into Mississippi and brushing northwest Alabama. Next at bat was Hurricane Delta, originating in the eastern Caribbean and ripping into Louisiana 9 October before transiting western Mississippi. Last to affect our area was Hurricane Zeta, a southern Caribbean storm moving into, yet again, Louisiana on the late date of 28 October before turning strongly east and crossing central Alabama. The ornithological effects of these tempests are detailed below, with quite a bounty deposited in our region.
Contributors (subregional editors in boldface): Skyler Abell, Jeananne Allgood, Amy Anderson, Eric Anderson, Skipper Anding (SAn), Grant Arinder, Linda Baird (LBa), K. W. Ball, Eva Barnett, Larry Basden, Fred Bassett, Wayne Baumgartner, Free Beck (FBe), Andrew Bell, Michael Bernard, Charles W. Boley, Cullen Brown, Jane Brunson, Mary Burke (MBu), Judy Cacioppo, William Calbeck, Fred Carney, Franklin Chalk (FCh), Bala Chennupati, Karen Chiasson, C. Dwight Cooley, Carey Cooper, Donna Cooper, Holly Cox, Stephen Crews, Ellen Crotty, Mason Currier, Johnny Daffin, Kay Dantzler, Abby Darrah, Gil DeHuff, Todd DeVore, Jim Dickerson (JDi), Chris Dudley, Chuck Estes, Kelly Ezell, Michael Ezell, John Faggard, Dan Ford, Keith Fraser, Laura Frazier, Lawrence F. Gardella, Ben C. Garmon, David P. George, Doris Gertler, Lillie Gibb, Henry Gorski, Oliver Gorski, Robert Goss, Allison Graves (AGr), M. Scott Gravette, Timothy Guida, Alban Guillaumet, Andrew Haffenden, Lyle Hamilton (LHa), R. Stan Hamilton, Greg J. Harber, Ken Hare, Matt Harjes, Jeffrey Harris, J. Milton Harris, Eric Haskell, Louise Hewlett, Chuck Hill, Geoff E. Hill, Jason Hoeksema (JHk), Jim Holmes (JHo), Howard E. Horne, Andy Hudson (AHu), Eugene Huryn (EHu), Debra G. Jackson, Greg D. Jackson (Alabama), Lucy Jacobson, Mason Jarrett, Odis H. Johnson, Brian Johnston, Jud Johnston, Michael J. Jordan, Rick L. Kittinger, Ron J. Kittinger, Gene C. Knight, Bob Kornegay, June Ladner, Bishop Lewis, Marybeth Lima, Paul Mack, Bill McAllister, David McClusky (DMc), Jeannie McCollum, Rodney McCollum, Joseph M. McGee, John McMahan (JMm), Laura Meeds, Anne G. Miller, Duane Miller, Tom Millican, Sharon Milligan, Hal Mitchell, Sue R. Moske, Teri Murphy (TMu), Janice Neitzel, K. C. Nishant, Diane Patterson, Jim Patterson, Wayne R. Patterson, Ashley Peters, Stephanie Pluscht, James W. Randolph, David Reed, Jeff Reinhart, Rick Remy, Susan Remy, Thomas V. Ress, Emma Rhodes, Pelham A. Rowan, Pamela Rupert, Patsy Russo (PRu), Greg Sanda (GSa), Lew Scharpf, Marion H. Schiefer, Terence L. Schiefer (Mississippi), Don Self, Judy Self, Julie Shieldcastle (JSc), Damien J. Simbeck, Renea Simpson, Grace Simms, Bob Sipe, Sandy Sipe, Skip Smith (SSm), Eric C. Soehren, Michelle Steber (MSb), Marilyn Steelman (MSm), Misti Stelljes, Collin Stempien, Mike Stempien (MSp), Matthew A. Stowe, Julie Taylor, Barry Tillman, Teri Tillman, Lauren Thead, Sheila Thead, John A. Trent, Tina K. Vaughn, Jeffrey Vogel, Ken Ward, John Ward (JWa), Rufina Ward, Allan Watts, Satchell Watts-Kerr, Phil Wegener, James White, Randy White (RWh), Mike L. Whitten, Mark S. Woodrey, Janet Wright (JWr), Joe Wujcik (JWu), T. J. Zenzal.
Acknowledgments: I appreciate the assistance of Gene C. Knight in providing Mississippi Ornithological Society Bird Records Committee information and photographs.
Abbreviations: Blakeley I. (Blakeley Island, Mobile, AL); Dauphin (Dauphin Island, Mobile Co, AL); Eufaula NWR (Barbour Co, AL units); Ft. Morgan (Fort Morgan State Historic Site, Baldwin Co, AL); G.C. (Gulf Coast region, Mobile/Baldwin Cos, AL); I.C.P. (Inland Coastal Plain region of south and central Alabama); M.R. (Mountain Region of north central Alabama); Noxubee NWR (Noxubee NWR, Noxubee/Oktibbeha/Winston Cos, MS); Ross Barnett (Ross Barnett Reservoir, Madison/Rankin Cos, MS); T.V. (Tennessee Valley region of north Alabama); Sardis L. (Sardis Lake and Sardis Lower Lake, Lafayette/Panola/Marshall Cos, MS); U.E.C.M. (Upper East Central Mississippi – seven-county region near Starkville: Oktibbeha, Webster, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Winston, and Choctaw Cos); Wheeler Dam (Tennessee River, Lauderdale/Limestone Cos, AL), Wheeler NWR (Wheeler NWR, Limestone/Morgan/Madison Cos, AL), Wilson Dam (Tennessee River, Lauderdale/Colbert Cos, AL); p.a. (pending acceptance by state bird records committee); acc. (accepted by state bird records committee); ph. (photographed); vt. (videotape); v.r. (voice recording); b. (banded).
