Birding Fun Despite the Pandemic
By: Jay Burdette
Like everyone else, I found myself looking for ways to stay active during the ongoing pandemic. I decided to spend as much time as possible enjoying the great outdoors. As you know, birding is a wonderful way to do just that. One of my “bucket list” goals is to bird every site on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail (ACBT). Although a few sites were actually closed because of the pandemic, most were open and readily accessible. During this process, I found some really great birding sites, some well off the beaten path. The ACBT has an excellent website. There are very specific directions to each site and details on how to access. They also include a list of many of the birds you can expect to see, depending of course on the season. I want to share some of my findings with my fellow birders, so here we go!
BALDWIN COUNTY/MOBILE-TENSAW RIVER DELTA LOOP
Many birders know how great Blakeley State Park (ACBT Site 38) is for birding. But there are several others on this loop worth exploring. All are rather remote and north of Blakeley.
Upper Delta Wildlife Management Area – French’s Lake – ACBT Site 34
This site is VERY remote and in the deep woods so bug spray is a must. Enjoy a mix of woodland birds and some shore birds along the river. Just be aware the only restaurant in the area is in nearby Stockton so you may want to pack a lunch. Splinter Hill Bog Nature Conservancy and Forever Wild Tract – ACBT Sites 35A and 35B. Again, these sites are quite remote so plan accordingly. Both are also in the deep woods so bug spray is an absolute must. You should encounter many species of woodland birds at both sites, depending on how far into the woods you are willing to venture.
I stumbled onto this great site as it is not a part of the ACBT. The landing is easily accessed by turning west onto county road 96 off of Alabama highway 59, just a few miles north of Stockton. Follow 96 all the way until it ends at Hubbard Landing. This treasure was one of my favorite sites I found. I absolutely cannot wait to go back. Here I found shorebirds including Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher, warblers including Yellow-throated and Pine, Red-tailed Hawk, three species of woodpeckers, and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kite to boot. What a great find!
GULF SHORES – ORANGE BEACH LOOP
I know you join me in praying for a quick recovery for our brothers and sisters in this area hit so hard by Hurricane Sally. Birds as you know are quite resilient and likely are back in big numbers. Months before the storm, I had the opportunity to explore a few lesser known birding sites.
Boggy Point – ACBT Site 3
This unassuming boat launch in Orange Beach is just very easy to access and so much fun! Access is by turning east onto Marina Road off of Highway 161. As a bonus, there are several great restaurants on Marina Road including Fisher’s and Tacky Jack’s. As you drive in, be careful to observe the many yards and telephone wires for songbirds, Shrikes and others. At the end of the road, you will have a wonderful view of the waters leading to Perdido Pass. Here you will likely see numerous shorebirds and other species. Bring a scope if you have one. You will not be disappointed.
Gulf State Park – Shelby Lake – ACBT Site 7
Gulf State Park offers some of the best birding sites and habitats anywhere on the Gulf Coast. Shelby Lake is accessed via a short drive off of Highway 182. This site is also a favorite of mine. Shorebirds can be found as well as many songbirds and other woodland birds. Be sure and peruse the lake and nearby ponds and you may be surprised at how many different species you can find.
Little Lagoon Pass – ACBT Site 9
What a great find! This small public beach access park is rich with birding treasures! If you can, try birding from across the Lee Callaway Bridge from the park in the small, private neighborhood to the right. Be respectful and park so as not to inconvenience anyone. From that western vantage point, you should be able to observe numerous shorebirds and other species. This was one of my favorite discoveries during my pandemic birding.
SOUTH BALDWIN COUNTY LOOP
County Road 95 Park/Arnica Bay – ACBT Site 17
This is a very diverse and beautiful site. For access, turn south on County Road 95 off of US Highway 98, just east of Elberta. In addition to many shorebirds and aquatic species, you should encounter several songbirds and woodland species as well.
Graham Creek Nature Preserve – ACBT Site 18
I love the quiet and seclusion of this site, located not too far from the Foley Beach Express. The area is heavily wooded so please bring your bug spray. Several species can be found in the wooded areas and along the river.
Weeks Bay NERR – Pitcher Plant Bog Trail – ACBT Site 20A
I have birded here several times. Try and come in the early morning and you will likely have a great experience. Access is easy. Turn north on county road 17 off of US Highway 98, just east of the Fish River Bridge. There is ample parking and the site is well marked. The site features a well maintained, elevated boardwalk that takes you through a heavily wooded habitat (bug spray!) all the way to where the Fish River empties into Weeks Bay. The area is normally very quiet and secluded. You should encounter numerous shorebirds, woodland birds and several songbird species.
Bon Secour Bay/River – ACBT Site 22
I love this location. Access is via Baldwin County Road 10 to River Road, which runs along the waterfront. The birding here can be quite rewarding. In addition to shorebirds and aquatic species, you will likely encounter numerous woodland birds as well because of the very diverse habitat. There are a couple of other bonuses to this site. The Tin Top Restaurant is very close by on County Road 10. Also, two very good seafood shops are located right on the waterfront in Bon Secour. Billy’s and Aquila offer many fresh catch options for your seafood enjoyment.
MOBILE BAY CAUSEWAY AND BLAKELEY ISLAND LOOP
Meaher State Park – ACBT Site 26
If you have never birded Meaher State Park, you have missed out! I love this site. It is quite diverse, featuring a diverse habitat including a fishing beach, heavily wooded areas, a fishing pier, marshy areas, and a wonderful raised boardwalk over Mobile Bay. It is easily accessible off of the US Highway 98 causeway across Mobile Bay. You can expect to see a wide variety of shorebirds, aquatic species and woodland birds. Some of my best birding days have been here at Meaher State Park.
William Brooks Park – ACBT Site 33
The city of Chickasaw manages this wonderful site and they do a great job. The site offers a diverse habitat including woodlands and marshy areas along Chickasaw Creek. There are numerous elevated boardwalks for easy access. Access is easy. The park is located on US Highway 43 in the Chickasaw city limits. This area is not well known so you may find it quite empty and secluded, which is of course great for birding! You should encounter songbirds, woodland birds and some shorebirds as well.
Our prayers are also with our dear friends on this wonderful and delicate island. Sally was not kind to the island and we hope things get better very soon.
Airport – ACBT Site 44
Many birders know of the more “famous” birding areas on Dauphin Island including Shell Mound Park, the Goat Trees and Cadillac Square. I have found the Airport site to be one of my favorites on the island. Access is easy, via a turn north on Lackland Street off of Bienville Boulevard. Park your car either in the small airport parking lot or along the side of the road and enjoy the numerous birds here. You may be fortunate enough to encounter Clapper Rails in addition to the numerous shorebirds and other species who occupy this area.