Dauphin Island, Alabama, is famous for "fallouts" in
spring migration, but this is at best an uncommon event. Even active birders rarely
witness large precipitations of transients. Usually fallouts are associated with fronts
crossing the northern Gulf, but the timing of the systems is crucial. Even when rain (most
important) and north winds hit the coast during the day, if there is not a significant
movement of birds approaching that area, no fallout will occur.
looked good for such an event Tuesday, April 28. Skies in southern Mexico and northern
Central America, primary or secondary origins of many migrants, were fairly clear Monday
evening. A slow-moving, complex frontal system engaged the northern Gulf during the day
Tuesday, primed to ambush the unsuspecting trans-Gulf migrants. Heavy rain soaked the
Alabama coast beginning in mid-morning, and by late morning flocks of passerines appeared
at the Shell Mounds in the eastern part of the island. Venetia Friend and I birded this
excellent site for a time, observing parties of Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, and
various other species moving through the trees.
wind shift from southeast to north occurred just before noon. We decided to scout other
areas of the island to investigate what was obviously a fallout in progress. Just after
noon we headed toward the narrow, treeless West End. Driving down the main road revealed
waves of low-flying passerines moving east, most close to the shore of Mississippi Sound.
We wanted to intercept these birds, so positioned ourselves near the Sound at the western
terminus of the paved road, where the island is only a few hundred yards wide. For about
an hour, we stood directly in the current of exhausted migrants, the majority flying only
a few feet over the ground. Looking west with binoculars, you could see the waves
approaching like an invading force. Most were in small flocks of 5-50 birds, usually with
gaps of 10-15 seconds between parties. A few flocks were higher, about 200 feet in the
air, but most were flying directly by us as if we were invisible. These birds were
concerned only with moving to an area of safety and food, and a couple of soggy,
wind-blown birders perched on sand dunes didnt seem too much of a threat.
were difficult to determine, but we estimated a minimum of 50-100 birds per minute
over the course of that hour. This equates to 3000-6000 birds in an hour, but I stress the
conservative nature of this estimate; the real total could have been higher. Regardless of
the true number, the thrill was being literally immersed in this torrent of birds.
To have Eastern Kingbirds, thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, warblers, Scarlet and Summer
tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and Bobolinks streaming past on both
sides, often within a few feet, was an exhilarating experience. Ive stood in such a
river of transients on the west end of Dauphin previously, but it had been many years
since I enjoyed such an event.
identification of most of the birds was possible, usually without binoculars due to the
slow flight and close flybys. At least half were Red-eyed Vireos, with Scarlet Tanagers,
Eastern Kingbirds, and Indigo Buntings taking the next three positions (in that order);
interestingly, the first three winter entirely or primarily in South America. Warblers
comprised only a minor component, with small numbers and only nine species identified;
still, to see that many warblers in a grassy field was remarkable.
after about an hour, as I needed to pick up my (temporarily neglected!) wife back at the
motel. When we returned about 30 minutes later, the event was over. The birds appeared to
disperse widely over the island, especially populating the heavily-wooded Bird Sanctuary
near the East End. Many may have continued east to Ft. Morgan, as I heard reports of large
flocks moving through the Stables woods there, most without halting.
cant wait for the next fallout, and know where to stand when it happens!