MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - September is when the annual fall migration of birds starts to increase the sightings of different species of birds in Alabama, signaling the beginning of a bountiful period for birders in the state. But this year, the number of species sighted here have been dramatically increased by birds apparently pushed inland by Hurricane Irma.
Julie and I have just returned from a two-week driving trip through parts of 15 states, with the primary destinations of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming. It was a great trip (I'll probably write about it in next week's column) but throughout the trip, I kept seeing email notifications of unusual and rare bird sightings back home in Alabama.
While I had a twinge or two of regret at not being able to go searching for these birds, I easily consoled myself by searching instead for moose and grizzlies.
But here at home, birders were seeing such species as Sooty Terns, Band-Rumped Storm Petrels and Long-Tailed Jaegers birds usually seen mostly at sea or along coastlines around Wheeler Dam in North Alabama.
Other unusual species for inland Alabama include a Neotropic Cormorant (also at Wheeler Dam) and a Magnificent Frigatebird and Oystercatchers at West Point Lake in Chambers County. (Since I've been out of state, I have no pictures to post of these birds, but I will post a photo of a pair of Wood Ducks I spotted in late August near Lake Guntersville and an Oystercatcher from Dauphin Island.)
While the long-term effects of hurricanes on birds are not fully understood, ornithologists do understand that many species normally seen mostly at sea are caught up in the hurricane winds and distributed widely outside their normal ranges.
Add to these sightings early arrivals of fall migrants, especially warblers, and it makes for an active birding season in the state.
But no birder wishes for hurricanes. The destruction and misery many of them bring to humankind and Irma are among the worst is no way mitigated by being able to spot a few unusual birds.
Experienced birders in Alabama have two great tools for tracking rare and unusual birds in the state.
One is ALbirds, a Yahoo-based discussion group where members can report rare or unusual bird sightings from Alabama and the Florida Panhandle on a real-time basis. It's not unusual for someone to be sitting in the field beside their spotting scope through which they have just seen a rare species while filing an ALbirds report, which other birders can see almost instantaneously if they have joined the group and set up email delivery of postings.
The other tool is eBird, an online bird tracking site that has a similar rare bird report that eBirders can choose to have delivered to their email. eBird reports sometimes contain less information than the ALbirds reports, but eBird allows birders to more closely define the areas from which they receive reports. If you're like me and often willing to drive hours to see a rare bird, you can sign up for all of Alabama. But if you only bird closer to home, you can choose to receive reports from just your home county or perhaps one or two nearby counties.
Information and links to both ALbirds and eBird can be found on the Alabama Ornithological Society website at www.aosbirds.org
The featured speaker for the Alabama Ornithological Society fall meeting Oct. 13-15 on Dauphin Island will be Dr. Frank R. Moore, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Southern Mississippi University, He will speak on bird migration, as well as lead a field trip to Fort Morgan. Other field trips during the weekend will be led by Andrew Haffenden, who leads birding trips around the world and who makes Dauphin Island his home. Sign up for the meeting at the AOS website.
The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society has announced its full schedule of field trips from now through May 2018. See it at www.northalbirding.com
The Birmingham Audubon Society also has many field trips each year, and several of them are well out of the Birmingham area. Despite its name, Birmingham Audubon is really a statewide organization, supporting ornithological research around the state. It also has several outstanding seminars on nature and birding during the year. Its website is: birminghamaudubon.org