Birding in Mobile, Alabama / Home Page / Trip Index


In October 2009, I enrolled in an Elderhostel (Exploritas) class on Birding in Mobile, Alabama. This gave me the opportunity to travel in my GTRV Westy camper and visit several Florida State Parks and other points of interest. 10 Parks in 11 Days This was my second Elderhostel course. The previous one was photography on Jekyll Island.

This was Program Number 14106RJ, Fall Migration: Great Birding on the Alabama Coast. Duration was 4 nights, Theme: Snapshots; Outdoor Adventures: Birding, 10/13/2009 - 10/17/2009. Day 1 (Oct. 13, Tuesday, 90.3 degrees) was registration and check-in at the Ashbury Hotel in Mobile. Then orientation and introductions in the classroom. University of South Alabama (USA) and handout materials including schedules and bios were discussed followed with question and answering period. Class roster included 29 people plus staff of at least 3 people.

Dinner at 6 pm in the hotel consisted of rosemary baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, vegetable casserole, house salad, freshly baked yeast rolls, and baked apple crisp cobbler. The hotel chef personally spoke with each student to check on what anybody wanted and visit with everyone. Meals were served in the Hotel Dining Room, unless otherwise indicated. Classes met in Jasmine 3.

At 7 pm, Don McKee gave a program on "Birding Techniques on the Gulf Coast." He concentrated on how to get and use an efficient set of binoculars. In October 2007, after serving as a agent for State Farm Insurance Company, he intended to be "more actively involved in preserving our natural resources and fostering our natural history learning more myself, and better able to show others how to connect with nature." He was supposed to have a power-point presentation on birds, but something was not working on his setup. He now lives on Dauphin Island, Alabama. Married to noted watercolor artist, Dena McKee, and has four children and two grandchildren, who are already learning the basics of bird-watching.

Oct. 14, Wednesday. 78.4°. 6:30 - 7:30 am Breakfast. Continental breakfast was served every morning - scrambled eggs, sausage patties, sausage links, toast, dry cereal, milk, orange juice, coffee. At 7:30 am the bus left for Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It was amazing how much that area has grown with many businesses and subdivisions. Foley, Alabama, just had one hardware store when we first went camping at Gulf Shores State Park in the 1960s. Now it is very developed and traffic was heavy all through Fairhope, Foley, and Gulf Shores. On the way there, after a warning about possible mosquitoes, a couple sitting across from me started spraying themselves with insect spray. In so doing, they also smelled up the whole bus. A few people started coughing and sneezing. Bird banding with Bob Sargent was scheduled for 9 to 11 am. Got a few bad pictures of a few birds that were being banded.

study group
Hummer/Bird Study Group Tent
bird in hand
A Bird in Hand
More Tents

Posted Sign
Notice Sign
Watching for the Birds

Eastern Bluebird
Kodak Moment
in hand
Another Bird in Hand

Had a box lunch 11:30 am to 12:30 pm - turkey and Swiss cheese on Kaiser roll, large delicious apple, Little Debbie oatmeal cake, and bottled water - at a city park in Orange Beach - shaded picnic tables and a fairly comfortable breeze. Birding on the Catman Road (an outdoor paved and boardwalk trail) with Don McKee and David Dortch was scheduled 1:15 - 3:15 pm. It got too hot and we left the area about 3 pm, after using all the bottled water they brought on the bus.

What is it?
I had time to soak in a lukewarm tub of water before dressing for dinner 5:30 - 6:30 pm. Menu was grilled "talipia" and shrimp, macaroni and cheese, English pea salad, house salad, and cheesecake with cherry topping. At first the waitress brought me a plate with fish but no shrimp, but quickly got the right combination. Several people in the group has special needs - like no seafood or fish. A program on "Backyard Habitats" was given by Vivian Helton, 6:30 - 8 pm.

Oct. 15, Thursday, 6 am breakfast. Bus leaves for Dauphin Island at 6:30 am. 7:30 - 11 am - Dauphin Island Shell Mounds and Audubon Bird Sanctuary Tour with Don McKee, David Dortch. Mosquitoes were not too bad. We had to split up into two groups because there were so many people.

Off the bus into the fog
parking lot
Off the bus in a parking lot
Media Photographer

11am - 12 pm - Box lunch at Cadillac Park on Dauphin Island. Roast beef and Swiss cheese on Kaiser roll, fruit, chips, bottled water. That was what was scheduled, but we had lunch at the home of Don McKee where we sat on the wrap-around second floor porch and enjoyed the ocean breezes and watched the black crowned night herons in the trees in his yard. Also toured the inside of his home which was decorated with numerous bird books and photos done by the photographer who will present the program tomorrow. One interesting set of pictures were close-up photos of birds' eyes.

bee tree
The Big Bee Tree
Jumping Spider on fence at Shell Mound

Birding near airstrip on Dauphin Island
Helicopter lifting off with birding specialist
Birding from pier on Dauphin Island beach

12 pm - Bus leaves for 5 Rivers Wildlife Management Area. There was a neat museum there. The guide asked me what the name was of a mounted duck. I told him it was a merganser - a hooded merganser. He was so surprised - he said I was the first person who knew what the duck was. It certainly looked like a hooded merganser - nothing else would look like that. I also told him the name of the shoveler. He kept following me around and asking questions. I finally asked him one - that was about the weird sort of fish skeleton. He pressed a button and the fish did all sorts of different motions with a music background. An artist guy made the fish program, the junk blue heron, driftwood octopus, and several other sculptures. 1 - 3 pm - Pontoon boat tour, 5 Rivers delta film, museum, and gift shop.

Ev and Bear
Pontoon boat tour at 5 Rivers

3:15 pm - Bus leaves for Ashbury hotel. Upon arrival, did the bird checklist with the group. 5:30 - 6:30 pm - Dinner - BBQ pork riblets, kernel corn, baked beans, house salad, fruit slaw, dessert. 6:30 - 8pm - "Birds of Prey" program with Anita Salinas.

Birds of Prey program
Birds of Prey program

Oct. 16, Friday.
  • 7:30 - 8:30 am Breakfast. Went outside - it was cold. Luckily the programs today were indoor presentations.
  • 9 - 10:30 am "Storm damage to habitats to rehabilitation of birds" program by Alison Sharpe, Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Biloxi, MS.
  • 10:30 - 10:45 am - Break
  • 10:45 am - 12 pm - Professional Birding Photography with Terry Hartley. A great number of his photos were displayed in Don's house on Dauphin Island.
  • 12 - 1 pm - Lunch in Hotel Dining Room - Creole shrimp and sausage w/rice pilaf, seasonal steamed vegetables.
  • 4:45 pm - Bus leaves for trip to Fairhope.
  • 5:30 - 9 pm - Seafood and BBQ dinner, silent auction, and Dr. Bill Summerour, a bird expert. His talk was supposed to be for one hour - he went on for more than 2 hours, explaining the minute differences in feathers of different species of sea gulls.
  • 11 pm - Board bus to return to Mobile.

Oct. 17, Saturday - 7:30 - 8:30 am - farewell breakfast. 8:30 am - Check-out. "Thank you for choosing the University of South Alabama Exploritas!" When I left the Ashbury Hotel at 8:30am, temp was 54.7°, odometer 597.2, 52,634. Stopped at Florida rest area for brochures, 59.2°, 650.2, 52,687, 9:45 am. Then continued to complete the return trip by camping at several Florida State Parks. 10 Parks in 11 Days

Update to 2010: Tried to enroll in the same birding class scheduled during October 2010 with now called "Road Scholars." The program was cancelled due to low enrollment. Also, probably due to damage from the "Oil Spill."

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