Gumbo Cook-off

Dauphin Island’s Gumbo Cook-off was today and that’s were we ate lunch. You can’t beat the price, only $10 in advance and you could order tickets online.  Lunch is all-you-can-eat as long as it’s available and you don’t mind standing in multiple lines for it. 

We tried almost all of them; almost all because some vendors ran out early. I was told the event was bigger than the planners expected.

Here is my description of the choices we sampled: a gumbo that was very soupy (the shrimp I had were mushy); a tomato-soupish gumbo with fish and rice (I didn’t get a shrimp in that sample); a gumbo that was more like shrimp and rice in butter sauce; a shrimp and rice gumbo with a perfect roux (my winning pick); one that was too spicy to eat; and a seafood mixture with a bland roux. Most were really good and there was definitely a variety. 

The winners will be in the paper tomorrow so I’ll wait until then to post my winning pick. I simply forgot the name of the vendor so I’ll have to look at the list.

Alton Brown was the guest for the event. He was to do a meet-and-greet around 3pm and then go have dinner with some VIPs (including my husband). We didn’t stick around. My oldest son is not a fan of gumbo so he held out for lunch on the way home: Chic-Fil-A.  My youngest was disappointed he couldn’t get to meet Alton Brown. He’s the food nerd in our house and a big fan of Mr. Brown.

Check out my husband’s article on the Gumbo Cook-off in the next issue of Alabama Coasting Magazine. 

The day was wonderful; sunshine, perfect temperatures, not too humid.  If you didn’t make it this year, I suggest you put it on your calendar for next year.

Spring Migration Festivals

I can’t decide what I like best: Spring migration or Fall migration.  Living on the Gulf Coast, it sort of doesn’t matter because we’re never without birds.  When the Robins leave the far north of America and Canada, they winter here.  We know it’s spring when they leave.  Warblers fly in on stormy Fall weather for a brief stay before heading south across the Gulf of Mexico.  But they pass through again in the Spring.  Hummingbirds  cross our area north and south and also west and east.  Shorebirds are bountiful in the winter along the Southern coast.  That’s probably my favorite time in Florida for birdwatching.

Birding Festivals bring in a lot of economic power to communities that hold them.  Birding Tourism is counted on in many areas of our country and not just along the Gulf Coast, but I’m partial to the Gulf Coast so want to spread the news about upcoming bird festivals from Texas to the Florida Keys.

The weekend of April 7 brings festivals to two towns along Coastal Texas.  First is the Galveston Featherfest.  They’re hosting a family festival, field trips, seminars and a “photofest” for photographers.  Check out the details at www.galvestonfeatherfest.com.  That same weekend is the Tip o’ Texas Birding Weekend on South Padre Island.  This event features a Warbler Walk, Shorebird Walk and Workshop and some other presentations.  Both  events sound great; it’s a hard choice if you can only make just one.  Here are the details on the Tip o’ Texas: www.spibirding.com.

Head over to Louisiana for some more birding action.  St. Francisville, LA has been host to the Audubon Country Bird Fest the end of March.  They took off for 2010 but promise to be back in 2011.  Their website is www.audubonbirdfest.com.  Stay in touch for this year’s dates and events. 

April 15 to 17th you can join in the events at the Great Louisiana Birdfest.  It features tours, night birding, a photo workshop, socials and other field trips.  Seems to me it’s a premier festival; you might see me there.  Information is a click away at www.northlakenature.org

The Grand Isle Migratory Bird Fest is scheduled for the weekend of April 15.  There are plenty of family activities, workshops, and field trips.  They’ll have bird banding, a class on binoculars and spotting scopes, a trip to the butterfly dome and an art exhibit.  There’s more but I’ll let you check it out at http://www.btnep.org/subsites/grandisle/grandislehome.aspx.   And in the Fall in Louisiana, you’ll find Hummingbird and Butterfly Festivals in Folsom and Lafayette.

Mississippi is home to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR.  In the past the NWR has hosted a Crane Fest in May but I didn’t see it listed this year.  See if you can do a little hunting for this one and let me know.  I’d hate to know there is not a birding fest in coastal Mississippi.  It’s so beautiful there.  There is a Pascagoula River Nature Fest which has a tour of the  White Ibis and Heron Rookery on Tuesday, April 12th from 9am to noon.  This Rookery is believed to be the largest colonial nesting site in Mississippi.  You’ll have to call for a reservation and seating is limited.  That number is 228.475.0825.