Waterfowl through Cranes
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck train has left the station and can’t be stopped. After overrunning the Alabama coast, it is now spotty but increasing as a breeder in the I.C.P.; an adult and six young were noted at a new coastal plain site in Russell Co 22 Aug (JD). Prior to this fall, there were no breeding records for north Alabama, and the species was rare though appearing more frequently. This season saw a significant uptick, with family groups 14–26 Aug in Colbert Co (SRM, AGM, DG, m.ob., ph., vt.) and beginning 20 Aug in Lauderdale Co (KF, m.ob., ph.). A maximum for north Alabama was established 29 Aug with the observation of 17 individuals at these sites (GDJ). Other unusual T.V. Black-bellied sightings this fall were of an immature 11–12 Aug at Wheeler NWR (TVR, SRM) and up to 15 at Huntsville 22 Oct–28 Nov (ph., vt. CC et al.). Continued progression was felt in U.E.C.M. as well, with high counts of 93 (including three family units) in Oktibbeha Co 23 Oct (TLS, MHS, JH), 55 birds at Noxubee NWR 5 Aug (MH), and 69 in Lowndes Co 26 Sep (TLS).
Another increasing waterfowl species in our area is Ross’s Goose, though with a more gradual progression. Still rare in much of the I.C.P., one was at Montgomery 23–25 Nov (ph. KH et al.). The estimate of 18,000 Gadwalls at Wheeler NWR 7 Nov (CDC, JMH, KW) set a new Alabama high count for fall. A count of 21 Green-winged Teals in Lee Co 18 Nov (RM) was tops for the M.R. in fall. Rare in summer, a male Redhead was noted in Colbert Co 14–20 Aug (AGM, DG et al.), and another was unprecedentedly early for the I.C.P. 2 Oct in Chilton (RJK, RLK). A pair of Lesser Scaup 17–20 Aug in Colbert Co (GDJ) and another 15 Sep in Etowah (GDJ) were probably rare locally-summering birds. Scoters are rare inland throughout the region. Only occasional in the M.R., three Surf Scoters and a single White-winged Scoter were good finds at West Point L., Chambers 26–27 Nov (ph. GEH et al.). Two White-wingeds were in Lauderdale Co 30 Oct–7 Nov (AP, m.ob., ph.), and another was in Madison Co, MS 30 Nov (ph. AB). Two Black Scoters flew past Wheeler Dam 29 Oct after Zeta (DJS). Inland Black Scoters in Mississippi included one in Tishomingo 1 Nov (WRP, GCK, ph.), another 12 Nov in Clay Co (TLS, MHS, DP), and lone birds at different sites in Lowndes Co 25 Nov (TLS) and 28–29 Nov (TLS, JH, DP, PM, ph.). Earliest for the I.C.P., a Bufflehead was spotted in Marengo Co 5 Nov (GEH). The male Hooded Merganser 18 Oct in Lowndes Co (TLS, MHS) was probably a record-early migrant for U.E.C.M.
Being a species of conservation concern, it was heartening to see a report of 40 Northern Bobwhites 5 Aug in Bullock (EH et al.), giving the I.C.P. a fall maximum. Always a crowd-pleaser, a Red-necked Grebe beginning 26 Nov at Wheeler NWR (MB, WB, EHu, m.ob., ph.) was only the eighth in fall for Alabama. Another starting 30 Nov in Lafayette Co (GCK, BL, m.ob., ph.) gave Mississippi a nineteenth record and the first in 12 years. Rare inland Mississippi Eared Grebes were in Lowndes Co 25 Sep (TLS, ph. MHS, DP, JP), at Hattiesburg 24 Oct (ph. LG), in Grenada 9 Nov (ph. JHk), and at Noxubee NWR 1 Nov (TLS, JH, LT, ph.). An Eared Grebe beginning 25 Nov in Chambers (JW, m.ob., ph.) was only occasional for the M.R. The creeping expansion of Inca Dove through the region continues, mostly on the coast in Alabama though slightly in the I.C.P. Singles were noted at separate sites 2–5 Sep on the Ft. Morgan Peninsula (JN, EH, ph.), an area with several prior occurrences though not regular. Just inland in Baldwin Co, AL, Incas were discovered at three new locations beginning 6 Sep (EC, LFG, MJJ, m.ob.). Also moving inland after coastal occupation, White-winged Doves were found at a new I.C.P. spot in Lowndes Co 16 Aug (GEH), and up to 20 at a regular haunt in Monroe all season (ph. JW) provided a fall Alabama inland high. Rare but expected on the Mississippi coast in fall, a Groove-billed Ani was found 5 Oct in Jackson Co (ph. CS). Black-billed Cuckoo is a regular low-density migrant in fall, though more often detected at the coast. Six inland reports came from both states 13 Sep–14 Oct (SS, BS, RR, DJS, GCK, PM, JV, ph.). Two, or possibly three, individuals at Dauphin 17 Oct (JR, m.ob.) were unusually numerous even for a coastal hotspot.
Rare in the G.C., an immature male Allen’s Hummingbird was banded 29 Sep in Baldwin Co (JDi, FB, ph.). Moving well up the rarity scale, a male Broad-billed Hummingbird was quite the surprise 17 Sep at Saucier, Harrison Co (ph. PR, acc.), only the second for Mississippi. An immature male Broad-billed at Montrose, Baldwin Co 5 Oct (ph. DM, p.a.) gave Alabama it’s seventh and earliest record, only the second in fall, and the fifth occurrence for the G.C. Rare but regular along the coast, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds were in Jackson Co, MS 29–30 Oct (BJ, LJ et al., ph.), beginning 18 Nov in Baldwin Co, AL (MJJ, b. 22 Nov ER, m.ob., ph.), and from 25 Nov in Harrison Co, MS (ph. SM). Previously unknown in U.E.C.M. away from select nesting sites, a King Rail was heard in Oktibbeha Co 15 Sep (MHS), and at another locale in that county, one was spotted walking across a residential lawn 18 Sep (vt. GA). Four Virginia Rails in Limestone Co 12–15 Nov (CH, SA, RG) yielded a T.V. maximum and a top fall count for interior Alabama. Common Gallinule, formerly quite rare in north Alabama, is locally increasing in the T.V. At a known nesting location in Wheeler NWR, 10 birds were more than expected 26 Sep (CDC, MSG, TVR); a couple there 8 Nov gave the T.V. a new late departure date (PW). Tardiest for inland Alabama, an immature Purple Gallinule was in Geneva 13–18 Oct (OHJ). Three Sandhill Cranes in Lauderdale Co 10–15 Oct (ph. DJS et al.) were the earliest for north Alabama, and three beginning 11 Nov in Noxubee (DF, m.ob., ph.) gave U.E.C.M. a new early arrival mark. That unmistakable, rolling bugle at Oxford, Lafayette Co, MS 13 Nov (GCK) resounded two weeks earlier than usual.
