According to naturalist Scott Wiedensaul, (Living on the Wind Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, 1999) "slender as a matchstick", a string of Gulf barrier islands stretch along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, anchored by pine and live-oak forests.1
"A number of these gems enjoy federal protection.... [However], back around 1971, when the Department of the Interior was assembling Gulf Islands National Seashore, the state of Alabama... opted itself out of the effort to preserve the best offshore and coastline stretches. As a result, the National Seashore... skips entirely over Alabama's 55-mile coast and resumes again on the Florida side of Perdido Key. [Areas like Gulf Shores, AL, and Dolphin Island across the Bay have] grown thick with more than 1000 vacation and retirement homes, T-shirt shacks, and hamburger stands."2 In addition, "along Interstate 10, which parallels tne coast, you're hardly ever out of sight of a billboard proclaiming this and that Casino, with more popping up like mushrooms after a rain."3
Does this matter? Here is the nut: "Increasingly, [our migratory] birds must rely on the few bits of protected, public land, like the Barrier Chain of Gulf Islands National Seashore, but they may be a poor substitute for the rapidly dissappearing hardwood forests on the mainland. Researchers found that most songbirds stopping on Horn and East Ship Islands left quickly, and those that stayed gained little, if any, weight. (Those that do not gain enough weight cannot go on to reproduce.) Songbirds stopping in Live-Oak and Hackberry forests, on the other hand, stayed and an average of two days, gaining three to five percent of their weight in fat per day. The difference appeared to be the habitat. The Hardwood forests had an abundance of high-quality food, such as caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects, that the dry, pine-covered islands simply don't provide. Lovely and undisturbed, though they are, the islands offer little more than a landing place for weary migrants...."
Here is the garrote: Landfall on the Barrier Islands, even those that are protected, is not sufficient now or in the future to ensure the safety and recovery of Trans-Gulf migratory breeding birds. This is the choke point. If these special habitats along our coasts are not protected, our songbirds fail.
-- Wild Birds for the 21st Century
1. p. 250-251
2. p. 250
3. p. 266
April 2003 Report, Part 1
Comic Birds are Serious Nesters
April 2003 Report, Part 2
Gulf Shores, AL pier with Laughing Gulls. Photo Courtesy: Joan C. Heidelberg.
Spring Migration - Flight for Life Across the Gulf
Many neotropical migrants (about 300 of the 650 bird species that nest in North America), such as warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and swallows, are some of the best possible insect controllers, eating tons of insects annually. Neotropical migrants, such as thrushes, warblers, tanagers, and vireos, are also among the most beautiful birds in the world, both in song and color. Here are a few:
Black hooded Warbler
Worm Eating Warbler
Summer Tanager / Scarlet Tanager
March 2003 Report
March, the changeling month. First snow; then Spring, and life's Great Return begins.
Human denizens of the East Coast, and parts of the West, like to consider the in between states to be "fly over" territory. That's probably ok. It leaves the greatest migratory fly-way in America - the Mississippi - to the rest of us.
Come to the Midwest! This month alone ducks and geese are pouring North. In Missouri, Great Blue Herons have been arriving for weeks. Bluebird and Wood duck nest boxes are up; barred owls are nesting. Cottontails, for better or worse, have had their first litters. Bald eagles are incubating. Field sparrows are back. American woodcocks are courting. Last week male red-winged blackbirds arrived to set up territories - the ladies will arrive later. Greater prairie-chickens are "booming"; turkeys gobbling. Purple martin houses should be up by St. Patricks's day.
March 20th, come snow or warmth, is the first day of Spring. Also the Vernal Equinox, when day and night are of equal length. Horned larks will be flocking; gooseberries blooming; swallows, double-crested cormorants and Phoebes returning. A torrent of migrants are on their heels as we move into April. Ospreys leave; Kingfishers arrive. White Pelicans - White Pelicans??? - are pouring through the Missouri and the Mississippi on their way North. Wildflowers and butterflies, Peepers and mushrooms. Bats leaving hibernation caves. Not so much as you'd notice, outlanders. So "fly over." The best are here and coming....
Eastern Meadowlark ponders weather and an urge to sing.Photo, Jim Rathert
White Pelicans? in Missouri??
Some Things to Sing About
* Black-capped Chickadee, Photo Courtesy Matt Miles, P.O. Box 73, Rogersville, MO 65742
** Source: Missouri Department of Conservation