When most people think about visiting Gulf Shores, Orange Beach or Fort Morgan, they think about a summer trip because school starts back in the fall. But 2020 has given us a whole new perspective on how school should look. Traditional classrooms and desks are being replaced with kitchens and dining tables and chalkboards with laptops. These days all you need is a laptop or tablet, a peaceful place to study and some Wi-Fi, right? Well then, why not spend at least part of your 2020 fall school year in South Baldwin County, Alabama? The Alabama Gulf Coast has so much to offer curious minds.
Here are five great virtual school science report topics for fall 2020:
Many of our traditional fall guests were disappointed to learn the Annual National Shrimp Festival was cancelled this year due to concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 virus spread in the large crowd. We urge you to come on down to the beach in October anyway to see a different kind of crowd: Monarchs. That’s right! They will be everywhere! Monarchs, as majestic as their name implies, by the thousands could be passing through our area. Often overlooked because of all the other fun things going on down here in October, this year the Monarchs can have the spotlight. Monarch butterflies, the ones with the pretty yellow, orange and black colorful wings, are migratory insects. They actually travel from the US to Mexico and back twice each year. Monarchs that reside in the Eastern parts of America during the spring and summer travel to Mexico in October to begin their winter season there. Our little part of the Alabama Gulf Coast just happens to be in the migratory path of some of these insects. As they pass through our area, thousands of them can be seen along Fort Morgan Road and all around our island. They spend their winter months in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. From Gulf Shores, by way of Interstate 10 West then south into Mexico, it’s about 1500 miles to these mountains where the Monarchs spend their winters. Because many of the butterflies spend their springs and summers along the East Coast of the US, their total trip can be as far as 3000 miles. These little guys fly three thousand miles just to hang out for a few months! According to the US Forest Service, the Monarchs follow the magnetic pull of the earth and notice the sun’s location in the sky for directions to their winter home. According to AL.com, these butterflies can be seen in South Alabama from late September through early October. What better science project than to write a report about the migration of these magnificent insects after seeing the migration first-hand?
Another great science report topic is to observe and write about ospreys. Ospreys, also called fish hawks, are sometimes mistaken for eagles. They are actually large raptors (we love that word: “raptors”) and they live along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Some of them migrate further south in the winter, while some choose to stay here with us. With their pretty brown wings and white bodies, they are easy to spot. As you travel around our island, look up at the tops of old dead trees or on special platforms that resemble power poles with little board floors nailed to the top of them. That’s where our local ospreys build their nests. These platforms can be seen from Fort Morgan to Orange Beach and all points in between. There are a few of these near Lake Shelby in Gulf State Park. Ospreys are amazing fish hunters and can often be seen soaring over Mobile Bay fishing. Their talons (or toes and toenails) are super sharp and so is their vision. Ospreys are protected animals and we are blessed to have so many around our little island home.
Alabama Beach Mice
The Alabama Beach Mouse is another protected animal who shares our island home with us. This nocturnal little mammal is covered with buff and white fur and he is almost camouflage against the dunes in which he lives. The Alabama Beach Mouse primarily feeds on seeds from sea oats and other coastal plants and small insects at night. The mouse is a tiny little guy, weighing less than about three nickels. You may catch a glimpse of them running in and out of dunes around your vacation home. But remember, the Alabama Beach Mouse is an endangered species and it is illegal to catch or kill them. Instead, they are fun to watch from a distance as they scurry along their little ways. The mouse is an important part of our coastal ecosystem. He makes his home among our sea oats which help hold our dunes in place. The Alabama Beach Mouse is the coastal cousin to most other field mice found in our state. Our tiny neighbor, however, makes his home exclusively from Ono Island in Orange Beach to Fort Morgan. We, at Sunset Properties, happen to think he has exquisite taste!
Three main types of sea turtles have been known to nest along our Alabama Gulf Coast. Loggerhead Sea Turtles seem to be the most common in our area, although Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles and Green Sea Turtles have also been seen. Another protected animal, we want you to know about these magnificent creatures, but urge you not to go near them. Mama Loggerhead turtles, who normally spend their days swimming, floating and hunting for crabs and shrimp (two of our supper favorites, too!) in the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico or one of our back bays, find their way onto our sandy white beaches to dig a hole and lay their eggs. Sea turtle nests can be found from May to October and there are ways to observe them without disturbing them. For more information on sea turtle conservation, follow this link to Share the Beach, a great group of folks who monitor sea turtles all year long. You might get invited to participate with the Share the Beach folks and help baby turtles find their way back to the Gulf. Doing this outside of a conservation group is a really bad idea. Damaging a sea turtle nesting site is not only illegal, it’s just mean. These turtle moms travel for miles across the Gulf and choose to lay their eggs along our Alabama Gulf Coast and we consider it a privilege they picked us. To disturb these baby turtles as they grow inside their shells and prepare for their journey back to the Gulf is something no local would ever do. Instead we work together to help them start their new lives safely.
The first four animals we listed are native, at least in part, to our area. Some are protected by law, and, although you can find some pretty great pictures of the areas in which they live, and maybe even catch a glimpse of one of them, it is not necessarily a good idea to handle them directly. The non-native Lemur, however, is a totally different option. Lemurs, as we all learned in the hilarious movie Madagascar, are natives to that African island and those surrounding Madagascar. However, our Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has a small lemur population and those little primates are super friendly and you can actually hold them, pet them and play with them. The word “lemur” is taken from the Latin word “lemure” which means ghost or spirit. Their little faces and white ringed tails give them the appearance of a spooky supernatural spirit being. They are, instead, quite social and fun to interact with, far from spooky! The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo offers a Lemur Encounter experience and we urge you to visit. Operating under CDC guidelines for social distancing, our Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is open and the Lemur Encounter is one you won’t want to miss. We cannot think of a better way to expertly submit a virtual report on lemurs than to have an actual visit with them. Be sure to contact the good folks at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo for times and specifics on your encounter, but don’t miss the opportunity while you’re visiting us this fall!
We, at Sunset Properties, know you were probably disappointed when you learned the Annual National Shrimp Festival was cancelled for October 2020. We were, too! But we want you to know that there is still plenty to see and do on our island home. So come on down, anyway. Instead of booking a short weekend trip, go ahead and pack up the virtual school supplies and come stay with us for a week! We have affordable fall pricing for families and vacation home options that range from one bedroom condos to luxury beach houses that sleep up to 20 people. Bring your small dog, too, and choose one of our fur baby friendly rentals. If you need more ideas for virtual school reports, check out our blog on Five Great Ways to Watch Dolphins Play. Dolphins always make great topics! We are looking forward to seeing you this fall and will help out your schoolers any way we can!