By Drew Haffenden and Larry Gardella
Dauphin Island by Drew Haffenden:
For many birders, December and January means Audubon Christmas Bird Count time, and Dauphin Island birders are no exception. Thankfully the forecasted bad weather did not materialize, but birds were not out in high numbers, especially ducks. Despite the quiet day, the overall total count was about average compared with previous years, with 121 species seen for the 8 teams participating. Notable birds included Yellow-throated and Prairie Warbler, Wild Turkey and Red Knot plus those mentioned below. For Count Week, a Parasitic Jaeger chasing Laughing Gulls on Little Dauphin Island was a very good bird for Alabama.
Despite some notable misses, the beaches and dunes of Pelican Island, with a little help from a small area of gardens and wooded lots, provided the highest species number and diversity, with 63 species recorded, ranging from huge Brown Pelicans to tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Highlights for the Pelican team were Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Western Kingbird. A Great Horned Owl was a surprise. Gogy, a Piping Plover from Michigan, took part in his fourth Christmas count here. As usual, the camaraderie of the team was as much fun as the birding. If you haven’t participated in a CBC, there’s sure to be one near you this year, so join the fun.
Fort Morgan by Larry Gardella:
For the first time since it was reinstated, the Fort Morgan Christmas count fielded teams covering virtually the entire portion of the count circle on land. Teams walked just about every bit of the Gulf coastline and some of the bay. Each of the seven groups contributed at least one species not recorded by any other group. Our overall total was 86 species plus another bird (Spotted Sandpiper) that was recorded during count-week only.
We could have had more. Unfortunately, the winds exceeded 10 mph all day, making it hard to find land birds. Common Ground-doves, Northern Flickers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, Sedge Wrens, American Robins (which have been strangely absent in the Alabama Gulf Coast this winter), Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks and House Sparrows are all usually seen but were missed this year. Other regularly reported songbirds – Loggerhead Shrikes, Blue Jays, Gray Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Swamp Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers – were only found in low numbers. Water and shoreline birds were also scarce. We tallied no Lesser Scaup, no American Coots, no Black-bellied Plovers and no Ruddy Turnstones, all of which are usually found. Ten was an extremely low count for Ring-billed Gulls.
The story with raptors was the same, with a historically low two Red-tailed Hawks and two American Kestrels. On the plus side, we turned up some unusual birds to add spice to the count. We recorded three Surf Scoters and one Broad-winged Hawk, each species for the sixth time. For the second time in three years, we had an identified shearwater. This year, Craig Litteken and I returned to Mobile Road and decided to set up scopes and look for scoters. No luck with the ducks, but Craig spotted and then I also got a great look at the first Sooty Shearwater for the count. We watched the bird in flight and landing on the water and got to compare its size and shape with nearby Northern Gannets.