Rare in U.E.C.M., Black-necked Stilts (not continuing from the summer season) included one in Noxubee 20 Aug (MHS), and as many as four at Columbus L., Lowndes Co/Clay Co, 24–31 Aug (TLS, MHS). Rare but regular inland in much of the region, at least 62 American Avocets were encountered at 15 non-coastal locations in both states 4 Aug–25 Nov. Most unusual were 19 birds 1 Sep in Barbour, AL (ph. KH) and six avocets at Oak Mountain SP, Shelby Co, AL 22 Oct (ME, KE et al., ph.). Black-bellied Plover is an expected fall migrant but is infrequently observed in many inland areas. Noteworthy reports included singles at two sites in U.E.C.M. 29 Aug (TLS, MHS, JH), 11 Oct in both Calhoun Co, AL (SSm) and Clay Co, MS (TLS), and at two locations in Lafayette Co, MS 16 and 23–24 Oct (GCK et al.). American Golden-Plover is regular fall migrant in the region but much less numerous than in spring. Of a few reports in both states, most notable were up to five in the M.R. in Cherokee Co 25 Sep–9 Oct (SSm), five birds in Colbert Co, AL 11 Oct (GDJ, DGJ), and late individuals 14 Nov in Chickasaw, MS (ph. WRP) and 23 Nov in Clay Co, MS (TLS). Now rare in the region, a Long-billed Curlew was on West Ship I., Harrison Co, MS 11 Sep (ph. DR) and (possibly the same) 21 Oct (ph. CS). Exceptional inland, the tawny colossus 26–27 Nov in Panola Co, MS (GCK, CB, JHk, m.ob., ph., acc.) caused quite a stir. In the thread of towering rare inland shorebirds, Marbled Godwits were surprises 19 Aug at St. Catherine Creek NWR, Adams, MS (ph. BT) and 5 Sep in Coahoma, MS (ph. HM).
Rare inland Ruddy Turnstones were at Sardis L. 3 Aug–6 Sep (GCK, m.ob., ph.), 18 Sep at Enid L. Dam, Yalobusha, MS (ph. HM), and 19 Sep in Marshall Co, AL (ph. GDJ). Sanderling is a rare-but-regular transient in fall away from the usual coastal haunts. Excluding birds continuing from summer, one appeared at Sardis L. 28 Aug (ph. JHk), another was in Colbert Co, AL 10–12 Sep (ph. GDJ et al.), a surprising 11 Sanderlings were spotted 21 Sep at Enid L., Yalobusha, MS (GCK, BL), and a lone bird was at Eufaula NWR, Barbour, AL 1 Nov (AG). A count of 260 of these surf-chasers at Dauphin 30 Nov (AH) gave Alabama a fall peak total. Quite early, and likely summering south of the breeding grounds, a Dunlin with some alternate plumage was discovered 29 Aug in Lowndes Co, AL (GEH). Regular in fall, and less frequently to the east, several reports of Baird’s Sandpiper were received 13 Aug–12 Sep. Most noteworthy were two rare I.C.P. birds in Lowndes Co 16–31 Aug (GEH et al.) and six Baird’s in Colbert Co, AL 26–29 Aug (DJS et al., ph.). Expected in late spring but quite rare in fall, a White-rumped Sandpiper appeared 1 Aug at Blakeley I. (ph. LFG) and 11 Aug at Dauphin (ph. OG, HG). Buff-breasted Sandpiper is seen in small numbers in early fall throughout the region. The highest tallies reported were of 14 on 2 Sep in Noxubee, MS (TLS) and 10 in Cherokee Co, AL 13 Sep (SSm). Tabulating 552 Pectoral Sandpipers in Colbert Co 17 Aug (GDJ) established a new north Alabama high count.
Rare in the M.R., up to two Long-billed Dowitchers were in Shelby Co 5 Nov–2 Dec (SS, BS, KCN, m.ob., ph.). Furnishing a fall peak tally for Alabama, eight Solitary Sandpipers were in Colbert Co 25 Aug (RJK, ph. RLK). The lithe Wilson’s Phalarope is rare but regular in fall, most often found along the Mississippi River and coastally. There were reports this year of 31 birds at nine sites 8 Aug–22 Oct. Up to 22 Wilson’s put a spin on Blakeley I. 8 Aug–13 Sep (ph. LFG). Only occasional away from the coast in Alabama, and rare anywhere in the region, Sally deposited a Red-necked Phalarope in Barbour 17 Sep (JAT, ECS, ph.) for a seventh I.C.P. record and 10th in fall for inland Alabama; another was the seventh for the M.R. the following day in Lee Co (RM, JM et al., ph.).
