Family trips can include birding, too

Family trips can include birding, too
Northern Bobwhite at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center near Mobile. (Photo Ken Hare)
Northern Bobwhite at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center near Mobile. (Photo Ken Hare)
Swallow-Tailed Kite flying near Mobile Bay. (Photo Ken Hare)
Swallow-Tailed Kite flying near Mobile Bay. (Photo Ken Hare)
Wood Duck photographed through bushes in Baldwin County. (Photo Ken Hare)
Wood Duck photographed through bushes in Baldwin County. (Photo Ken Hare)

POINT CLEAR, AL (WSFA) - Birding at the Grand can be, well, grand.

Sometimes good birding can happen even when it's not your primary purpose. We spent Memorial Day through Wednesday at one of our favorite spots in Alabama -- the Grand Hotel in Point Clear -- with our focus on spending time with our grandgirls and their parents, relaxing and eating really good seafood.

But it's unlikely I'll get that close to the great birding in Baldwin County without my spending some time with the binoculars and camera looking for birds, and this week was no exception.

In fact, there is some very good birding to be found right there on the grounds of the Grand. (Technically it's the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa, but to us it's always the "Grand.")

The pond at the heart of the Grand, with its fountains and huge old oaks and variety of flowers, is a hot spot for birds. On earlier trips at various times of the year I've seen Prothonotary, Cape May and Hooded Warblers, hummingbirds, Great Blue Herons, Brown Thrashers, Bluebirds, Robins, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Grackles, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Barn Swallows, Chimney Swifts, Common Nighthawks and other birds there, all while sitting on a comfortable bench or strolling among the oaks.

Across the road at the marsh and nearby golf course I've seen many of those same birds plus a Black-Crowned Night Heron and a Snowy Egret, and at the Confederate Cemetery woodpeckers abound. On the rocks near the small beach areas, look for Willets.

But the birding magnet at the Grand is the walkway that edges Mobile Bay on two sides of the resort, and especially the many bench swings scattered along the walkway. Where else can you relax in a swing with your binoculars and search for gulls, terns and pelicans? If it's hot, the staff will bring you a cold adult beverage. I'm not very good at identifying gulls, but I've seen Laughing, Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls there, and several species of terns as well, plus lots of other gulls that a better birder could ID.

For me, the primary attraction of the Grand is its genteel aura, its history, and the variety of things to do there. While I bird, the grandkids swim in the Bay or the great outside pool or inside pool if the weather is bad. My wife bikes and walks and reads. We usually meet for tea and scones (cookies for the kids) at 4 p.m., and the kids love the cannon firing each afternoon.

As good as the birding is at the Grand, there is even more variety with just short drives in almost any direction.

This trip I managed to find time to drive to the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center on the Causeway between Spanish Fort and Mobile. There I was able to get a photo of a Northern Bobwhite that I first heard calling from the trees. (See photo gallery.) Like many people who grew up in the South, as a kid I became adept at whistling like a Bobwhite, and when I returned his call, his curiosity got the better of him and he scooted out into the open for a few photos.

But I soon became distracted by two of my favorite birds flying just over the treetops. I found it almost impossible to focus my camera on the swiftly moving Swallow-Tailed Kites as I caught sight of them in the openings between the trees, but I did manage to get a couple of OK photos (see photo gallery). But I got many more shots of blurry trees. The light was not good enough, however, to capture just how beautiful these birds are.

My best birding moment came when I received a notice from a local birder of a sighting of a Roseate Spoonbill at a farm pond east of Daphne. The Roseate Spoonbill is a wading bird with pink and white plumage and a beak that looks like two large serving spoons clasped together. It is not uncommon in South Florida, but is rare in Alabama.

I checked out the sighting early Wednesday morning, and lucked out -- the bird, a life bird for me, was still there. The early light on the overcast, drizzly day was horrible, but I managed a few photos. (See photo gallery.) When I returned later in the day, the light was marginally better and the spoonbill was still there, but now on the far side of the farm pond from the road -- too far for useful photos even with a long lens.

Again, there are dozens of good birding places within short drives of the Grand. Check out the Alabama Birding Trails website for details: https://alabamabirdingtrails.com/trails/coastal/

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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. To see other columns, go to: http://www.wsfa.com/category/245234/ken-hares-natural-alabama

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