The 26 miles of sand beaches of Harrison County were artificially constructed for human recreation but the combination of rock jetties and sand beach offer prime habitat for a variety of shorebirds and water birds in migration and winter. This trail loop consists of six sites accessible from U.S. Highway 90. Portions of this loop that support nesting colonies of Least Tern and Black Skimmer are recognized by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Areas (IBA). The best way to access the beach-side locations is by traveling west to east in order to take advantage of the key stopping points without having to make numerous U-turns across this divided highway. The included GPS waypoints mark sites with amenities but there are additional pull-outs all along the road.
During migration and winter try to time your visit to the first few hours of a falling tide when shorebirds concentrating on the freshly exposed mudflats are still within close viewing range but waters are still deep enough for ducks, loons, grebes, gulls and terns to feed fairly close to shore. Click on the Icon above for complete tide information across the coast. Pay particular attention to curves and embayments in the shoreline where shorebirds tend to concentrate and remember to scan the rock jetties: the preferred habitat of American Oystercatcher and the very rare Purple Sandpiper. A sampling of other key species that might be found in the time frame noted include Long-tailed Duck, all three scoters, Snowy, Piping and Wilson’s Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, and Royal Tern. During migration watch for Reddish Egret, Franklin’s Gull (fall only) and Gull-billed Tern. Summers, at least from the birding point-of-view, are much quieter but the famous colonies of Least Terns and Black Skimmers are certainly worth seeing: Look for the signs designating nesting areas, but please observe the colonies from the seawall and do not disturb the nesting area by walking through it. Allow these birds to Nest in Peace!