Skuas through Loons
The roar of Zeta had barely cleared the coastal plain when an adult Pomarine Jaeger was discovered along the Alabama River in Autauga Co/Lowndes Co 29 Oct (ph. GEH et al., p.a.). This out-of-element brute provided the third record for the I.C.P. and the sixth inland in Alabama. Much sought in autumn on “big water,” Mississippi’s 13th Sabine’s Gull was at Enid L., Yalobusha 2 Oct (GCK, acc.). Infrequent in the region, and the 23rd for Mississippi, a second-cycle Little Gull was located 7 Nov at Bay Springs L., Tishomingo (GCK, acc.). Laughing Gull, an abundant fixture of the Gulf Coast, is a rare but regular wanderer inland. While frequently riding the winds of tropical storms as they progress inland, this season saw a spike in numbers and occurrences. In the period 29 Aug–11 Oct, including effects of tropical tempests Laura, Sally, Beta, and Delta, there were multiple reports of a minimum of 25 inland, with a high count of 12 at Ross Barnett 11 Oct (ph. AB). Late-arriving Zeta acted like a giant scoop for Laughers, bringing large numbers far inland, nearly all in Alabama. At least 67 individuals were noteworthy away from the brine at 13 sites, but particularly in the I.C.P. The largest Alabama tabulations from Zeta 29 Oct included 21 in the Tuscaloosa area (SW-K, EHu, ph.), 11 at Guntersville, Marshall Co (GDJ, DGJ et al.), 10 on the Alabama River, Autauga Co/Lowndes Co (EA, AA et al., ph.), and nine Laughings at Neely-Henry Dam, St. Clair Co/Calhoun Co (GDJ, DGJ).
Usually found in small numbers in mid- to late fall, more to the west and sporadically with larger pulses, several scattered Franklin’s Gulls were seen. In Mississippi, inland singles were at Sardis L. 3 and 22 Oct, with four there 14 Nov (GCK, CB), five birds believed to be different individuals were studied 9–13 Oct at Columbus L., Clay Co/Lowndes Co, MS (TLS, MHS, DP, JP, JH et al., ph.), and one was at Ross Barnett 11–12 Oct (ph. AB). Six Franklin’s were recorded at five locales on the Mississippi coast 2 Oct–30 Nov (CS, HC, BJ et al., ph.). To the east in Alabama, immatures were at Wheeler Dam 11 Oct (GDJ, DGJ et al., ph.) and at Guntersville, Marshall Co 12 Nov (ph. GDJ), up to four Franklin’s were at Dauphin 14–15 Nov (AH, JF et al., ph.), and an adult appeared at Wilson Dam 16 Nov (SRM). A Kumlien’s Iceland Gull was a nice find at Gulfport 11 Nov (ph. TG, acc.), providing Mississippi with a third record of Kumlien’s, and the 14th Iceland at the species level.
Lesser Black-backed Gull is rare but regular in the region. More common in Alabama, reports included at least four in the Dauphin/Ft. Morgan area beginning 26 Sep (AH, m.ob., ph.), up to seven at Wheeler Dam starting 10 Oct (DJS et al., ph.), as many as 16 yielding a state maximum at Wilson Dam from 11 Oct (GDJ, DGJ, DJS et al., ph.), and a juvenile in Marshall Co 16 Nov (ph. GDJ). The first-cycle Lesser after Zeta 29–30 Oct at R. F. Henry Lock and Dam, Autauga/Lowndes Cos (GEH, EA, AA, ph.), was the first for the I.C.P. More unusual in Mississippi, early singles were noted 27 Aug (possibly summering) at Gulfport (ph. TG), 20 Sep at Hattiesburg (ph. LB), and 25 Sep on West Ship I. (ph. CS); later Mississippi sightings included 12 Oct in Madison Co (ph. AB), 24 Oct on Horn I. (ph. LJ), 29 Oct in Jackson Co (CS, AD, ph.), and at Gulfport 20 Nov (TLS, ph. MHS). The adult Lesser Black-backed at Sardis L. beginning 14 Nov (GCK et al., ph.) appears to have returned for at least the 10th year.
After Delta 11 Oct, Ross Barnett offered one of few inland regional records of Bridled Tern (ph. AB). More frequent with tropical storms though still rare, and sometimes carried aloft far inland, an adult and two juvenile Sooty Terns were found 30 Aug–1 Sep at Ross Barnett (ph. AB) after Laura. In Alabama following Sally 17 Sep, an adult was at W. F. George Dam, Henry Co (BK, RS) for the thirteenth I.C.P. record, and a juvenile appeared at Wheeler Dam 24 Sep with Beta (DJS), the 10th T.V. occurrence. Late for U.E.C.M. by nearly a month, a Least Tern was seen 13 Oct in Clay Co (TLS). Post Laura 29 Aug, 35 Caspian Terns in Clay and Lowndes Cos (TLS) were unusually plentiful for U.E.C.M.; the tally of 85 at Wheeler NWR 26 Sep (KW, RW, AW) not long after Beta set a north Alabama fall maximum. A high fall count for inland Alabama, 173 Forster’s Terns were at Wheeler Dam 29 Oct after Zeta (DJS). Royal Tern is occasional inland following storms; after Zeta 29 Oct, three birds were at Columbus L., Lowndes Co (TLS, ph. MHS, GD) and another appeared at Ross Barnett (ph. AB). Alabama nearly doubled the number of inland Sandwich Tern records this season. Fifth away from the Gulf and for the I.C.P., two were spotted 17 Sep after Sally at W. F. George Dam, Henry Co (GEH); single Sandwich Terns were located after Beta 24 Sep at Wheeler Dam (DJS) and 29 Oct at R. F. Henry Lock and Dam, Autauga Co (EA, AA) following Zeta.
In decades of bird records review you see some odd things, but I must say the image of an adult Red-billed Tropicbird resting comfortably in a pedestal bird bath was novel! This elegant creature dropped from the sky into a residential yard in Opelika, Lee Co 29 Oct with the passage of Zeta (JA, LS, RM, JHo, ph., spec. Auburn Univ.). Despite attempts to assist the unfortunate waif, it perished before it could be transported to a rehabilitation facility. Alabama has two prior Red-billed records, both offshore, as well as two unidentified tropicbird species sight records. Red-throated Loon is rare but regular in late fall and winter in the region, especially on large inland lakes and along the coast. Single birds in Mississippi were noted 28 Oct–1 Nov in Monroe Co (AB, MHS et al., ph.) and 11 Nov in Madison Co (ph. AB). Most years see one or two Pacific Loons in Alabama, generally in the T.V. or on the outer coast; however, the flock of NINE at West Point L., Chambers Co 1 Nov (ph. GEH) was entirely unprecedented, furnishing a maximum for the state and only the second record for the M.R. A first I.C.P. September occurrence, a Common Loon in Henry Co 4 Sep (JW) might have summered locally; the report of 96 in Chambers Co 29 Nov (JHo) exceeded prior M.R. fall counts.
