that the weather was so good, and prevailing winds so helpful, that the migrants were flying over the island and making landfall further inland.

In most years, the trek across the Gulf of Mexico is so tiring for birds that they land on Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan exhausted and hungry, and spend a few days regaining weight and energy. It makes for great birding, but is not particularly good for the birds.

However, it underscores just why preserving habitat friendly to these migrating birds on Dauphin Island and at other places along the coast is so important. Without stopover habitats where they can rebuild their stamina, bird populations throughout the East and Midwest and as far north as the Arctic Circle could be negatively impacted. To learn how to support the work of protecting bird habitat on Dauphin Island, go to: http://coastalbirding.org/donations.htm

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But don't start feeling sorry for AOS members. First, they still saw lots of birds last month. (See photos.) In fact, AOS members identified 182 different species of birds during about 33 hours of daylight. AOS counts species seen by AOS birders from 7 a.m. Friday until noon Sunday in Baldwin and Mobile counties. There were several field trips led by outstanding birders such as Andrew Haffenden, who leads field trips around the world but is also the leading expert on Dauphin Island, where he makes his home, and Larry Gardella, one of the state's best birders.

Second, AOS is not just about field trips. The group has outstanding speakers, including the authors of some of the best birding books around. This year's speaker was Kevin Karlson, author and co-author of several birding books and a very good bird photographer. These experts not only speak, but also help lead field trips.

Finally, there is good food and lots of camaraderie and a chance to get to know many of the best birders in the state.

A 'BABY BIRD SHOWER'

We're all accustomed to giving gifts to friends and family members who are expecting the arrival of a new baby. But what if they were expecting a thousand of them?

That's how many baby birds that are either abandoned or injured that arrive each spring at the Alabama Wildlife Center, the rehabilitation center for injured native Alabama birds located in Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham.

So to get the much-needed supplies to care for so many birds, the center is holding a "Baby Bird Shower" Saturday, May 6, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

But I dropped the ball on this one. You're probably reading this much too late to make it to the shower.

However, even if you can't make it to the shower, you still can help. You can purchase needed items for the center from Staples online and have it sent directly to the center. Another way to help is to become a member of the AWC. Information on both can be found at the link below.

I greatly admire the work that AWC does in rehabilitating and returning to the wild thousands of Alabama birds each year, as well as the educational programs they foster. Please consider helping by going to: https://www.awrc.org

OWL PHOTO OPPORTUNITY NEEDED

Do any readers know of reliable locations to get photos of Barn Owls or Screech Owls? I would like to do a column on the owls that can be found in Alabama, but need photos of these two species. I have plenty of Barred and Great Horned Owls, but not these two. If you know of an accessible spot to photograph them, please email me at khare@wsfa.com.

NATURE NOTES

-- The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society has field trips planned for Saturday, May 13, and Sunday, May 14, both starting at 7 a.m. The Saturday trip will focus on the Leighton area and Town Creek, targeting shorebird migrants. The Sunday trip will be to the Indian Creek Greenway, looking for late spring migrants. These are the last two planned field trips for NABS until the fall. For details, go to: http://www.northalbirding.com/
-- The Alabama Birding Trails web page has developed a comprehensive list of upcoming birding and nature-related activities around the state that is much more detailed than space allows here. Most of the activities are open to the public and many are free. See it at: alabamabirdingtrails.com.

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Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at khare@wsfa.com.

Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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