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Monday, April 23, 2001

Dauphin Island Bird Watch and Paddle Trip, April 22, 2001

Directions. From Interstate 10, take the Dauphin Island/Tillmans
Corner exit, exit 15, south to Rangeline Road to the end. Turn left
and go to the intersection with Dauphin Island Parkway. Turn right at
the stop sign. Follow Dauphin Island Parkway south to Dauphin Island.

Matt Derring asked us to meet at the Circle K on Dauphin Island. It
is a good landmark in the central business district of town, next to the
post office. Nine boats, including one tandem canoe, and 10 paddlers
showed up for this event, a paddle trip inshore of the island to spot
migratory neo-tropical birds. The weather was pretty; we had almost
clear skies temperatures in the high 70's to low 80's and wind from the
east-southeast 12 mph increasing to 20 mph through the afternoon. Matt
chose sheltered water at Bayou Aloe where the city has a water park for
the put in. We paddled out of the harbor and let the wind drift us
along the shoreline of white sand beach. At the end of the first
stretch of sand beach, about half a mile from the put in we landed and
took our first look for birds.

This stop was next to the airport, a small general aviation facility
with light traffic. The runway extends in a northwesterly direction
from the shore. We floated along paddling lightly in light chop to
parallel the stone bulkhead of the runway. As we rounded the end of
the runway, we were in calm water. Along the base of the bulkhead we
saw several Ruddy Stoneturners looking for a meal in the rocks. As we
came around the end of the runway we were once again exposed to the wind
which was on our bows. We paddled into the wind to a rather nice
beachhead of sand and grass where we stopped to take another look
through field glasses. We saw several Willets, some local ducks, and
blackbirds. Matt told us the migratory birds typically leave the
Yucatan in the evening and fly 18 hours to reach Dauphin Island and Fort
Morgan. The speed of the wind varies the arrival time which is often
mid afternoon, about 3 p.m. With a strong wind, the birds tend to
overfly the island and land on the mainland to rest.

We sought out some variety in a creek paddle. We threaded our way
into a narrow mouth of a creek that opened up into a shallow water
network of a branched creek. We paddled out since the tide was
falling, and explored deeper water in the marsh of Heron Bayou. The
experienced birders in the group spotted a few non native birds and Matt
had a thick field guide chock a block full of pictures to show us. We
left Heron Bayou about 2:30 to retrace our path around the runway. Our
intent was to go upwind to Little Dauphin Island to see a rookery of
Black Skimmers.

The wind picked up to 15-20 mph while we were in Bayou Heron. The
seas, even though we were close (<1 mile) to shore were getting up to 2
feet. Three boats opted to breakaway and head for the beach. I want
to take this chance to applaud good judgment. Please do not let us
influence you to go too far out of your capabilities. We had a change
in the weather, otherwise this would have been a very easy paddle trip
suitable for beginners and smaller boats. The remaining boats went to
the Dauphin Island bridge on the south end of the bridge and encountered
some rather unpleasant sea conditions. They too backed out and
returned to the take out by 4 p.m. We racked our boats and split up.
Some went home and some went to the shell middens for more birdwatching on
foot looking for the elusive Silhouette Warbler and the Rear Tailed
Evader. As a bonus we saw a few Cedar Waxwings and one American
Redstart bird. The trails around the shell middens are excellent paths
through green tree canopy. The most popular place to watch for birds
was a fresh water pool at the base of a large oak.

Thanks, Matt