Tubenoses through Falcons
Another exciting storm-related observation, a Great Shearwater was enjoyed at Ross Barnett 10–11 Oct (ph. AB et al., acc.) following Delta, only the fourth for Mississippi and first away from the Gulf. Though Wood Storks are abundant in the Black Belt and Mississippi Delta, often in association with catfish ponds, they are still rare in several areas. Examples in Alabama include two to four immatures 13–30 Aug in Colbert/Lawrence Cos (RLK, RJK, LH et al., ph.), up to five storks 1–11 Sep in Lauderdale Co (GS, JJ et al., ph.), and as many as eight in Shelby Co 6 Sep–6 Oct (SS, BS et al., ph.). Occasionally moving inland with tropical storms, Magnificent Frigatebirds were eye-catching 17 Sep with Sally and 31 Oct after Zeta at W. F. George Dam, Henry Co (both ph. GEH); there were 10 prior inland Alabama occurrences, all but two in the I.C.P. An adult male frigatebird joined the rarity party at Ross Barnett 10 Oct after Delta (ph. AB). Possibly related to Zeta three weeks earlier, single sky-pirates were surprises 13 Nov at Smith L. west of Ardell, Winston/Cullman/Walker Cos, AL (ph. TKV) and 15–18 Nov at Sardis L. (GCK, CB et al., ph.).
Brown Booby has increased noticeably in frequency in the region, sometimes occurring in odd locales without clear antecedent. Four singles were discovered on the Alabama coast this season. An adult was spotted 1 Aug at Gulf Shores, Baldwin Co (KC), an immature joined the fun on a boat 5 Aug just off Orange Beach, Baldwin Co (ph. SC), an adult was resting on the beach at Pelican Peninsula of Dauphin 1 Nov after Zeta (AH, EH et al., ph.), and another was in upper Mobile Bay 21–22 Nov (MC). Furnishing the fourth inland Alabama record, and the first for the I.C.P., an immature was spotted at W. F. George Dam, Henry Co 31 Aug after Laura, remaining to 18 Sep (MJ, m.ob., ph.). Headlining the many wind-blown rarities this season, an immature Red-footed Booby arrived with Sally at Ocean Springs, Jackson Co, MS 16 Sep (ph. AD, TM, acc.), a first for our region. At the only known M.R. breeding locus for Anhinga at Saginaw, Shelby Co, 10 set a fall peak for north Alabama 9 Aug (SS, BS). Following Zeta 29 Oct, though not necessarily related, 2650 Double-crested Cormorants in Cherokee/Etowah/Calhoun Cos (GDJ, GDJ) established a new M.R. peak. Although Neotropic Cormorant is now regularly found in the Delta of west Mississippi, sometimes in good numbers, it rapidly decreases to the east. One was unusual 12 Sep in Madison Co north of Jackson, MS (ph. AB). With only two previous U.E.C.M. occurrences, a Neotropic 13–20 Aug in Lowndes Co (TLS, ph. MHS, DP, JP et al.), as many as three birds 29 Aug–2 Sep in Noxubee Co (TLS, ph. MHS, JH et al.), and up to two at a different Lowndes Co site 13–15 Nov (ph. MHS, TLS) were notable. Rare inland, and yielding the seventh fall sighting for the I.C.P., an immature Brown Pelican was at Jordan L., Elmore Co 29 Oct with Zeta (GEH).
Seas of white, 946 Great Egrets 29 Aug in Colbert/Lawrence/Lauderdale Cos (GDJ) furnished a fall maximum for north Alabama; in Colbert Co 17 Aug (GDJ), 128 Snowy Egrets provided a top count for the T.V., and a high in fall for interior Alabama. The immature Tricolored Heron 10 Aug in Colbert Co (DJS) was the fourth for that season in the T.V. Continuing the long-legged parade in that county, up to six White Ibis were noteworthy 9 Aug–11 Sep (JW, GDJ, BC, m.ob., ph.). Rare but regular in the G.C., a White-faced Ibis appeared at Ft. Morgan 2 Oct (ph. KC). An immature Plegadis ibis was unusual far inland in Colbert Co 25 Sep (ph. BC). Pretty-in-pink Roseate Spoonbills are expected now each summer and fall in small numbers in Alabama. Of birds not continuing from summer, two were encountered 2 Aug in Perry Co (RR et al.), an immature was in Lauderdale Co 29 Aug–11 Sep (GDJ, m.ob., ph.), and another immature was at Eufaula NWR on the late date of 21 Nov (JT, GSa, FBe, ph.).
Out-of-ordinary observations of that master of the air, Swallow-tailed Kite, included one in Newton Co, MS 14 Aug (JMM), three at Wheeler NWR 11 Aug (TVR) giving a 10th T.V. record, up to three kites 15–16 Aug in Clay Co, MS (TLS, ph. MHS, DP, JP, PM), and a single in Blount Co, AL 7 Sep (KWB). Found locally in the M.R. with increasing frequency, up to 12 Mississippi Kites 9 and 28 Aug at Sylacauga, Talladega Co (FC) were unusually numerous. Rare but regular in late fall on the Alabama coast, an immature Swainson’s Hawk was at Summerdale, Baldwin Co 11 Nov (ph. KC). Dark-morph Harlan’s Hawks were photographed in Mississippi 15 Nov in Tunica Co (HM) and 26 Nov in both Panola (CB) and Oktibbeha Cos (TLS, JH). A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Dale 19 Sep (RWh) was the earliest for the I.C.P. Tallying 12 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at a known colony site in Talladega NF, Bibb Co 14 Nov (ph. LF) gave the I.C.P. a fall high and tied the all-time I.C.P. maximum. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon 5 Aug in Lowndes Co (TLS) preceded the U.E.C.M. arrival mark.
