Great birds, outstanding speaker highlight AOS Fall Meeting 2018

Peregrine Falcon photo by Karen Chiasson

The 90 or so AOS members attending the fall meeting on Dauphin Island were greeted by great weather, a good turnout of a wide variety of birds, and an outstanding speaker. The meeting officially kicked off at 7 a.m. Friday with a field trip across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, but many of the AOS birders arrived early. Their eagerness was rewarded with a very active birding day on Thursday, with migrating warblers, cuckoos, grosbeaks, tanagers and lots of Red-Breasted Nuthatches all over the Shell Mounds and Goat Trees birding sites.

Friday morning, Andrew Haffenden led a group of about 40 birders on a field trip by ferry to the Fort Morgan Historical Site. The ferry was escorted most of the way across the bay by a flight of Sandwich Terns, and the group was met at the landing by a large number of Snowy Egrets and even more Red-Breasted Nuthatches. Because of the size of the group, Geoff Hill and Katie Barnes helped Haffenden to lead the field trip, with all three trip leaders taking care to help identify birds and to find those that the birders were especially interested in seeing. The birds at the Stables area of the fort site were especially numerous, with birders spotting more than 10 Yellow-Billed Cuckoos, one Black-Billed Cuckoo, a variety of vireos, and several species of warblers including an uncommon Wilson’s Warbler. A walk around the historic fort found a few shorebirds, and Glossy and White Ibis, an American White Pelican, a Bald Eagle, and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk were seen flying overhead. After lunch overlooking Mobile Bay, the group again took the ferry back to Dauphin Island.  AOS members gathered again in the evening for an amazing potluck supper featuring all-you-can-eat steamed gulf shrimp and a delicious broiled salmon, as well as many salads and other veggies.  A brief program after the meal featured members’ photos and details about the weekend’s field trips and other activities.

Saturday brought two morning field trips. Andrew Haffenden, an expert on the shorebirds of Dauphin Island, took a large group for a walk along the shore to see a variety of shorebirds, herons, gulls and terns. Meanwhile, another group, led by Geoff Hill and speaker Jared Wolfe, explored sites around Dauphin Island. A highlight was the large number of Yellow-billed Cuckoos spotted around the Shell Mounds, and also a vigorous debate over a possible Black-Headed Grosbeak, a great find for Dauphin Island if it turns out to be recognized. Stay tuned. No matter what their participation in the morning’s field trips, all AOS members gathered at the home of Jennie Stowers for a delicious potluck lunch while birding from the home’s spacious upper deck overlooking Mississippi Sound.  On Saturday evening, AOS members enjoyed an outstanding catered meal and then heard Dr. Jared Wolfe, an author and research ornithologist, discuss his ground-breaking work in Equatorial Guinea, perhaps the least ornithologically studied country in the world. In addition to stunning photos of the birds there, Wolfe described his group’s research and efforts to build a conservation ethic in a nation where none previously existed.

On Sunday, Larry Gardella led a field trip to the Blakeley Island Mud Lakes, where five species of ducks included both Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal. The birders also saw scores of American Avocets and Black-Necked Stilts, plus shorebirds, herons and more migrants.

When members gathered at noon Sunday for a compilation of species observed during the AOS meeting from Friday morning to noon Sunday, they recorded more than 160 species of birds.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo photo by Kenneth Ward