Monday, January 12, 2015

Weather Changes Bring Bird Changes

The Arctic blast that come into the area last week brought overnight changes to the avifauna at both the state and local level. Prior to the weather change, the generally mild and benign conditions had resulted in many birds lingering farther north or west than usual. Blue-gray gnatcatchers, a species I have seen but three times in Mecklenburg County in the winter, were found on two local Christmas Counts. The same goes for black and white warblers, found on two local counts. Waterfowl numbers had been pretty low with no really rare ducks showing up.

At the state level the winter had been notable only for there being no big rarities reported. Wintering hummingbirds are also down in number for unknown reasons.
By Thursday January eighth that all changed. Brutally cold and nasty weather to our north pushed birds into the southeast. Local eight degree temperatures flushed birds out of the frozen shallow marshes to more open environs. Birders checking Lake Davidson found three common mergansers, a pretty rare northern duck around here. With them were canvasback, greater scaup, and over 200 mallards. A white-winged scoter was found on Lake Norman, and I received a report of more gulls than usual on Mountain Island Lake.

The changes were not limited to water birds either. Feeder watchers reported Baltimore orioles at their offerings for the first time this season. Statewide, hummingbirds began appearing at feeders where absent before. I’ll bet many of you noticed a marked difference at your feeders after the blast. Always remember; unusual cold or winter precipitation drives birds from the woods to the feeders.

Even birders out in the field noticed changes. The numbers of reported rarities increased as the cold got the birds more active and moving around searching for food, water, and warmth.

So, for the feeder watchers out there; keep an eye open for new and unusual arrivals. Refresh your hummingbird feeders even if you haven’t seen any so far. And most importantly, remember to provide water for all birds in temperatures well below freezing.   

Below are some duck species that generally do not show up in our area unless there is unusually cold weather that freezes open water to our north. All of these species were found recently at Lake Norman.

Canvasback by Cathy miller

Greater Scaup by John Ennis

White-winged Scoter by Phil Fowler