Flycatchers through Vireos
Ash-throated Flycatcher is an anticipated visitor in autumn, mostly along the outer coast. Mississippi coastal sightings this season included 25 Oct at Singing River I., Jackson Co (JWr, BJ, ph., acc.), 26 Oct at Ocean Springs, Jackson Co (ph. MS, p.a.), and 28 Nov at Greenwood I., Jackson Co (CS, AD, TG, ph., acc.); while the far-inland bird 7–9 Nov at Oxford (CB, m.ob., ph., acc.) was quite unexpected. Along Alabama shores, Ash-throateds occurred 1 Nov at Dauphin (AH, BCG et al., ph.), 7–11 Nov at Ft. Morgan (ph. FCh et al.), and 19–21 Nov at Blakeley I. (EH et al., ph.). The Great Crested Flycatcher 21 Oct in Jefferson Co (JC) provided inland Alabama a new late departure date. A vocal Couch’s Kingbird was near Fairhope, Baldwin Co 26–29 Oct (GEH, ER, CD et al., ph., p.a.); it was the ninth of the Tropical/Couch’s complex for Alabama and the third assignable to species. Another Couch’s studied at St. Catherine Creek NWR, Adams Co 11–12 Nov (BT, TT, ph., v.r., acc.) was only the fourth identified to this species in Mississippi. Though regularly breeding nearby at Dauphin, Gray Kingbird is rare in Mississippi and nests erratically. One was spotted at the very late date of 4 Nov at Pascagoula (HEH, MAS, acc.).
Olive-sided Flycatcher regularly transits the region in early fall. This season saw individuals at seven localities in Mississippi 16 Aug–4 Oct, split between the coast (BJ, HC, ph.) and inland (HM, LT, ST, GCK, BL et al., ph.). Usually Olive-sideds are scarcer to the east in Alabama, but this was a good year, with at least eight 28 Aug–1 Nov, also divided between coastal (LFG, EH, ML, BCG, PRu, JF et al., ph.) and inland (SW-K, GEH, BC, KW, RR, ph.) locales. Though identified a bit too enthusiastically at times, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is an expected low-density transient in the fall. In the period 25 Aug–7 Oct, there were satisfactory reports of at least 25 birds at 13 sites, mostly in Alabama; including 11 banded at Ft. Morgan 31 Aug–7 Oct (TJZ et al.). Alder Flycatcher is a regular transient as well, though is not often identified confidently to species by voice. Such reports included 18–19 Aug in Clay Co, MS (TLS, ph. MHS, PM), 20–23 Aug in Oktibbeha Co, MS (TLS, ph. MHS et al.), and 10 Sep in Chambers Co, AL (ph. GEH); at least three were calling 17 Sep in Jackson Co, MS (ph. CS). More often observed (and even breeding sparsely) in the region is Willow Flycatcher; vocalizing individuals were noted in Alabama 5 Sep in DeKalb Co (GEH), 19 Sep at Birmingham (RR), and 26 Sep in Tallapoosa Co (GEH).
A Say’s Phoebe was exciting at Dauphin 11–17 Oct (HEH, m.ob., ph.), representing the 11th for Alabama and seventh for the G.C. It was a good season for the popular Vermilion Flycatcher, a rare-but-regular transient and wintering species. Alabama coastal reports were of an adult male beginning 11 Oct near Foley, Baldwin Co (EB, m.ob., ph.), up to three revisiting a site near Summerdale, Baldwin Co beginning 6 Nov (ph. KC, m.ob.), a female returning 8 Nov west of Bell Fontaine, Mobile Co (RLK, RJK, ph.), and a female Foley 15 Nov (EB, m.ob., ph.). On the Mississippi coast, Vermilion reports began 12 Oct with a returning male at Biloxi (HC, AHu, m.ob., ph.), an immature male near Moss Point, Jackson Co starting 13 Oct (ph. BJ et al.), and an immature male 25 Oct at Singing River I., Jackson Co (ph. BJ). More unusual well inland, up to three of these dandies were surprising in Oktibbeha Co 20–23 Aug (TLS, MHS, m.ob., ph.) providing a fourth U.E.C.M. record; a returning female was noted from 30 Oct in Lowndes Co, MS (TLS, ph. MHS et al.), and an adult female was spotted 20 Nov at Eufaula NWR (ph. JB).
A singing White-eyed Vireo 9 Nov in Limestone Co (MSG) tied the departure date for the T.V. Though the diminutive Bell’s Vireo is a rare but regular fall transient on the coast, it was an exceptional year for this species. In Mississippi, individuals were noted 27–28 Sep in Gulfport (ph. JWR, MSW, DR et al., acc.) and on Greenwood I., Jackson Co 29 Sep and 14 Oct (both ph. CS, acc.). Alabama records included coastal reports 9–11 Sep at Dauphin (BCG, ph. PRu et al.), 30 Sep on the Ft. Morgan Peninsula (ph. FCh), 1 Oct at Ft. Morgan (TJZ et al., b.), and 2 Oct at Dauphin (ph. MSm). The singing Bell’s Vireo at Birmingham 21 Sep (RR) was more unusual. Earlier than previous for the I.C.P., a singing Philadelphia Vireo was observed at Wetumpka, Elmore Co 6 Sep (GEH); a count of five birds in Chilton Co 2 Oct (RLK, RJK) surpassed prior I.C.P. totals. In Alabama, Warbling Vireo nests only sparingly in the T.V. and mostly occurs as a low-level migrant, especially in fall. This season was particularly good for the plain songster, with eight reports 20 Aug–4 Oct, all inland; rare in the I.C.P., one was photographed 4 Oct in Perry (JWu). Black-whiskered Vireo is an expected spring overshoot on the Alabama coast, but is exceedingly rare in the region in autumn, with only three previous occurrences in Alabama and one in Mississippi. So, it was remarkable that TWO birds were banded 26 Aug at Ft. Morgan (TJZ et al., ph.).
