I am often asked which locations in our area are the best birding spots. There are many, and the answer might well depend on what birds someone is specifically seeking. In general terms, I choose the McDowell Prairie Restoration site off Shopton Road West near Lake Wylie. The numbers of birds there as well as the diversity of species make a visit worthwhile anytime.
The reputation of the prairie site grew a bit last week when a common ground-dove was discovered by local birder Marcia Howden. As is often the case with rarities, this bird did not hang around more than a couple of days, but luckily a handful of local birders were able to relocate it and obtain some photographs.
Common ground-doves are a true rarity anywhere, anytime in North Carolina. They used to be findable in the eastern Sandhills and southeastern beaches of the state. Their range has been shrinking in the last few decades such that many birders have never seen one in North Carolina. They are tiny doves, cute really, that like open farmland, savannas and beaches. One doesn’t have to go very far south into South Carolina to find them, just a couple of hours down I-77 or I-26. They are not known to be wanderers and tend to be pretty sedentary. That makes it pretty incredible that this was actually the second record of the species from the McDowell Prairie, the first coming in 2004 at the exact time of year.
Sometimes young or molting mourning doves get mistaken for ground-doves, which have a scaly appearance to their plumage, a short tail, and bright rufous flashes on the wings when in flight. They are plump, stocky little birds.
You may not find a common ground-dove, but I highly recommend checking out the prairie for a birding outing or for just a peaceful stroll. Foot access to the site is off Four Horse Road, which is off Sharon Road West. I can almost guarantee there will plenty to see.
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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