Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights of the Charlotte CBC

There were lots of highlights from the Charlotte Christmas Bird Count conducted last Saturday, so many in fact that the final count resulted in a record-high species count for this 75 year old tradition. Area birders were able to tally 98 species, besting the previous high of 96. Lingering semi-hardy species were responsible for the high count; those species that normally would be gone from the area if not for the near-record high temperatures that have dominated the count period so far.

My day started at Renaissance Golf Course off Tyvola Road.  For the first couple of hours I would not have guessed a record setting day was looming. Not an owl or American woodcock could be coaxed to sound off before dawn. Once the sun came up the birding remained slow and we had to work for everything we got. Some nice local finds like orange-crowned warbler and white-crowned sparrow put in appearances but those are reliable at that site. A fox sparrow, in short supply this warm winter, sang back in response to a tape playback.
It really changed mid-morning when we heard the unmistakable nasal calls of a blue-gray gnatcatcher, an abundant summer resident but rare in early winter. I gave a few squeaky calls back and the little bird flew right in. Since we were standing next to a small wetland, I clapped my hands loudly to try to entice any rails present to sound off. To my surprise a sora immediately gave its alarm squeak. That’s another common migrant that should have moved out by now.

Back towards the 18th green, a shrubby, weedy embankment produced the best bird of the day, a Lincoln’s sparrow. That’s a species hard to find at any season let alone early winter. They are skulkers but can be induced to come in to squeaky sounds, which is what this bird did. While we were enjoying the sparrow a common raven flew over, a permanent resident but sometimes hard to find.

Those were just my highlights. Others I have heard about from other groups included green heron, spotted sandpiper, rufous hummingbird, black-and-white warbler, common yellowthroat, and loggerhead shrike.
Spotted Sandpiper by John Ennis
Spotted sandpipers winter along the coast in small numbers but very rarely this far inland, and then usually are restricted to waste-treatment plants.

Green Heron by Ron Clark
Green herons are like the spotted sandpiper, present in small numbers along the coast in winter but usually not in the piedmont.

Sora by Ron Clark
Soras are like small chickens that live in marshes. In years where the local waters do not freeze regularly they can be found in appropriate habitat.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by John Ennis
These tiny songbirds are insectivores so warm weather in early winter provides them a food source until the onset of cold.

Loggerhead Shrike by John Ennis
Shrike numbers have plummeted over the last few decades so that this once-common permanent resident is now a bona fide rarity in Mecklenburg County. I haven't seen one this year.

Common Yellowthroat by John Ennis
Another common breeding bird, the common yellowthroat lingers in wet areas in warm winters.

Lincoln's Sparrow by Phil Fowler
This species may be more overlooked in winter due to its similarity to other sparrow species. still, even if present it is in small numbers.

Black and White Warbler by Jeff Lewis
This warbler gleans insects from bark crevices so it can linger longer in winter than species that glean from foliage.

Rufous Hummingbird by Phil Fowler
This bird is wintering in Myers Park; the only hummer I know of in the county yet this winter.


Linda said...

Your photos are captivating. Gorgeous birds!