Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Few Highlights From Last Weekend's Christmas Counts

Last weekend’s Christmas Bird Counts in Gaston County and Southern Lake Norman offered great birding weather, cold starts with gradual warmups through mid-afternoon, but I had to work pretty hard for everything I got. The numbers of birds just seem to be down so far this season. The activity in the brushy fields and thickets is a bit off.

That’s not to say there weren’t any highlights. Saturday in Gastonia I was surrounded by at least four American woodcock displaying at close range from 6:30 AM to about 7:00 AM. I even got to see some sitting on the ground in the beam of my flashlight. Later, an orange-crowned warbler and a palm warbler in a weedy field were nice finds. At Rankin Lake I found more red-headed woodpeckers than ever before; this is clearly a good year for that species.

I met some other birders for owling at 5:30 AM at the Davidson College campus on Sunday morning. A barred owl immediately let loose with a “hoo-aw” call, apparently startled by the slamming of a car door. An hour of playing playback of Eastern screech owl calls finally induced one of those little owls to answer. Well after sun-up a great horned-owl hooted twice to give us the owl trifecta at one spot.

But birding the rest of the morning was more challenging. I was happy to pick up two brown creepers and up to four pine warblers in a small flock but numbers were down. The same conditions continued at the Davidson Greenway where many species we usually find were just absent.

But there were some nice surprises as always. I mentioned the Cape May warbler yesterday. Other groups in other parts of the circle found seasonal rarities like common raven. greater yellowlegs, gray catbird, and rehead (a duck).

Redheads by John Ennis

Redheads are handsome ducks that are uncommon in our area in the winter.

Common Raven by Jeff Lemons

Common ravens are not so common here. There are a few pairs around here but they are infrequently seen.

Greater yellowlegs by John Ennis

Greater yellowlegs have usually moved out of the area by now.

Gray Catbird by Phil Fowler

Gray catbirds can persist in the western piedmont in years of mild weather, but generally move a bit east to the coastal areas.