This month - A new online guide makes it easy for locals and visitors to enjoy one of the best winter birding sites in the country - our own Hancock County beaches!
Mississippi Birding Trail Goes Mobile
article by Ellis Anderson, photographs by P. Chris Christofferson
Each year, flocks of human and avian snowbirds head to the Mississippi coast seeking refuge from bitter northern weather. Both can be found basking on the beach on warmer days. Members of each variety can be frequently spotted enjoying vast quantities of our seafood. Yet, while it’s common knowledge that human snowbirds impact the regional economy, some might be surprised to learn about the enormous value of our feathered visitors, who boost our quality of life as well as local business. Ecologists and economists are often at odds, but the benefits of bird-watching is a subject that finds them in complete agreement - although for different reasons. Economists point to the fact that in 2006, birding had a total industry output of over $82 billion, in the U.S. alone. It’s become the fastest growing sport in the country, creating jobs, fostering eco-tourism and generating tax dollars.
Ecologists also appreciate the economic benefits of birding while pointing out that it creates habitat conservation awareness, enhances feelings of connectivity to the natural world and even improves our health.
Bald Eagle - Waveland Beach, photo by P. Chris Cristofferson Fortunately for both camps, Mississippi’s coastline provides a popular winter haven for northern bird species, especially shore birds. Tens of thousands make their way to our beachfronts, bays, and bayous each year.
Now, a remarkable online guide makes bird-watching along the Mississippi coast easy and exciting. Thanks to the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and its partners, the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail website brings together every imaginable resource to make a bird-watching experience enjoyable for both novice and veteran enthusiasts.
The six southernmost counties of Misssisppi are included in the birding trail. Each has its own trail map. Hancock County’s map boasts nine different prime birding areas, ranging from McLeod Water Park in Kiln to the Ansley Preserve, in the southwestern part of the county. The Beach Boulevard Scenic Byway, which runs 13 miles, features four different sites - all with easy access.
Each birding site has its own unique web page. Symbolic keys convey critical info, so birders can find out in advance if there are restaurants and lodging nearby, or if it’s possible to fish, swim, camp or launch a kayak at the site. GPS coordinates are given for worry-free way-finding. Well written text includes details about the location and hints to increase sightings. Snowy Egret - Waveland Beach, photo by P. Chris Christofferson The page also gives the times of year best for birding at that particular site and lists the most-sought after species that might be spotted there. The website’s menu also has a Most Sought Species page, which shows pictures of birds to help beginners with identification. Birding sites are even cross-referenced beneath the photos, so you know where to head if you’re seeking a particular bird.
Of course, the Cedar Point Boat launch in Bay St. Louis is a one of the primary sites. The birding trail website lists this spot as a year-round birding destination and most locals would agree. The Jourdan River feeds into the bay there, so it's long been a favorite place for wildlife watching. It’s common to see humans and herons fishing side by side on the seawall, relaxed companions for the day.
Three additional designated sites along the trail (in the part called the Hancock Beach Loop) are the Washington Street Pier (called the Clement Pier on this map), the Garfield Ladner Pier, and the Clermont Harbor Pier. Although the Garfield Ladner pier is currently being repaired (work should be completed in the spring), the parking area and beach walk still provide ample sighting opportunities. According to the website, the best time to view birds in these three areas is from September to March, so we’re in peak season now. Have a smart phone or tablet? Take it along for easy reference to the trail website after you arrive.
If you’ve never spent time “birding” before, you’ll soon learn what experienced bird-watchers know best: even if an “expedition” doesn’t turn up any exciting sightings, bird-watching provides yet another reason to spend time surrounded by our extraordinary coastal beauty.
If you’re new to birding, read our tips for beginning birders below. Also, novice and experienced birders are invited to participate in the national Christmas Bird Count held annually. Learn how to participate in our sidebar article!
Look for more articles here in the future as we explore the individual sites with Waveland wildlife photographer P. Chris Christofferson. You can find Chris’s work at Gallery 220 (220 Main Street) in Bay St. Louis.