By: Sabrina Cobb
It is official! Our winter 2022 Audubon Coastal Bird Surveys have concluded, and we are quickly approaching the spring season. With the help of our awesome volunteers, a total of 117 different species were observed during surveys and over 12,000 individuals were counted across Mobile and Baldwin Counties! Of the eight routes that were surveyed in Mobile County there is one that I found to be quite the hidden gem.
Pelican Bay is a one mile route, located just to the east of the public pier on Dauphin Island. You can park at the public pier and walk along the pier, exiting the structure from the first set of stairs which will lead you to Pelican Bay. The route runs along the bay which is also bordered by one of the island’s restaurants and a local golf course. The terrain is primarily sand, however if the tide is high, you might find yourself walking a short path through the marsh bordering the inner hook of the route.
During surveys along this beautiful location, I was almost always greeted by a breath-taking sunrise, an energetic pod of foraging bottlenose dolphins, and a plethora of coastal birds. As the dolphins would stir up the fish in the bay, it was exciting to observe the brown pelicans join in on the action! The winter season also brings a lot of beautiful waterfowl, not usually observed during other seasons, such as common loons, bufflehead ducks, red-breasted mergansers, and horned grebes.
Making my way down the beach, I would also often see and hear several songbird species along the forested areas including blue jays, northern cardinals, and the occasional red-bellied woodpecker. Scrub habitat that lines the eastern section of the route, provided refuge for pine and palm warblers, which are common along the coast year-round. Just around the bend of the stretch there is a line of pine trees, where several of the island’s great blue herons roost. It is quite the experience seeing great blue herons sitting in trees, almost comical!
Another winter species that I am particularly fond of is the Savannah sparrow. As I would work my way around the bend, I would catch quick glimpses of fast beating wings often accompanied by a high pitched, short, single chip. The flock was consistent in numbers during each survey of about eight birds and they would fly from the sea oats into scrubs scattered intermittently in the marsh. When you get to the end of the route you are often welcomed by a decently sized mixed group of loafing birds on the beach! This group often included royal terns, Caspian terns, more brown pelicans, of course, double-crested cormorants, sanderlings, and several species of gulls. Reaching the end of the route I always stay a good distance from the birds loafing so I can fully observe and enjoy them without flushing them.
I recommend checking out this location on Dauphin Island during any season, but especially during the winter when you will have the opportunity to enjoy some of these winter migrants. If you are interested in joining our volunteer team, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.