The fall migration is just now getting into full swing, yet two new species have been added to the Mecklenburg County bird count list since early August. I told you about the pomarine jaeger found at Lake Norman last month.
September’s addition to the list is a Western kingbird, found last Monday at McDowell Nature Preserve. It was in the Prairie Restoration area, a perfect place for this rarity to visit.
You might be familiar with the Eastern kingbird, a common breeding season species characteristic of open and semi-open habitats. They are fearless defenders of their territories, often seen attacking birds as large as red-tailed hawks that get too close to their claimed grounds. The Western kingbird is similar in behavior and choice of habitats but has very different plumage. The Western is light gray above and on the upper breast, with yellow, often bright, on the belly. There are a number of kingbird species from the West that look similar to each other; the Western kingbird can be easily identified by the white outer tail feathers.
Western kingbirds are seen annually in North Carolina, but the vast majority of sightings occur on the coast in October and November. They are regularly found along the Outer Banks or at Fort Fisher, locations that provide lots of electrical wires for perches and open ground for hunting large insects.
The McDowell bird’s occurrence was surely the result of a nice cold front that passed through Sunday night, illustrating that strong weather fronts can bring in the vagrant species and more common migrants alike. We have already had three significant cool fronts since mid-August, and all brought nice birds with them.
The McDowell Prairie Restoration area is one of the best-populated bird-watching spots in Mecklenburg County at any season. It can be especially good for raptors and sparrows because of the wide open, weedy aspect. It’s easy walking, but be sure to wear sunscreen; there is not much shade. A small pond along the dirt road can also be very interesting. Access the prairie from Four Horse Road which is off Shopton Road West. I highly recommend it as a morning or late afternoon stroll.
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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