One of my favorite places to look for birds in Mecklenburg County is Piedmont Prairie restoration site, off Shopton Road West at McDowell Nature Preserve.
The prairie is known not only for the great numbers of birds but also for some notable rarities. Copperhead Island, which is within half a mile of the prairie at 15200 Soldier Road, also had much to offer that day.
The prairie was full of dried pokeweed and sumac berries when I joined 12 other birders there last Sunday. Taking full advantage of the feast were Eastern bluebirds, cedar waxwings, yellow-rumped warblers, Northern mockingbirds, American goldfinches and numerous sparrow species.
Constant small-bird activity attracts larger birds. We saw red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks perched in nearby trees. A small pond in the center of the prairie held two belted kingfishers and swamp sparrows, while some nearby dead trees attracted Northern flickers, downy woodpeckers and a red-headed woodpecker. We also enjoyed some wild persimmons and admired a dainty sulfur, a rare butterfly anywhere in North Carolina.
Copperhead Island showed us the best sights of the day. A pair of adult bald eagles soared over the parking area and Lake Wylie. Later, an immature eagle flew low over the water, lugging a large carp with both adult eagles in hot pursuit. Out of sight, the younger one either escaped with the prize or was forced to drop it back into the water.
Dozens of American coots gathered at a cove on the lake. The coots were close and easily seen from the beach. Mixed in were mallards, pied-billed grebes and a pair of Northern pintails, which is a nice duck to find in this area anytime. The surrounding trees were being investigated by golden-crowned kinglets, American goldfinches and more yellow-rumped warblers.
Both of these properties are owned by Mecklenburg County and are open to the public. I highly recommend a birding excursion to either one. Be prepared for plenty of action.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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