This IBA is an archipelago of barrier beach islands in Coastal Alabama. The dominant habitats are barrier beach, dune, and remnant maritime forest.

Dauphin Island contains areas that are densely populated with residential properties (eastern end) and contains the archipelago's main population center. Most of the island lies at 0-3m (0-10 ft) in elevation, with the highest point located within a dune area along the island's south shore at approximately 5m (16 ft).

The island is one of the most popular birding destinations during spring migration, as many passerines crossing the Gulf of Mexico first encounter Dauphin Island where they descend to rest.

Little Dauphin Island, Cedar Island, Pelican Island and various other smaller ephemeral islands are uninhabited. Thes uninhabited islands are dynamic environments that are shaped and reconfigured by the various meteorological forcing mechanisms that operate in the Gulf of Mexico. The average elevation is a mere 0.3 - 0.6 m (1-2 ft) above sea level.

Ornithological Summary

The coastal beaches within the IBA include areas designated as critical habitat for wintering populations of the Piping plover (Little Dauphin Island). In fact much of the eastern side of Little Dauphin Island is preferred foraging and resting habitat for numerous shorebird species including sandpipers (various Calidris spp.) plovers (Wilson's, Snowy, Piping, and Pectoral), turnstones and various waterbirds as well such as gulls, terns, cormorants, and pelicans. Marbled Godwit and Red Knot are fairly regular in the Spring along the Island's eastern shore at Pelican Point.

Brackish wetlands and coastal ponds are important foraging sites for long-legged waders (Egrets - including Reddish Egret, Herons, Night-herons) and other shorebirds (Willets, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, both yellowleg species) and rails. Clapper Rail is reportedly common in the marshes surrounding the airport. Virginia Rail and Sora fairly common (but secretive) here during the fall and winter. Yellow Rail is very rare in winter. Black Rail is very rare as well and is a potential year round resident. Wintering Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows are also known to inhabit these brackish marshes within the IBA.

The maritime forests are especially important for neotropical migrants. Practically all vegetated areas during migration can be productive for migrant passerines. Spring migratory passerine stopover is more weather dependent. The greatest numbers of birds are seen during spring migration if and when "Fallouts" - migrating birds descending suddenly to land en-masse - occur. This happens when cold fronts moving southward bring northerly winds and rains causing difficult flying conditions for small birds. When birds encounter these fronts they descend to land and seek shelter in the available vegetation. It is not uncommon to locate 20 species of warbler in one day within some of the live oak dominated forest patches on the island.

In autumn, vegetated areas teem with warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, gnatcatchers, wrens, kinglets, mimic thrushes, tanagers, etc. which join together in mixed species flocks.

All this activity attracts the bird eating hawks with falcons (Peregrine Falcon, Merlin)occurring regularly along the beaches perusing shorebird flocks, and Accipiters perusing remnant maritime forest and oak hammocks for passerines.

The IBA is located within the ABC Bird Conservation Region No. 27 - Southeastern Coastal Plain. Some bird species with more southerly range distributions routinely occur within the IBA, especially after coastal storms. Examples include Magnificent Frigatebird, various Sulids (incl. Masked Booby) Reddish Egret and Sooty Terns.

Dauphin island is included on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. As a tourist destination, a portion of the local economy is built upon visiting birders and ornithological events. Popular destinations are the Shell Mounds, the Fishing Pier, and the Audubon Sanctuary.

Results of the Alabama Breeding Bird Atlas Project revealed that the area provides one of the few localities in the state where breeding was confirmed for Snowy Plover, Mottled Duck, Seaside Sparrow, and Reddish Egret.

Conservation Issues

Threats to the bird communities in this area (outside of the protected NWR lands) is continued development, sea level rise, and damage from high-intensity coastal storms, all of which cause dramatic changes to the land features and can result in the total elimination of representative habitats.

Additional significant threats include the potential for hurricane induced hazardous materials release, exotic species introduction/proliferation, and human disturbances associated with recreational activity.

Chinese Tallowtree is an invasive species that has invaded areas within the tertiary dune habitat. Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica) is an invasive gramminoid that has invaded from roadsides into the secondary dune habitat. The non-native invasive haplotype of the Common Reed (Phragmites australis) is of conservaiton concern as it has invaded many of the freshwater wetland systems within the IBA.

Ownership

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division manages a park known as the Shell Mound, which is a favorite birding destination on Dauphin Island. The US Fish and Wildlife Service Owns Little Dauphin Island which contains designated critical habitat (wintering) for the Piping Plover. A large portion of the Island is developed as a residential community with numerous private landowners.

Habitat

Herbaceous upland areas exist as frontal dune communities, or lawn areas. Dunes consisting predominantly of herbaceous vegetation are dominated by Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) Beach Grass (Panicum spp.) Sea Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), Coastal Bluestem (Schizachyrium maritimum) and Seacoast Marsh Elder (Iva imbricata). Herbaceous areas may be sparsely populated with Live oak.

Dune scrub and teritiary dune communities are typically characterized by Pinus clausa/Quercus geminata - Q. myrtifolia - Conradiina canescens associations in drier areas. The Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii)/Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) - Saw Plametto (Seronoa repens) - Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) association is prevalent in more mesic areas, while the P. elliottii/ Saltmeadow grass (Spartina patens) - Needlegrass Rush (Juncus roemerianus) - Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) association characterizes wetter areas within this community.

Forested areas exist as either oak hammocks (dominated by Live Oak and Southern Magnolia often with a shrub understory of myrtle oak, saw palmetto, yauppon, and blueberry) or Pine flatwoods characterized by stands of Slash pine or other Pinus spp., in association with one or more of the following: Saw Palmetto, holly spp. (Ilex glabra, I. coriacea), Sand Live Oak, Fetterbush Lyonia (Lyonia lucida), Swamp Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), or Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens) depending on soil drainage class.

Forested patches occur at the Shell Mound Park (Live Oak dominated) at the terminus of Iberville Street (north-central portion of the Island) and at the Audubon Sanctuary (Maritime pine forest) at the southeast corner of the island.

Land Use

The majority of the IBA is undeveloped coastal/barrier Island. A portion of the IBA (little Dauphin Island) is protected (owned and managed) by the USFWS as the Little Dauphin Island Unit of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Other protected areas for wildlife include the Audubon Sanctuary and the Salt Marsh within Penalver State Park.

Both state and municipal parks occur within the IBA providing multiple use recreation options to Island residents and visitors. A golf course located on Dauphin Island provides another source of recreation adjacent to the IBA but can also support throngs of shorebirds during migration and during rainy weather. The beaches of the south shore are subject to human pressures associated with swimming, boating, and other human activity.

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