Sunday, April 26, 2015

Alabama Part 3: Rarities

 [Gray Kingbird, near the "Goat Trees," Dauphin Island, Alabama, April 20, 2015.]

Rarities add a little spice to birding, not that the gulf coast needs much spice (the crawdads were almost as spicy as the birding!]  We tracked a couple goodies on our trip, including the Gray Kingbird above, and below, a Black-whiskered Vireo, the first North American lifer I've had in a long, long time.

[Black-whiskered Vireo, Shell Mounds, Dauphin Island, AL, April 19, 2015.]

Alabama Part 2: Diversity - Warblers

[Kentucky Warbler, Shell Mounds, Dauphin Island, Alabama, April 21, 2015.  A male, as told by the bold black on the face. Getting this photo took all the stalking skills I could muster, since Kentucky is a notoriously elusive critter.  It was also dark; this was shot at ISO 6400, 1/200th of a second. Click to enlarge all photos.]

As explained in the previous post, I'm just back from a week in coastal Alabama, where we had, among ~160 bird species, 29 (!) species of warblers! And many, even the skulkers, were readily observable as they fed hard after their 600 mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico.

We couldn't quite manage to find that 30th species, though we tried hard.  Swainson's Warbler and Mourning Warbler were among the missing prospects, but still, it's hard to complain about this kind of diversity. Here's a sampling:

[Male Bay-breasted Warbler, Audubon Sanctuary, Dauphin Island, AL, April 21, 2015.]

[Male Cape May Warbler at Bottlebrush on Dauphin Island, AL, April 20, 2015.]

[Worm-eating Warbler, Dauphin Island, AL. We saw Worm-eatings almost every day.]

 [Above, Louisiana Waterthrush, and below, Northern Waterthrush, Shell Mounds, Dauphin Island, AL April 20, 2015. How to tell them apart?  Note the Lousiana's whiter eyebrow, that extends well past the eye and even broadens slightly rearward, as well as it's bigger bill and buffy wash on the flanks.  It was a little late to be getting Louisiana on the coast, they are early migrants.]

Up next:  a couple Alabama rarities.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sweet Home Alabama, Part 1: Abundance

 [Part of a flock of 40 Indigo Buntings at the Shell Mounds, Dauphin Island, Alabama, April 19, 2015. Click to enlarge all photos]

Some dear friends and I spent the past week on the Gulf Coast, which is where birders often go in April to witness the spectacular trans-gulf migration of neotropical migrant birds, like warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  Both diversity and numbers of birds can be high when conditions are right, which means right for the birders, not the birds. Basically what you want is either north winds or, even better, rain, on the coast or out in the Gulf of Mexico to make migrating difficult, and force tired birds down in the first available patch of cover.

We were in a new spot to witness this amazing annual phenomenon, new for us anyway.  Most birders think Texas when they think of fallouts along the gulf, and rightly, but the other gulf states have legendary birding as well, and we chose Dauphin Island, Alabama for our stay.

[Dozens of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds thronged to the feeder at our rental house on Dauphin Island during a rain squall, April 20, 2015.]

Some of our high counts of birds were impressive - 75 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, 25 Red-eyed Vireos, 25 Scarlet Tanagers, 40 Indigo Buntings - even though we didn't hit true fallout weather conditions.  And I'm glad - seeing stressed, tired birds can be, well, stressful and tiring. . .

[One that didn't make it - a Wood Thrush washed up on the sand at Dauphin Island, April 22, 2015. In severe weather conditions, thankfully rare, thousands of birds can perish before they reach shore while migrating across the Gulf of Mexico.]

[It's not just land birds - shorebirding can be excellent on the gulf, as these hendersoni Short-billed Dowitchers, western Willet, and Sanderling attest.]

[Alabama abundance of a different kind - blooming White-topped Pitcher Plants at Splinter Hill Preserve, north of Mobile, Alabama.  Bachman's Sparrow was singing in the background.]

Up next: diversity (29 warblers!)