More than 30 birders turned out for the Southern Lake Norman Christmas Count on Dec. 16. They scoured an area known as the count circle and made the event the most successful in its 21 years.
The final tally for number of species spotted within the 15-mile-diameter count circle was 103; a very large number for a count so far inland. Last year the count was 99.
Several things led to this success. Foremost is the level of experience that goes into the field on Count Day. We are fortunate in the Charlotte area to have some top-notch birders who know how to find birds.
Some leaders have been covering the same areas for years, and they know where the good habitats are and what they should be looking for.
Dedication is extremely important. Most participants were in the field listening for owls before dawn, persevered through a rainy afternoon, and counted their last birds at dusk. One group covered the lake by boat, finding several extreme local rarities.
Habitat diversity plays a big role. Large open water, small ponds, hardwood forests, mixed pine forests, agricultural fields, weedy fields, bottomland thickets, successional thickets, residential yards with feeders and open sky are some of the habitats covered. Diversity of habitat begets diversity of birds.
The birds help some, too. A good year for spotting finches, such as this one, can add a couple of species that might normally be missed. The weather was mild for Count Day. That makes the birds more vocal and more likely to be sitting up and easier to see. If rain is approaching, some birds might move into an area just in time to be counted.
Rarities found on Count Day include an adult black-headed gull, three surf scoters, red-breasted merganser, immature black-crowned night heron, two red crossbills, rufous hummingbird, orange-crowned warbler, vesper sparrows, and a late migrating osprey.
Bald eagles continue to increase in our area; four were counted. A loggerhead shrike was found for the first time in three years. Rusty blackbirds, a severely declining species, were found, too.
The Charlotte Count is Dec. 22. I’ll have a report on it in next week’s column.
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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