Day 3: There’s the Sign Post Up Ahead…

Saturday, 10 April 2004
Gulf Shores, Alabama

Up early to sit for a bit and read on the balcony. Listening to the surf and birds laughing as they go screaming by. What a relaxing way to begin the day.

After an al fresco breakfast in town, we relaxed for a few hours on the sunny balcony. Mid-afternoon we dropped Jenny off at an RV park to meet a friend of hers who happened to be vacationing down in Gulf Shores. Then we were off to Fort Morgan for some birding.

It’s a scenic drive to the fort and the weather was perfect, upper 70s and breezy. We started out by circling around the fort on foot, along the beach. We saw a few willets on the shore and swallows darting around, along with an occasional brown pelican. The bay was dotted with off-shore oil rigs. We decided to trek across some scrub through an open area that was mentioned to be good for birding. We didn’t see much more than a great blue heron (and a snake,) then headed toward the fort, exiting the open area to run smack into a sign forbidding people to trespass on the area we’d just tromped across. Oopse. This was the beginning of a running theme for us, as you’ll see.

We walked around Fort Morgan and up on a few battlements. We’d visited the fort two years ago, so we didn’t spend much time in it, just walking around it looking for birds. We came upon a large patch of oleander bushes, filled with hummingbirds and warblers. (It’s amazing to think how far these tiny birds had come to get there—500 miles across the Gulf, flying for 18-22 hours straight!

On the return drive home, we stopped at a number of birding spots along the way, though we didn’t see much. Our last stop before dinner was Wade Ward Nature Park, right in the middle of Gulf Shores bustling downtown. A boardwalk loops around and over a salt marsh where signs warn you not to feed the alligators (!!) Since some of the marsh comes right up to the sidewalk, it made me wonder if traffic is ever stopped by a crossing gator or if a passing dog walker has ever provided a tasty snack.

This turned out to be the best birding spot of the day. We saw a green heron, gray catbird, yellow-rumped warbler, magnolia warbler, and the brilliant rust-orange orchard oriole. The big find of the day was the bright yellow prothonotary warbler—a definite first. And we saw the resident alligator—at least we saw the top of his head, hiding in the reeds.

Stopped for dinner at the Original Oyster House, which looked a bit like a tourist trap (as does any restaurant that hands out beepers when they take your name) but the wait was worth it. We feasted on tasty oysters, Gulf shrimp, and local delicacies of cheese grits and turnip greens. We also happened to catch the Cubs game on the TVs planted around the room. Bonus!

We sat for a while on the balcony, watching people with flashlights on the beach (searching for crabs maybe), listening to the surf and watching for stars falling on Alabama.

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