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Piedmont birding

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Migration season brings delightful sights to Lake Norman area

By Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff writes on birding in the Piedmont.

I jumped at an opportunity to go out on Lake Norman by boat last Saturday. Late summer is a great time to find unusual birds there, and the recent discovery of a pomarine jaeger confirms that.

Bird species that casual birders associate with coastal habitats regularly pass through inland locations when they migrate. These birds will be attracted to large inland reservoirs and can be readily seen by boat and shore by patient birders.

We set out from Ramsey Creek by 7 a.m. and immediately starting seeing ospreys. There is a good breeding population of these birds on the lake and the local numbers are being supplemented by migrants right now. Some of the nests on artificial platforms still held chicks, fully grown by now. In the several hours we were out there was always an osprey or two in sight.

Shortly after entering the main channel from Ramsey Cove, I spotted a tern a few hundred yards away. One tern soon became a flock of four black terns, a common migrant that nests on Midwestern prairies. They were skittish but did allow some pretty nice views.

We headed over to the productive Davidson Creek channel but did not find any new water birds. I was briefly excited when I saw a distant dark bird hovering low over the water, but closer inspection showed it to be a fish crow feeding on a mayfly hatch. We also were entertained by an aggressive osprey that kept diving on a great blue heron as it tried to cross the lake.

Swallow migration was in evidence as small flocks of two species, barn and northern rough-winged, passed us low over the water several times. On the way back to Ramsey Cove, we encountered a single ring-billed gull, not quite a species we were hoping for but still slightly unusual at this location in August.

Despite the lack of real rarities, it was an enjoyable outing. If any of you are on the larger lakes between now and the end of September, watch for flocks of terns and some gulls; and grab photos if you can.

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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