Larks through Blackbirds
Up to three Horned Larks beginning 15 Nov in south Baldwin Co (EH, m.ob., ph.) furnished a G.C. sixth record, the second in fall. Rare but appearing to be on the increase, a Cave Swallow was in Hancock Co, MS 2–3 Sep (ph. JL et al.). Alabama’s first August record of Red-breasted Nuthatch came 27 Aug in Baldwin Co (AGr) in an excellent season for the irruptive species. A Marsh Wren 29 Sep at Sardis L. (GCK, CB) was the earliest for that area. Giving inland Alabama a new departure mark, a Swainson’s Thrush was at Huntsville 10 Nov (ph. CWB). The count of 11 Hermit Thrushes in Limestone Co 16 Nov (MSG) provided a fall T.V. maximum and tied that for north Alabama. Latest in fall for the M.R., with a single winter record, a Wood Thrush was found freshly deceased 8 Nov at Birmingham (GJH). An exact tally of 172 American Pipits in St. Clair Co 12 Nov (GDJ) established a fall M.R. high.
What a season for finches, and a prelude to a great winter! Purple Finches put on a good show. Two birds at Tuscaloosa 27 Oct (SW-K) were the earliest for the I.C.P., with 10 there 15 Nov (SW-K) for a fall I.C.P. maximum; 20 Purples in Shelby Co 15 Nov (PAR) gave a high M.R. count and tied the fall Alabama peak. An early appearance of 54 Purple Finches was notable 3 Nov at Oxford, MS (GCK). Even more impressive was the precocious Pine Siskin flight. The individual at Sardis L. 29 Sep (GCK) was premature by three weeks. The arrival date for Alabama fell in Lauderdale Co 20 Sep (DJS), and various reporting region early dates were shattered by occurrences 2 Oct at Anniston, AL (LM), 7 Oct in Noxubee and Oktibbeha Cos, MS (TLS, MLS), 10 Oct in Bullock Co, AL, and 14 Oct at Blakeley I. (CE, MSb et al.). Numerous autumn maxima were tossed off the books as well. Counts near Birmingham of 120 siskins 3 Nov (ph. TD) and 110 birds 10 Nov (ph. KD) supplanted the state fall high, and local area records were exceeded by 35 at Ft. Morgan 30 Oct (EH), 42 siskins 23 Nov (ph. LHa) and 50 birds 25 Nov (MBu) in Tuscaloosa Co, and 60 at Huntsville 29 Nov (KW). Not to be ignored, 50 American Goldfinches in Baldwin Co 25 Nov (ER) established a fall G.C. max.
Another fall G.C. high was broken with 40 Chipping Sparrows in Baldwin Co 25 Nov (ph. EH). Regular in fall in small numbers on the coast, Clay-colored Sparrows were well represented this season. There were five Mississippi observations 8 Sep–5 Oct (SAn, CS, HC et al., all ph., all acc.) and four Alabama coastal reports 25 Sep–13 Oct (ph. SP, ph. MSp, 2 b. TJZ et al.). Only occasional inland, and seventh for the I.C.P., one was found 2 Nov in Pike Co (AG, m.ob., ph.). An American Tree Sparrow was an unexpected visitor 26–27 Nov at Wheeler NWR (RG et al., ph.), the 17th for Alabama, first in autumn, and only the ninth for the T.V. An estimated 300 Savannah Sparrows 21 Nov in Madison Co, AL (BM) furnished a fall state maximum. Top seasonal count for the G.C. was passed by 15 Song Sparrows at Blakeley I. 7 and 21 Nov (LFG). A lingering Yellow-breasted Chat 25 Oct at Wheeler NWR (MSG) set a new late departure date for the T.V.
Rare but expected each fall along the coast, a Yellow-headed Blackbird livened up feeders at Ocean Springs, Jackson Co, MS 20 Sep–8 Oct (JWa et al., ph.). The Atlantic-migrating Bobolink is rare but regular in fall, more so in Alabama. A surprising aggregate of up to 50 birds 6–11 Sep in Cherokee Co (ph. SSm) provided a north Alabama autumn peak, and one in Noxubee Co 7 Sep (TLS, MHS) was the 12th at this season for U.E.C.M. Latest for the I.C.P., an Orchard Oriole dallied until 10 Sep in Marengo Co (DS, JS). The striking immature male Bullock’s Oriole beginning 23 Nov at Foley, Baldwin Co (MJJ, LFG, m.ob., ph.) was the 17th for Alabama, sixth in fall, and the ninth for the G.C. Long anticipated, the region’s first Scott’s Oriole made a frustratingly brief appearance 22 Oct to DeSoto NF east of Wortham, Harrison Co, MS (ph. LBa, acc.). Establishing a fall high for north Alabama, 43 Brewer’s Blackbirds were identified at Wheeler NWR 17 Oct (CWB, SA); a lone male that day at Ft. Morgan (LFG, EH et al., ph.) was the earliest for south Alabama. Casual inland in the region, a male Boat-tailed Grackle 14 and 18 Oct in the Kennedy Unit of Eufaula NWR (v.r. JMm) was at the same site as the prior winter occurrence.
Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for
— Rudyard Kipling, The Explorer
The Inland Coastal Plain (I.C.P.) is by far the largest of Alabama’s four designated bird reporting regions. Beginning at the Fall Line in the north, it forms a broad transition between the Mountain Region and the Gulf Coast. Original habitats included vast longleaf pine savannas, scattered tall prairie of the Black Belt, riparian forests and swamps, and wide canebrakes along waterways. Though exhibiting mostly flat or mildly rolling topography, a few isolated areas of low hills protrude from the plain.
