An Insider’s Guide to the Alabama Coastal Birdfest

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Stephanie Pluscht
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The Alabama Gulf Coast plays host to remarkably diverse wildlife and plant life, with its black water rivers, dark and mysterious swamps and bayous, and sparkling Gulf beaches that are outlined with maritime wetlands and forests. This rich collection of wild areas attracts hundreds of species of birds, and the Audubon Society has designated the Gulf Coast as one of the most globally important birding habitats in the world.

So, it’s no surprise that one of the largest festivals for birders in the state is held right on the Gulf Coast. The Annual John L. Borom Alabama Coastal BirdFest will be held for the 15th year October 3-6, and we’ve put together a quick guide to help you make the most of the event.

It’s Not Just for the Birds

One thing to keep in mind is that the BirdFest is not just about birding. In fact, the event is referred to as a “birding and nature festival.” Throughout the four-day event, participants will not only be treated to classroom presentations on the hobby of birding—with plenty of opportunities to get out and check off a few new species from their list—but they’ll also have plenty of chances to view other wildlife. You can take excursions to see alligators lurking in the delta, dolphins playing in the Gulf, or view some of the rare and endangered plants that find the subtropical climate to their liking.

Something for the Backyard Birder or Hardcore Enthusiast

Whether you’re an advanced birder, a beginner, or you just love the outdoors, there is truly something for you to enjoy at the Alabama Coastal BirdFest. The outings and presentations are set up with one goal in mind—to make the hobby more enjoyable for everyone.

Classroom presentations throughout the weekend run the gamut, from birding basics for newcomers to lessons on creating a thriving hummingbird oasis to more advanced birding classes. If you’re into photography, there will be a digital camera basics class and an advanced class on nature photography.

While most of the events have an admission fee, everyone is invited to the free Bird & Conservation Expo on Saturday, October 6. This is a family friendly event held on the campus of Coastal Community College (formerly Faulkner State College) in Fairhope and features exhibits, raptor and snake shows, and plenty of kids’ activities.

For the Adventurer in All of Us

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BirdFest includes many guided outings to observe birds and other wildlife. Stephanie Pluscht

The schedule this year includes some interesting outings for those of you who want to mix a little adventure with your bird watching.

There will be at least four kayak trips, including outings to explore the bays and waterways near the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores and paddle among playful bottlenose dolphins. As you paddle Graham Creek into Wolf Bay, you might spy raptors gracefully soaring above. In the Mobile-Tensaw Delta you’ll paddle silently through the marsh grass in search of alligators, osprey, and nutria. Your paddle through the delta is followed up with a good old-fashioned Low Country Shrimp Boil.

Be sure to bring along your hiking boots for a combination hike and cruise to explore the rich history, flora, and fauna of Blakeley Historic State Park, the site of the last major battle of the Civil War. You’ll walk a portion of the park’s 16 miles of trails, and then climb aboard the Delta Explorer for a cruise to learn about the naval campaign of that historic battle.

Just Cruisin’

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Join a Dauphin Island Sea Lab cruise to view wildlife and learn about the history and ecology of the Gulf’s barrier islands. Maureen

Speaking of cruises, there are plenty to choose from throughout the four-day event. The most popular is the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) research vessel Discovery Cruise and the Delta Sunset Cruise.

The Delta Sunset Cruise is simply spectacular. After moving through the open marshes of the delta with the eyes of alligators watching your every move, you’ll enjoy a beautiful sunset over the city of Mobile and the delta.

The DISL Discovery Cruise is a 3-hour trip out into the Gulf of Mexico where you’ll see dolphins, view the historic Sand Island Lighthouse, learn the history and ecology of the Gulf’s barrier islands, and even view specimens from the deep caught in a trawl net.

Before You Go

Keep in mind that the Alabama Coastal BirdFest is very popular. Trips and presentations are filled in the order they are received, and many limit the number of participants. Visit the Birdfest schedule online, pick the events you want to attend, and get your tickets as early as possible to insure you can participate. Ticket sales are open now through September 21, and each event is individually priced, except for the Bird & Conservation Expo which is free.

For bus, boat, or paddle trips, arrive at the 5 Rivers Delta Center at least 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time. Some outings include lunch, but you should read the schedule carefully to see if you should pack one yourself. (Safety gear and kayaks are provided for kayak trips.)

Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.

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