Alabama has it’s Coastal Bird Fest in October, however, the state is host to other events in the Spring.  Among these are the bird banding at Ft. Morgan.  This year it is scheduled from April 2-14.  There are usually two locations for banding at this site.  It’s lots of fun.  Last Fall, I was able to hold a bird and release it after it was banded; so sweet.  If you get the opportunity to go, please do so.  Then head to the beach.  Just outside the entrance to Ft. Morgan is a road to the beach.  It’s a little rickety; try to keep two wheels on the asphalt and you’ll be fine.  There are a ton of other entrances to the beach and of course, there’s Gulf Shores.  The beach is beautiful there.

Now, for Florida.  This state is so large and filled with coast that it’s going to be hard to list all the festivals that take place there in my little blog.  So, I’m going to point you to a website that lists them.  I really don’t know if it lists them all but it’s good place to start for your birding activities this spring.  http://www.nsis.org/bird/news/annualevents.html

Don’t forget your birding trail maps and guides in each state.  If you’re driving, you can usually get a copy at each state’s Welcome Centers along the interstate.  In TX it’s called the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, Louisiana calls theirs America’s Wetland Birding Trail.  You’ll also find the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail, Alabama Gulf Coast Birding Trail, and the Great Florida Birding Trail which is so extensive it’s available in regional maps.  You can find information about them all on the internet; but if you don’t travel with an iPad you’ll want to stop and pick up these maps.

Happy Birding!

International Migratory Bird Day is always the second weekend in May.  This is a day to celebrate, well, bird migration!  Bird Day is celebrated in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South American and the Caribbean.  There is so much information about it you should just go to the website: www.birdday.org.

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We just had a front come through; I think the whole country did.  It’s gone from really summer-like to chilly in a day.  I hate when that happens.  I did bring all of the plants that weren’t in the ground, into the house for the night.  Compared to outside, it’s a definite hot house.  The oven did a great job warming up the place from dinner.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow;  a quiet Monday.  Enjoy yours.

Mardi Gras

The Mardi Gras season is hitting both its high note and end note along the Gulf Coast. Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras, yet the biggest celebrations are held in New Orleans. Perhaps the city lends itself to more of a party atmosphere than Mobile, but Mobile does its share of celebrating. You can check out the schedule at this link: http://www.marriott.com/hotelwebsites/us/m/mobbr/mobbr_pdf/MG_routesched2011.pdf

You can find New Orleans’ parades here: http://www.mardigrasparadeschedule.com/

Mardi Gras is celebrated all along the Gulf Coast.  The farthest east I could find a current schedule of events is Destin, FL although I read a history of Mardi Gras in Apalachicola.  They stopped their festivities in the early 1900’s.  The farthest west the Mardi Gras is celebrated is Galveston, TX.  We went to a parade there in 2007.  It wasn’t planned.  My husband was working in Houston then and we spent some time day-tripping.  Galveston was a cool town.  We haven’t returned since Hurricane Ike.  I’d like to see it again.

The schools and businesses along the Gulf Coast close for the long week (Friday through Tuesday, usually) returning on Wednesday. It’s hard to get to work or school if you’re on a parade line so basically whole municipalities and local businesses shut down. 

Since we homeschool, it doesn’t affect us. My husband works at home that day, the boys keep on learning and I do what I do.  Most families that get this holiday take this opportunity to take a short trip out-of-town away from the crowds, but we’re staying here this year.  Our big vacation is in the summer.

Parades can be fun but if you do them too often they’re no longer that exciting.   The Gulf Coast does host a parade for just about everything: schools, most holidays, the entire Mardi Gras season just to name a few.  My 4H club participates in a Christmas parade.  Every small town has one so if you’re really addicted to beads, candy and other throwables you can hit several in one weekend; like Mardi Gras. 

How many beads can a person own?  Don’t know but I’d like to meet the person that claims to have the largest collection of Mardi Gras beads caught at parades throughout his or her lifetime.  We went to a few parades, years ago when we first moved to the Gulf Coast, so I have my beads saved.  They fill a shoe box.  They’ve moved from Alabama, through 5 other states and back.  I don’t know why.

Enjoy the Mardi Gras season, if you desire.  If not, take this time and enjoy what you enjoy.