This region was the agricultural-based, economic powerhouse of the state through the early twentieth century, especially in the era of “King Cotton.” Montgomery, the state capitol, is located in this region at the headwaters of the Alabama River. Consequently, much of the initial bird study in the state was conducted in this area by some of the early giants of Alabama ornithological history, particularly W. C. Avery, L. S. Golsan, and E. G. Holt. In more recent decades, bird study in the I.C.P. has predominated around Montgomery, and in the southeast near Auburn and along the Chattahoochee River border with Georgia. However, the I.C.P. has lagged in overall birding coverage compared to other less expansive regions with more urban centers and birders.
Efforts have been made to improve this situation. Focused breeding bird investigations such as the Breeding Bird Atlas program and Summer Bird Counts have helped examine far-flung corners and pockets not often visited otherwise. The region generally has been viewed as less attractive for migrant passerine birding in spring and fall, thought to have more overflight and fewer concentration points than other areas north and south. However, recent investigations are challenging this concept. A consequence of this activity has been to update I.C.P. arrival and departure dates as well as daily maximal count data. Examples come this fall from efforts at Tuscaloosa, mostly by Satchell Watts-Kerr and Eugene Huryn, as well as visits to Elmore by Geoff Hill.
Tuscaloosa County is divided by the Fall Line, but most birding occurs in the larger I.C.P. segment. As the home of the University of Alabama, field activity has occurred over the years at various sites. But the Tuscaloosa birders discovered a goldmine for woodland migrants right in the city at small Bower’s Park. Significant migrant observations at the site this season (all by Watts-Kerr and/or Huryn unless specified) include:
Occasional fall I.C.P.
30 Aug and 13 & 29 Sep
Occasional fall I.C.P.
15 Sep (Joe Wujcik)
Maximum fall I.C.P., ties max. I.C.P.
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Elmore County is immediately north of Montgomery and also is split by the Fall Line. Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson resides in the coastal plain portion, mainly visited by Montgomery area observers. A bounty of significant I.C.P. records was plucked from the locale this fall by Hill:
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Maximum fall I.C.P.
Perhaps we need to focus a little more attention on finding and birding Inland Coastal Plain migration hotspots!
Warblers through Cardinalids
Rare hybrid Brewster’s Warblers were spotted 15 Sep at Monte Sano SP, Madison Co (JMH) for a 13th T.V. occurrence, and 25 Sep at Birmingham (RR). A Virginia’s Warbler was a shock, and unfortunately a “one day wonder,” 1 Oct northwest of Coaling, Tuscaloosa Co (ph. DMc, p.a.); there are at least five prior records in the Southeast, but this was the first documented for our region. Mourning Warbler is a regular but rarely detected transient in our region, in fall more often turning up in nets than observed. Four were banded at Ft. Morgan 6 Sep–11 Oct (TJZ et al.); another was at Sardis L. 1 Oct (GCK, acc.).
Atlantic Flyway migrant Cape May Warbler is rare in fall in the region, mostly in Alabama. It was an unusually good season for the species, with singles 21 Sep in Pike Co, AL (AG, m.ob., ph.) for a third fall I.C.P. record, 26 Sep in Jackson Co, MS (AD et al., b., ph.), 30 Sep at Wheeler NWR (MSG), 14 Oct at Huntsville (CWB), 27 Oct at Dauphin (ph. LFG et al.), and 1 Nov near Birmingham (SS, BS, ph.). A Cerulean Warbler 29 Sep at Sardis L. (GCK, CB) was locally rare for the season; another at Monte Sano SP, Madison Co 1 Oct (RG) was latest for the T.V., as was a Northern Parula 18 Oct at Wheeler NWR (RLK, RJK, RG). Five Bay-breasted Warblers at Tuscaloosa 12 Oct (EHu) provided a new high for the I.C.P., and a Blackburnian Warbler there 26 Oct (SW-K) was latest for that region, tying the south Alabama date. Quite tardy as well were two Yellow Warblers in Shelby Co 26 Nov (SS, BS, ph.), beyond the previous M.R. departure mark. Blackpoll Warbler, while a staple of mid-late spring migration in the region, is rare and erratic in fall, usually migrating well to our east. Individuals were noted this year 11 Oct at Wheeler Dam (DJS, ph. BC) for a seventh fall T.V. record, 22 Oct in Jackson Co, MS (ph. BJ), and 25–26 Oct in Noxubee Co (TLS, ph. MHS) for a first autumn U.E.C.M. occurrence.
Another eastern transient is the lovely Black-throated Blue Warbler. Casual in Mississippi, reports this season were of a female 3 Oct at Sardis L. (GCK) and a male 18 Oct in Jackson Co (AD et al., ph., b.). Rare but regular in Alabama, sightings were of a male 25–26 at Birmingham (RR, SR et al., ph.), a male at another Birmingham location 29 Sep (JC), a female 30 Sep in Lauderdale Co (DJS), and a female 26 Oct in north Lee Co (RM). A lingering Prairie Warbler was in Lee Co, MS 15 Nov (ph. WRP). Excitement punctuated the routine net runs at the Ft. Morgan banding operation 1 Oct, when an adult male Black-throated Gray Warbler, Alabama’s 13th, was the fluttering prize (JSc, TJZ et al., b., ph.)! Establishing a terminal I.C.P. date, a Canada Warbler was spotted 12 Oct at Tuscaloosa (SW-K).
A late Rose-breasted Grosbeak remained in Newton Co, MS to 6 Nov (ph. JMM). It was a great season for the rare Black-headed Grosbeak. Immature males were photographed 2 Nov at Dauphin (WC), 8–11 Nov at Lucedale, Greene Co, MS (TMu, acc.), 27 Nov at Pascagoula, MS (RR, acc.), and beginning mid-November near Scobey, Grenada Co, MS (ph. MLW, m.ob., acc.). Painted Bunting breeds locally in the I.C.P., but rarely remains into the fall. At a now-regular wintering site in Houston Co, a total of 4 birds (2 adult males, 2 female-types) were seen beginning 15 Oct (RS, BK), and an adult male brightened a feeder at Montgomery from 31 Oct (ph. DC). Locally rare in fall, a Dickcissel was noted in Lafayette Co, MS 24 Oct (GCK, AB).