Ask almost anyone who resides along the Alabama Gulf Coast and they will tell you how vital their beloved “snowbirds” are. The arrival each year is much-heralded; as spring approaches, residents know it soon will be time again to say “so long for now.”
But before the snowbirds all head north, there is a chance for one more exciting, educational, entertaining experience for old friends and new to share. It’s the Spring Bird Banding Session in Fort Morgan State Historical Park, Fort, Morgan, Alabama. Dates for 2009 are March 28 through April 9, and the site is 51 State Highway 180 West, Gulf Shores.
For two weeks each spring and fall, a group of trained volunteers with the Hummer/Bird Study Group spend hours each day capturing and banding neo-tropical migrant birds. The group’s Web site states there are dozens of species banded each session. Some sessions also yield large numbers of Ruby-throated hummingbirds.
In the Fall 2008 session, the group documented 1,112 birds representing 69 species. Nineteen were Ruby-throated hummingbirds, while hawks, flycatchers, wrens, warblers, vireo, sparrows and jays were among the other species counted and banded. The gray catbird was the most commonly documented, at 269.
In the Spring 2008 session, the group documented 65 species but more than double the number of birds, 2,805. In addition to the 134 Ruby-throated hummingbirds, volunteers also banded cuckoos, sparrows, orioles, grackles and parula. The greatest number of a single species was 666 black-and-white vireo.
The study group’s Web site states that Fort Morgan is the first landfall and last departure site for thousands of migrating birds, giving group members the chance to monitor populations and health conditions and gain valuable insight into the effects of weather on the migration patterns of birds.
The Hummer/Bird Study Group was founded by Bob and Martha Sargent more than 20 years ago. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so that those who believe, as the Sargents do, in the importance of studying the avian population may make contributions that are tax-deductible. The Hummer/Bird Study Group supports research by banders and now boasts thousands of members in nearly every state.
While research is vital, the group’s Web site states that the outreach that takes place during the spring and fall banding sessions at Fort Morgan is just as important. More than 6,000 people visit the banding station, the site states, putting “civilian” shoulder-to-shoulder with experts and highly trained volunteers to see how birds are identified and banded. Visitors of all ages are allowed to touch, hold and even release many of the birds — a rare opportunity indeed. customer reviews
Viewing the banding session can be done at no additional charge for those who have paid admission to historic Fort Morgan. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children 6 to 12 years old. Sessions are for early birds, so to speak, as they usually take place from before dawn to about mid-afternoon. Of course, that depends on the birds.
Lawn chairs and binoculars are welcome, but pets are not.
To learn more about the work of the Hummer/Bird Study Group, visit the Web site or call Bob or Martha Sargent, 205-681-2888. E-mail [email protected]
Of course, avian activity on the Alabama Gulf Coast hardly is limited to two weeks in the spring and fall. Points along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico are home to scores of species, not to mention the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. The trail actually is a series of loops spanning two counties in southern Alabama most frequently visited by birders — and birds, naturally. The Web site for the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail offers maps, descriptions of trails, a Code of Ethics for bird watchers and other resources.