Tuesday, August 6, 2013

At the beach....

Six in the morning, after a seven hour drive (counting all the stops)... I cross the 193 bridge into my final destination for the day: Dauphin Island, Alabama.

The first turn I make, I am welcomed by this guy right here... lifer #254: Laughing Gull.

Not even a minute on the island, and I've already found a lifer. I had great feelings about this day. I knew the seven hour drive was going to be worth it!

I pull out my phone, with barely a 3G signal (yes, I need to upgrade) and open up my email to read the emails I received in response to my Listserv post looking for spots to bird. The airport was one mentioned, and also Pelican Island. I would seek help finding Pelican Island later in the day, but part of me just wanted to follow the Alabama Coastal Birding Trails signs to see what I could find. This early in the morning though, most of what I saw were Mourning Doves, Eurasian Collared-Doves (lifer #255), two Common Ground-Doves (lifer #256), and European Starlings.

First, I headed west on the island. This took me through a strip of residential homes, where I spotted a turtle in the middle of the road. He was taking his time, and even though there wasn't heavy traffic, I could never live with myself if I didn't help him along. So I pulled over on a side-street, ran over and picked him up, with passing cars staring at me probably wondering why I was bothering to help a turtle.

Godspeed, little Three-toed Box Turtle!

I ventured back out to Bienville Boulevard, heading west. Passing the elementary school, the road narrows a bit, to two lanes. On either side are homes on stilts and white sandy beaches. It was like something out of a movie. This girl from the midwest has only seen the ocean twice, while driving. Once was on a road trip to Los Angeles with one of my closest friends, and the other time, crossing the bay bridge to reach the eastern shore of Maryland. But I'd never set foot on a beach or really marvelled at the ocean for any length of time. The white sands against the morning sky was breathtaking. I started searching for a parking area, and eventually found one about a mile down the road. I parked, took off my sandals, and walked out to the beach, camera in tow.

Laughing Gulls were everywhere. All different plumage stages. I completely understand where the name comes from! They may very well be the hyena of the bird world. I was able to snap a couple photos of them, and they were more than willing to oblige to close up shots, obviously used to human interaction.

If you haven't felt the sand beneath your feet, and in between your toes, you certainly have no idea what you are missing. I sat on the beach, looking out over the water, gulls flying all around. I look to my right and notice lifer #257 darting to the waves, and running back as they approach. Hello, Mr. Sanderling!

To my right, two Great Blue Herons scuffled over a fish. One walked right up next to me. If I wanted to, I could've reached out and touched him! This is a far cry from Heron behavior up north. Up here, I am lucky to get within thirty feet of a Heron! Normally, once they spot me, they take off! I snapped a few photos of these two, a smile on my face. Already, three lifers, and nothing in the world could ruin my day. It was cathartic.

I decided to explore more of the island. I wanted to stop by the visitor's center for a map, to figure out where Pelican Island was since it was my one spot I wanted to stop by before leaving. Unfortunately the center was closed until ten, but I noticed this young Blue Jay sitting on the fence so I decided, why not take a photo?

Next, I decided to find the airport. Luckily, there are plenty of signs around Dauphin Island to direct you wherever you need to go, and the Airport was close to the west end and the visitor's center. At first, I pulled in and it didn't look like much. There's a short road leading in, saltwater marsh on either side... and there's a small parking area. You pretty much have to bird from the road or the parking lot, as there's no kind of walking trails or access to the marsh. This early in the morning though, it was dead, and I only saw one lone Great Egret fishing. A little disappointed, I left to check out other parts of the island. I headed out east towards the ferry to see what I might find.

Out here, I drove along the shore, where plenty of folks were out fishing. This is where I got lifers #258 and 259: Willet and Mottled Duck. My photos are very poor though, so I won't bother posting them here, as I have many more Willet photos from later in the day.

I still had no idea where Pelican Island was at this point, so I stopped in the Bait Shop and asked the owner. He seemed clueless as to what I was talking about, so a little disappointed I left and walked out on the pier next to the parking area.

