Dauphin Island Airport is set in a salt water marsh in which may be found Clapper Rail (common), Virginia Rail and Sora are fairly common(fall and winter), though secretive. Yellow Rail is very rare in winter as is Black Rail most of the year. Nelson’s and Sharp-tailed Sparrows may be seen in the grasses on the edge of the marsh. Long-legged waders may be seen feeding in the ponds on either side of the entrance.
Look for gulls and terns on the pilings in the bay and shorebirds along the shoreline. From the shoreline, walk the boardwalk to an inland marsh. Look closely for Least Bittern and Clapper Rail. During fall and winter, Virginia Rail and Sora are regular, but secretive.
The entire 900-acre complex is a bird sanctuary and there is an observation tower overlooking the Fowl River and salt marsh. Although good year-round, birding potential for neotropical migrants increases during the spring and fall months. Cruises through the waters of the Fowl River aboard the Southern Belle are available March through November.
Cadillac Square and its complement of old Live Oaks, is a star attraction on Dauphin Island. Migrant warblers and other songbirds may be observed up close and personal. Black-whiskered Vireo has been a visitor in the recent past. The Live Oaks throughout this historic site are all that remain of the home of Governor Cadillac and the capital of the Louisiana Territory. Amenities include picnic tables and restrooms.
Coden Belt Road provides the gull and tern lover excellent close-up views of these species on the pilings. There will be a few sandbars exposed at low tide, which may be good for shorebirds, gulls and terns. Occasionally a large flock of Black Skimmers can be viewed out over the water. Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Dunlin may be found in winter on the sandbars.
The sanctuary consists of 164 acres of largely maritime pine forest with several miles of trails. Passerines prefer the oak grove of the old Banding Area to the extreme east end of the Campground Trail and the south boundary of the swamp along the Dune Edge Trail. Swainson’s Warbler is regularly found at the Banding Area and Black-whiskered Vireo may be found there occasionally. In addition, a Painted Redstart was seen here in spring 2011, which accounted for the second state record.
The storied “Goat Trees” of Dauphin Island no longer shelter goats, but harbor the warblers and other songbirds that pay their twice yearly visits during migration. Tanagers, flycatchers, buntings and other songbirds may be observed.
Henderson Camp Road provides the birder with opportunities for observing spring migrants. Swallow-tailed Kites have been seen foraging over freshly cut fields and flocks of Whimbrels may be found in the pastures and fallow fields on both sides of the road. Throughout the winter months American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike, Field Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark are regularly encountered. In spring, Painted Bunting is occasional along fence rows.
The Muddy Creek Wetlands Management Area consists of 200 acres of restored wetlands and adjacent uplands managed by the Alabama State Port Authority to mitigate for construction impacts on the Theodore Channel. In cooperation with the Alabama Department of Corrections, restoration actions included clearing rubbish, removing invasive, non-native plants, replanting over 20,000 native trees and shrubs, erecting 80 nest boxes and building an extensive trail system.
Check the jetties for shorebirds, gulls and terns. Black- bellied Plover and Ruddy Turnstone are common. Marbled Godwit and Red Knot are fairly regular in spring along the shore. Bobolinks frequent the field and underbrush between the road and the fort during migration.
Explore the trails through the mounds, which are ancient Indian shell middens. The ancient live oaks provide the insects and cover that neotropical migrants depend on at their first landfall. It is not unusual to see 20 species of warblers here on a good day. Check the information box at the north side of the mounds for recent bird sightings and a bird card for the island.
The West End of Dauphin Island is a birder’s paradise, particularly for shorebirds and other waterbirds. Least Tern, Snowy and Wilson’s Plover use the area close to the parking lot as nesting habitat. Large numbers of gulls, terns, shorebirds and waders fill the sand flats at low tide. Occasionally, a Peregrine Falcon will swoop in for a meal and loons and bay ducks may be seen floating in the Sound.