Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan deliver great birds

Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan deliver great birds
Willet_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Willet_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Osprey hunting_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Osprey hunting_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Reddish Egret_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Reddish Egret_Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Ruddy Turnstone_ Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg
Ruddy Turnstone_ Dauphin Island (Photo Ken Hare).jpg

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Among the highlights of the year for many Alabama birders are the fall and spring meetings of the Alabama Ornithological Society on Dauphin Island. The fall meeting earlier this month did not disappoint, despite part of the island remaining off limits because of lingering damage from Hurricane Nate.

Nate's winds and storm surge pushed sand over roads and damaged some homes on the island's West End, and the road to that section remained closed when AOS met there Oct. 13-15. But the remainder of the island was open for birding, and AOS members saw 170 species of birds there, across the bay at Fort Morgan, and elsewhere around Mobile and Baldwin counties.

On Friday morning, AOS birders took the ferry from Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan peninsula for a day of birding there. The birding, however, started on the ferry, which was escorted across the bay by terns, gulls, pelicans and Black Skimmers. (See photos.)

Once at Fort Morgan, the group headed for the former stables area at the fort. But, as usual, the caravan of vehicles stopped and started as the birders spotted Wilson's Snipe huddled in the grass and Blue-Winged Teal near the old runway.

Once the group made it to the stables area, they gathered for a ceremony to honor the late Bob Sargent and his widow Martha, who for years ran a hummingbird banding program on the site. In addition to banding thousands of birds, Sargent taught banding to dozens of young birders.

A dedication ceremony for two benches and a plaque honoring the Sargents was led by Bob Reed of Montgomery, who is editor of the AOS magazine, The Yellowhammer.

I, like many others, look forward to birding from those benches, which sit in a small clearing in the middle of one of the better birding spots on the Fort Morgan peninsula.

After the ceremony, field trip leader Andrew Haffenden led birders around the stables area and the fort.

On Friday evening, AOS members heard a presentation by AOS members Bob and Lucy Duncan on how the weather affects migratory birds around the Northern Gulf Coast.

On Saturday evening, Dr. Frank R. Moore, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Southern Mississippi University, spoke on bird migration along the Gulf Coast. For 25 years, Moore and his students have studied the challenges that migratory birds face during migration, and what factors affect when and where they migrate.

Also on Saturday, Moore led a field trip to birding spots around Dauphin Island. Meanwhile Saturday, Haffenden led a group on a walk along the shore to Pelican Island (now a peninsula) where birds included a Lesser Black-Back Gull, Snowy and Piping plovers, Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Black Skimmers, and flyovers by a Merlin and Peregrine Falcon.

As is the tradition, AOS members gathered at noon on Sunday for a "compilation" of the bird species seen by members during the span of the meeting. When the counting was done, the total number of species was 170.

Each year hundreds of birders heading out to look at shorebirds on Dauphin Island park next to Dauphin Island Elementary School. The island is one of the Top 10 birding spots in the United States, and birders visiting the island provide a nice economic boost to the island's economy in the off-season.

Now thanks to the island's birding community, it will be easier for fourth-grade students at the school to join in one of the island's most popular pastimes.
The school's 12 fourth-grade students were each given a pair of quality 8X42 binoculars and a birding field guide, thanks to the generosity of birders Don and Dena McKee; Ralph Havard, president of the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuaries board; and longtime birder Eugenia Carey.

The idea for the gift came from Dena McKee, an artist whose work often features the birds of Dauphin Island. The binoculars will remain at the school for the school year, but students can take them home after that.

A stunning photo of a Northern Flicker in flight is the Best-in-Show winner of the Alabama Ornithological Society's second annual photo contest. The photo was submitted by Miranda Johnson Studstill of Mobile. The Northern Flicker often called the Yellowhammer, is the state bird of Alabama.

Winner of the Backyard category was Rick Dowling of Prattville for his photo of an adult cardinal feeding a juvenile. The Best Flight category winner was Susi Stroud of Owens Crossroads for her photo of an Osprey. Mark Watts of Coden won the Best Habitat category for a photo of a Snowy Egret feeding on a large fish.  Honorable mention winners were Dowling, Watts, Bob Quarles of Birmingham and Susan Rouillier of Mobile.
To see the winning photos, go to: www.aosbirds.org.

While the photo contest is only for members of AOS in good standing at the time of the submissions, the cost of an AOS membership is modest. Photos must be taken between the deadline for the previous year's contest (Sept. 15) and the deadline for the current year's contest, so interested photographers can start now to build a portfolio for next year's entries.
Judges for the contest were professional photographers Mark Almond and Bob Farley and well-known birding photographer Bala Chennupati.

-- The Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham will hold its annual Owl-O-Ween celebration Saturday, Oct. 28, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is a great event for children to learn about birds and nature. While there are lots of activities for children, adults will enjoy the event as well. The event is free, although there is a fee for entering the park. Don't forget to bring some items from the center's "wish list" found on its website. The Alabama Wildlife Center treats and releases into the wild each year hundreds of injured or abandoned Alabama native birds. Find out about the center and Owl-O-Ween at: www.awrc.org

-- The North Alabama Birdwatchers Society has announced its full schedule of field trips from now through May 2018.
-- 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 Alabama. It also has several outstanding seminars on nature and birding during the year. Its website is:  birminghamaudubon.org
-- The Alabama Birding Trails web page has 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
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 Ken's Page.

Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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