Out in the tree sat a lone Osprey. I looked out across the water, saw lifer #260 flying low: Brown Pelican! (I would see many more throughout the day, but no great photos) Then, another bird flew in. At first, I dismissed it as a Willet and almost didn't take a second look, since it was flying in to the rocks where a Willet was standing. Glad I took a second look though, because it was a Whimbrel! Not a lifer, but definitely a bird I love seeing. I'd only found one other, up in Ohio at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area earlier in the spring. This time, I got a much better look.

Next, I head out to Cedar Point Pier, at the beginning of the 193 bridge across from the island. This is where I would find lifers #261,#262, and #263: Ruddy Turnstone, Gull-billed Tern, and Boat-tailed Grackle. It cost to go out on the pier, so I got back in my car and decided to head back to the island.

I headed back to the airport, hoping that since an hour had passed, I'd see something new. Boy, I was right. As I drove in, lifer #264 darted across the road in front of me. I pulled ahead, parked my car, and got out to try to find him as I heard him calling in the tall grass. I turn my back and notice him dart across the road again. Exacerbated, I decide to wait, but this time... when I turned my back, I kept my head slightly turned so I could catch him out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, as soon as I turned... he took back off across the road and I got this photo of him:

Clapper Rail

Once I snapped off a few photos, I look to my left and see lifer #265 take off... Tricolored Heron!

I hung around for a little while longer, but didn't really see anything else of interest or significance, so I headed east on the island.

While on this end of the island, I ran into two birders, and proceeded to pull over and ask them about Pelican Island. They told me exactly where to go, I shared with them my Clapper Rail sighting, and they told me where to find an American Bittern. I thanked them and went on my way.

Pelican Island.... the one place I'd been searching the past three hours for.. I couldn't wait to get there! The one bird I wanted to find the most was supposed to hang around on Pelican Island, so I won't lie and say I wasn't super-excited to get there and see if I'd find him.

I arrived at the west end of the island (I'd been driving right past Pelican Island all morning and didn't even realize it!), paid to park, and proceeded to walk to the pier. Once up there, I had good views out over P.I. I noticed a pool with two Tricolored Herons, a man "fishing" for crabs, and wait... was that... could it be?

Lifer #266- Reddish Egret!!!

I was on cloud nine!! I hadn't even actually stepped foot onto Pelican Island yet... still up on the pier, and I found the one bird I didn't want to leave without seeing. Looking around, I caught a Gray Kingbird (lifer #267) in flight, but no IDable photo, and a couple Seaside Sparrows (lifer #268) flittering about in the long grass... I was antsy to get down to the actual beach though. I wanted closer shots of that Reddish Egret!

Finally, I'm off the pier!

The pier

Can I live here forever? Seriously! The smell of the ocean air, the white sandy beaches.... I've never been anywhere so beautiful in my life.

Unfortunately, by the time I got down to the marshy pool, the Reddish Egret had flown off. However, two very aggressive and noisy Willets decided to make their disapproval of my presence known.

Walking further down the island is where the lifers really started to roll in: 

#269-Piping Plover
#270-Sandwich Tern
#271-Black Tern
#272-Royal Tern
#273-Black Skimmer
#274-Least Tern
#275-Forster's Tern

Beach o'birds!

Royal Tern in flight

By this time, I was exhausted. Other than some Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, and Sanderlings... the walk back was rather uneventful. My legs and feet ached, and I was ready to go home, even if I didn't find any Oystercatchers!

Walking back on the pier.

I was certainly not looking forward to the six to seven hour drive home. I had one last surprise as I left Dauphin Island: A Brown Pelican paced my car as I was driving the 193 bridge. I was able to get this blind shot: 

I already miss the ocean, and the birds. I plan on making a trip back down in the near future, especially after talking to someone on the Listserv who spotted the Oystercatchers and other species of Plover that I still need for my list. 

My end of the year goal is 300 lifers. Think I can do it?

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

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