- Full Itinerary
- Photo Gallery
- Travel Details
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
Join us to learn about shorebirds and terns on Dauphin Island, one of North America’s top birding destinations, on this spring beach bird workshop and spring migrant tour. We spend time on the beach to see and learn both shorebirds and terns in the field, as well as a couple of classroom sessions to add more depth to our identification skills. Shorebirds and terns are in breeding plumage, helping us to distinguish between similar species. Songbird migration is already underway, and we also look for these in Dauphin Island’s famous migration hotspots.
Beach birds on the island include American Oystercatcher, all three peeps—a great opportunity for learning—Ruddy Turnstone, Piping, Snowy, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, the latter sporting their breeding plumage black bellies, up to eight species of terns, Black Skimmer, Reddish Egret, and others. Songbirds can include Hooded, Kentucky, and Cerulean Warblers, Olive-sided, Acadian and Great-crested Flycatchers, Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks, and many others.
Indulge on fresh seafood and visit several prime birding spots, hand-picked by your local guide. Cruise the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, aptly called America’s Amazon, at the start of the American Lotus blooming season. Both Common and Purple Gallinules take advantage of these extensive wading platforms.
- Enjoy beach bird workshops both in the field and in a classroom setting with guide Andrew Haffenden, who has been studying these birds on Dauphin Island for both novel, easier ID methods, and to track the movements of banded plovers for over nine years
- Spot up to eight species of tern, including the often confusing juveniles, Black Skimmers, Reddish Egret, four species of plovers, Summer Tanager, several vireos, orioles, and Indigo Bunting
- Explore the Dauphin Island Sea Lab
- Embark an eco-boat swamp cruise of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and see Bald Eagle, American Alligator, Osprey, gallinules, herons and Prothonotary Warbler
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Tues., Apr. 23 : Arrive in Mobile | Travel to Dauphin Island
Welcome to Alabama! As our journey begins, you quickly realize why April is the perfect time to be on Dauphin Island. On the way down to the Dauphin Island, we make a quick stop for snacks and supplies, and check a small Winged Pitcher Plant bog. Once on Dauphin we check in and then go out birding for spring migrants and local residents.
Accommodations for the week at Gulf Breeze Motel or similar, Dauphin Island (D)
Wed., Apr. 24: Dauphin Island
This morning we hit the beach early, before many beachgoers head out. Although Dauphin Island is well known for Neotropical migrants, Dauphin offers a wide variety of beach birds, including Reddish Egret; Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers; Snowy, Piping, Semipalmated, Wilson’s, and Black-bellied Plovers; both Eastern and Western Willets; Short-billed Dowitchers; American Oystercatcher; Ruddy Turnstone; and up to eight species of terns, including the smallest, Least, and the largest, Caspian. After lunch, during the heat of the day, we do an indoor workshop, using photos to go over what we saw this morning and more to reinforce our field session. There is plenty of time for questions, and we can follow up on any difficulties that our field session brought out. Later in the afternoon we check some of the island hotspots for migrants. Since we’re on the Gulf, seafood is popular for dinner tonight—and if experience counts, other nights as well! (B,L,D)
Thurs., Apr. 25 : Dauphin Island
Today we start early, looking for migrants at the Shell Mounds, then move to the beach for what is largely a repeat of yesterday, weather allowing, which we always monitor and change the itinerary around as necessary. Something we look for each day is banded birds, especially and most likely banded plovers. Dauphin Island is an important wintering ground for Piping Plover—important enough for the island to be declared a Globally Important Bird Area by Birdlife International—and we check each one we see for the tell-tale color bands some wear. Over the last nine years your guide Andrew has been doing just this, and has been relaying resights to the banders in the Great Plains, Canada, and Great Lakes. So depending on who we see we both add ongoing information to the database, and Andrew can also tell us where the bird was banded and when—unless it’s a new one, when banding locality is all we can tell until the bander is contacted. We also look for banded Snowy Plover, which breed both on Dauphin and across the bay as well, and any other banded birds, of which a number of species have been recorded here. We test out our new ID knowledge on the shorebirds, and then spend time on the terns as well. We pay special attention to juvenile terns, which with their varying plumages at this age can be very confusing. One of the wonderful things about Dauphin Island is how close we can usually get to both the shorebirds and the terns. The tides are good for us every day, with no very low tides revealing shoals offshore, where birds like to roost, so they should be on the main beach area. After lunch we once again do some indoor workshopping, especially on terns, then spend the late afternoon looking for migrants. (B,L,D)
Fri., Apr. 26 : Mobile-Tensaw Delta
This morning we head off island for a private small boat tour of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is Mobile’s greatest biological jewel, and an area many think deserves National Park status; it is increasingly referred to Alabama’s Amazon. We float through the open marsh, watching for a variety of wildlife, including American Alligator, Bald Eagle, Osprey, herons, cormorants, both Common and Purple Gallinules, Least Bittern and Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, and others. The aquatic vegetation also amazes us; American Lotus can blanket parts of the Delta at times. Our boat guide, Ben Raines, knows the area intimately, and has produced both an award-winning video and a book about it. We enjoy a late-ish lunch, then return to the island for late afternoon birding. (B,L,D)
