We took the short drive just across the Mississippi state line to the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. My idea was to get a little change of scenery. This is an 18,000 acre reserve and is one of the largest undisturbed estuarine marsh/pine savanna habitats remaining along the Northern Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Upon arriving at the reserve, we stopped at the headquarters to inquire about maps or information. The most striking bit of information that I found was a dry-erase board on the wall at the desk. It listed “sightings.” There was quite a list, including multiple eagle sightings, white ibis, deer, wild turkey and even manatee seen back in May! I immediately had to get my bird book out to find out what Ibis look like! (If you don’t know what an Ibis is, you should look it up; it’s quite the “looker”).
We launched at the boat-ramp, where every tree I saw looked like it was five miles away. My first thought was Montana, oddly enough, because the sky seemed to go on forever and so did the grass. The clouds were high, transparent shaped by the winds. It was a spectacular sight.
Grand Bay would definitely be a place to avoid if there are any substantial winds, because there is absolutely no protection out there. It’s a classic salt-marsh, just like you would think of seeing in Louisiana. The aroma of salt is strong and a steady littering of oyster shells was present from beginning to end. Shrimp were skipping at every inlet, Mullet were plentiful and Redfish (Red Drum) were sighted with very little effort. The water was clear and clean. It is obvious why estuaries are so important to our seafood industry. These nutrient rich waters and habitats serve as nursery and breeding grounds for many of the species that end up as table fare.
I am no bird expert, but after seeing the list on the dry-erase board in the research office, I must say I was anticipating some good experiences. I was able to identify a blue heron immediately (well, it was Bayou Heron, so that one was a “Gimmie”). I saw a SPECTACULAR display from not one, but three Great Egrets. First, we were able to watch one wading and scanning the waters for lunch, and then taking to the air only to join another in a small inlet just yards away. Two Willets (a new species to my experiences) worked a shore line and an oyster covered sunken boat, while a smaller Least Sandpiper scurried around between them. Multiple Belted Kingfishers buzzed around and some unidentified tiny shorebirds worked the exposed grass lines during low tide.
The silence is as big as the sky in the marsh, only occasionally disturbed by hidden birds calling from the grasses, jumping fish and an occasional aircraft or boat. We encountered six boats while we were on the water. Every boater passing us was kind enough to slow to idle speed. The only complaint that I would have about the entire trip, was that there were some very hungry gnats that came to dinner around 2:30 p.m., and apparently they use bug spray as a condiment! I have to say, I was a little disappointed that I did not see a White Ibis. However, if I see one from now on I will know what it is and will be sure to tell you about it.
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You can schedule your own Kayak adventure with us by visiting our website @ www.alabamakayakadventures.com
You can learn more about the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve here http://grandbaynerr.org/.
video from the adventure: http://www.youtube.com/user/thekayakcaptain?feature=mhum
Pictures provided by Michelle Rolls Thomas & www.MRTImages.com