Birding along Alabama Gulf Coast

By: April Boone

The Alabama Gulf Coast plays host to many different kinds of birds, with habitats running from coastal to marshland to bay areas. This region on the Gulf of Mexico is also an important stop-over habitat for a number of migratory birds who make the area their transient home.

In summer months, the savvy bird watcher may spy the rare groove-billed ani in the canal near Lake Shelby. And in between sand dunes, you can catch a glimpse of the snowy plover, a shorebird whose California cousin is on the endangered species list. Snowy plovers' numbers are diminishing because of beach habitat disruption, caused mostly by humans and some animals. So be sure to tread carefully. You'll find rare birds as they stop over during migration in places like Little Lagoon Pass in Gulf Shores. And Wade Ward Nature Park in the middle of Gulf Shores is home to a number of bitterns and rails. Lake Shelby, just east of Gulf Shores in Gulf State Park, is the ideal spot to look out for waterfowl.

There's something almost zen-like in watching the skies as a Great Blue Heron soars into view over the snow-white beaches of the coast to hunt for his dinner.

Great Blue Herons are year-round residents to the region, where you'll find them along the shoreline, or nesting in trees or bushes near the water. You'll see a line of pelicans flying in over the Gulf, where they chase schools of fish into shallow waters for their dinner. They will plunge-dive right into the water to catch fish, then come up and toss it into the air to be caught in their bills for eating. And often, a fellow pelican will pirate the catch in mid-air!

More than 370 species of birds have been identified during migratory season at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, on the Birding Trail just west of Gulf Shores toward Fort Morgan. Bon Secour protects 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat and is on the critical migratory path leading south to lower Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Year-round, you can spot a number of egrets and herons, as well as red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, belted kingfishers and ospreys. Summer brings brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants, and occasionally anhinga and white ibis. Very rarely, you might catch a glimpse of a magnificent frigate bird or bald eagles.

The Alabama Coastal Birding Trail leads you through two counties, in loops designed to showcase the best areas to view birds in their habitats. The loops are close enough together that you can drive easily from one to another, using the trail signage as your guide. You'll find interpretive signs throughout the loops to help you on your quest. The area's Welcome Centers can provide you with maps and information on the Birding Trail. Alabama's Gulf Coast is definitely a bird-watcher's paradise! But it's also so much more. You'll find plenty of opportunities for refreshment, distraction, and relaxation in beautiful Gulf Shores / Orange Beach.

For more ideas on where to stay, play, and dineFind Article, make sure to check out http://www.thebeachiscalling.org/.

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