Sat., Apr. 27 : Dauphin Island
This morning’s activity depend on the last few days—what we’ve covered and what participants feel is most useful and enjoyable for them. Most likely though we start at the tiny airport, in search of accommodating Clapper Rail, if we haven’t already been here and had good views one evening. We may be able to entice a Seaside Sparrow to pop up and show itself. We do also expect to spend some time on the beach, especially to reinforce our knowledge of the terns. After lunch we visit the Estuarium. Part of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, the Estuarium is an exciting and educational aquarium, highlighting the four key habitats of coastal Alabama: The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands, and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The Estuarium showcases the plants, animals, and other natural resources found in the estuary and its surrounding marine habitats. There are exhibits with tanks of unusual ocean creatures, including tiny seahorses, skeletons in touch trays, eggs, and more. There’s even a touch tank with rays and sharks. (B,L,D)
Sun., Apr. 28 : Dauphin Island | Mobile Airport
Today we depart from the island, but check key spots for final birding before heading to the airport. Early afternoon flights are best, allowing for more time this morning. Please plan flights out after NOON. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $2290 DBL / $2690 SGL per person, based on double occupancy, from Mobile, Alabama. Cost includes five nights’ accommodations; all meals as stated in the itinerary; group airport transfers; ground transportation; professional guide services; park, preserve, and other activity fees; and miscellaneous program expenses. Tour price does not include: roundtrip airfare to and from Mobile, Alabama, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, porterage, telephone charges, or alcoholic beverages.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: MOB / Mobile Regional Airport
Arrive: Please plan flights to arrive April 23, 2024 by 2:00 PM.
Depart: Please plan flights to depart April 28, 2024 after 11:30 AM.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
Andrew has birded all the southern coastal states, from South Carolina to Texas, and more diverse states and habitats from the mossy rainforests and mountains of Washington to the conifers and bogs of Minnesota to the winter seabirds of New York's Long Island. The dry and desert states of the Southwest have been favorites of Andrew's, from the furthest southwest point in the US to the high mountains and plains of Northern Colorado. Further afield, numerous visits to Mexico, 25+ trips to Central America and 17+ trips to northern South America including Guyana has enabled Andrew to become familiar with the birds of those regions. Some 15 tours to Greater Antilles places him in the top 20 eBirded species in the Greater Antilles. Andrew’s also birded and led tours to several other Caribbean Islands. In addition to Dauphin Island he also leads Naturalist Journeys tours in the Southeast US and Central/Southe America. His many trips to Southeast Asia, and of course a lifetime of experience in Australia and New Zealand round out his wildlife experiences.
Photo credit: Peg Abbott
Other trips with Andrew Haffenden
Christmas in Costa Rica Full! Take a look at our July Costa Rica tour!December 20 - 28, 2023
Best of Belize Full! Check out our Best of Belize tour in FebruaryJanuary 13 - 21, 2024
Best of Guatemala: Birding & Culture Three Great LodgesMarch 12 - 22, 2024, w/Tikal extension
Alabama’s Dauphin Island FULL - Check out Shorebird School on Alabama’s Dauphin IslandApril 13 - 18, 2024
Belize: Green SeasonJuly 20 - 27, 2024
Georgia Coastal Birding Little St. Simons Island & SavannahSeptember 27 - October 4, 2024
Guyana: Unspoiled WildernessOctober 4 - 16, 2024
- Christmas in Costa Rica
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Please talk with your doctor about general health needs. It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about general vaccinations recommended for travel.
- Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed. After you make travel reservations, please send a copy of your travel itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Remember to pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
We will share a copy of your health and emergency contact information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important in case of a medical emergency. In addition to bringing any prescription medications with you, we recommend that you have a copy of the prescriptions in case of loss.
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Food & Drink
We carry water and juices/cold drinks in the cooler each day, and sodas if people like them. Please also plan on bringing and filling your water bottle for hiking each day. We try to use as few plastics as possible!
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Please pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Dress is informal and is casual even at restaurants. Layering is a great way to stay comfortable. Protective clothing is essential, whether it be from from sun, rain, cold, insects, or vegetation. You need closed toe shoes, and we comfortable walking shoes with good tread. Hiking boots with good support for hiking and on rocky terrain can work well.
Many people ask how much to plan to bring as spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Most shops will take VISA and MasterCard or American Express. Typical items people purchase include local souvenirs and T-shirts, caps, and natural history books. You may want to bring cash for drinks with dinner (if available) or smaller local purchases.
Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this amount can be split among them.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
Wi-Fi and cell phone service are available in most US destinations, although there are some exceptions in remote locations. Wi-Fi is generally provided in all hotels, lodges, and restaurants you visit, at least in public areas. Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency as this disrupts other guests – please plan cell phone calls on your own time.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask all attendees to please rotate your seating, so you ride with different drivers and alternate between front and back seats.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives permission to record photos and/or video of your participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochures, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please Pack Light!
Soft luggage is easier for us to pack than a rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. The trip is informal and the weather fine – no need to pack heavily this time of year.
Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. Your carry-on bag must be able to fit under the seat or it will be taken away by airline staff and put with the regular luggage. You will want a daypack for field trips, so this is the ideal carry-on.
We recommend that you double check with your airline a week or so before departure to verify luggage size and weight restrictions. A reminder, keep your EMERGENCY CONTACT list with your airline tickets – just in case!
In general, the weather during your stay will likely include days in the 70's and nights in the 60’s. Rain is always possible.
Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing; they protect you from sun, insects, and vegetation. Quick-dry fabrics are ideal, and you may wish to spray your field outerwear with Permethrin beforehand or try bug repellent clothing such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. If you like to wear them, by all means bring some shorts.
Choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty and that is comfortable and easy to wear. Layering is your best strategy for comfort. While closed toed shoes and hiking boots are ideal for our fieldwork, a pair of sandals will be most welcome for travel days and evenings.
Clothing and Gear
- Long pants, 2-3 pair. One of these might be rain pants you wear over long underwear or tights. Quick dry hiking pants work well if you plan to do hand laundry
- Shorts (optional)
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirts, 2-3 (Loose fitting keeps you cool.)
- T-shirts, short-sleeved shirts or equivalent, 4-5
- Casual clothing for travel days and evenings
- Personal underclothing and pajamas
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry (Long enough to tuck your pants into, to help protect from chiggers)
- Comfortable walking/hiking shoes such as tennis shoes
- Lightweight hiking boots
- Comfortable sandals or light shoes for evenings, travel days (Crocs work well)
- Lightweight fleece jacket or sweater for early morning walks
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bandana (optional, great for cooling off when you are hot and sweaty)
- Equipment and Miscellaneous
- E-ticket confirmation (make a copy to keep in a separate location)
- Personal identification
- Small daypack or fanny pack to carry gear while hiking (essential!)
- Walking sticks (optional)
- Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries in good working order Bring extra batteries, just in case!
- Alarm clock (or use your cell phone)
- Sunscreen/lip balm
- Insect Repellent (containing DEET)
- Toiletry articles
- Earplugs if you are noise sensitive
- Binoculars (a hotel shower cap is great to cover these when it is raining)
- Spotting scope (optional). Guides will have a scope to share, but feel free to bring your own.
- Camera and extra battery, memory card, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual. Do a good check before leaving. (optional)
- Water bottle (or plan to reuse our store-bought water bottle if prefer)
- Gallon-size ziplock bags for keeping things dry
- Laundry soap for hand washing, travel sewing kit
- Notebook and pen or journal (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing, and your mind will be at ease!
Medical and First Aid Items
- Personal medication
- Copy of eyeglass and medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed in vans or boat
- Personal first aid kit including medications for general and stomach ailments
- Band-Aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Foot powder, lotions for dry skin, general “comfort” items
- Small bottle of hand sanitizer
- Insurance information
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
Suggested Reading List +
The following are a few titles that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. You can download it here.
History & Culture
Your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
Dauphin Island – Sunset Capital of Alabama
Overview - Mobile, Alabama
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Article about Gulf Migration – Article by AL.com
Bird Watching at Dauphin Island – The Spring Migration” – Article by Courier Journal
Alabama Audubon Society
Alabama Ornithological Society
Alabama Birding Trail
Dauphin Island Wildlife – Facebook Page
Alabama’s Piping Plover
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Outdoor Alabama: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Dauphin Island Sea Lab - Alabama Aquarium
Geology & Geography
Geography of Dauphin Island
Geology of Alabama
History & Culture
Dauphin Island’s History
Native American History of Dauphin Island
Film trailer about Native American history on Dauphin Island - you may choose to explore!
Helpful Travel Websites
Mobile Regional Airport (MOB)
Homeland Security Real ID Act
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Time and Date
Photo credits: Banners: Group Birding, Peg Abbott; Black Skimmer, Carlos Sanchez; Snowy Egrets by Noel Snyder; Terns, NJ Stock; Group Birding Dauphin Island Beach by Peg Abbott; American Alligator, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Semipalmated Plover, NJ Stock; Birding Dauphin Island Beach by Peg Abbott; White-topped Pitcher Plants by Peg Abbott; Alabama Group, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Tricolored Heron, Carlos Sanchez; Willet, Carlos Sanchez; Great Egret, Carlos Sanchez; Rudy Turnstone, Carlos Sanchez; Gull, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Birding Group x3, Peg Abbott; Mobile Delta, Peg Abbott.