Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just a Quick Post... let you guys know that I have written another post for the ABA's Young Birder Blog, The Eyrie! I'm really excited about it. Here's the link:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New Place, New Experiences, New Birds

We just got back from vacation in coastal Alabama! We went with our grandparents, uncle, aunt, and two cousins. The reason we went was to celebrate our grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. We stayed at Fort Morgan Island, a barrier island off of Mobile Bay. We'd never been there before, and all of us but my dad and older brother hadn't been to the beach for about five years. That meant lots of fun, new experiences, and, of course, new birds.
I've always loved Alabama, but I had only been to the northern part of the state before. Southern Alabama is completely different. Firstly, it's way flatter. No mountains there. Not even hills. Secondly, the people talk different. It's still a southern accent, but different somehow. And thirdly, some of the birds are way different as well. It has most of the birds of north Alabama, but also the special birds of the Gulf Coast. So yeah, southern Alabama is awesome.
But just how awesome? Our first peek at that was as we were driving over Mobile Bay. From the bridge you could see the battleship U.S.S. Alabama, which was retired and turned into a museum. My brothers thought it was great, and so did I, but my attention was slightly diverted by pelicans, gulls, egrets everywhere! I was not ready for the Gulf's birdiness (which is a real word, I assure you).

We arrived on Friday, August 31st, but it was too late to do anything but unpack and go to bed at our rental house. On Saturday, we went to the beach bright and early. The sun was shining, the water was just right, and there were shells just waiting to be collected and birds just waiting to be found. I wasted no time kicking off my flip-flops, grabbing my binoculars and camera, and setting off down the beach. I had forgotten to change into my swimsuit, so I couldn't go in the water, but that was all right. I immediately spotted some Sanderlings, which to some are considered too common to be interesting. But you forget, I hadn't been to the beach in five years, so to me, they were a real treat. So were the Laughing Gulls, which believe it or not, was a lifer for me.

Sanderling among seaweed.

Out to sea a little ways, I saw brown pelicans and some terns I identified as both Royal and Common (both of which were lifers!).
I decided to take some notes on the Sanderlings, and followed them a little ways to where I was rewarded with yet another lifer--a Willet! It was very cooperative and did not seem to mind the ecstatic clicking of my camera. 

My lifer Willet.
While I'm on the subject of Willet, I will say this. Isn't it funny how sometimes the AOU code for some species are actual names? Like Willet is WILL. Dickcissel is DICK. And Hudsonian Godwit is HUGO. Yeah, I know, that was completely random.

So anyway, we came back to the beach on Sunday and I did something I've always wanted to do--I birded in my swimsuit! No lifers then, though.
Also on Sunday, we went to the famed Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, AL. We went around midday, so that combined with all the sound we were making meant we didn't see that many birds. We saw Prothonotary Warbler(!), Great Blue Heron, and Royal Tern, among others. We also saw two dead snakes, one of which may have been a copperhead (we couldn't tell--it didn't have a head).

The boardwalk at Bon Secour NWR.

Bon Secour NWR is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, and covers over 4,000 acres of maritime forest, beaches, swamps, and dunes. It is home to the endangered Alabama Beach Mouse, and is a nesting site for loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. The Kemp's ridley is critically endangered, and is only known to nest on the Gulf Coast.

Speaking of endangered animals, I found evidence while at the beach that the BP oil spill is not completely gone. I noticed some black stuff in the tide and asked what it was. My uncle, who had been there before, told me it was the remnants of oil.

Oil in the tide.

Sunday night we took a walk on the beach at night. Wow, it was beautiful. We arrived at sunset, and only when I saw the amazing photo opportunity did I realize I had forgotten the camera. But fortunately, when there's good light, it doesn't matter what camera you use. I used my dad's iPhone. I don't have the photo uploaded yet, but I'll try to get it up here soon.

We looked for ghost crabs and found a whole bucketload of them. The art of ghost crab catching is surprisingly difficult. The crabs are so fast you must be stealthy, quick, and have good eyesight.
Once we had caught about twenty, the scene inside the bucket began to look a little too much like a crab version of the Hunger Games, so we let them go.

Monday morning dawned bright, warm, and, as is so typical of southern Alabama, humid. We went to the fort for which Fort Morgan Island is named, which was used in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World Wars 1 and 2. It was huge, interesting, and altogether very cool.

On Tuesday we went home. I had only one regret: I had not seen an Anhinga, a bird I had always wanted to see. I was just thinking about this when out the car window, in a wooded swamp, I saw a large, majestic, heronlike bird with a long, thin neck; its black and white wings stretched out to dry. An Anhinga. It wasn't a great look, and only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to put a smile on my badly sunburned face and give me one last lifer before leaving the state I now love even more. Alabama. :-)