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Piedmont birding

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Perseverance leads to rare sighting

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

I chased a bird all over the county last week. A long-tailed duck was reported from McDowell Park on Lake Wylie on Feb. 9 and again on Feb. 11. Due to snow and ice, I was unable to get out that way to look for myself until Feb. 15. By then the duck had departed, or at least was effectively hiding out.

I have only seen a long-tailed duck once in Mecklenburg County. They are very rare inland winter visitors in North Carolina, and are rare to uncommon along most areas of the coast in winter. They are handsome birds, males strikingly marked with black, white and gray with a long tail plume that gives the species its name.

The bird reported was indeed an adult male, so I was even more eager to see it. If you have an older field guide, it may not be in the book. It used to be called oldsquaw. The current name may be more descriptive but is less interesting.

Then last Saturday, a male long-tailed duck was found on the lake behind the Lake Norman YMCA. It will never be known if it was the same bird, but that is feasible. It easily could have followed the Catawba River up to Lake Norman as it made its way back north.

I was was able to get up to Davidson on Sunday afternoon for another try at finding the duck. From behind the Y, I scoped the open water. There, right up against the Interstate 77 causeway, was my male long-tailed duck in magnificent plumage.

If you were traveling north on that interstate about 5 p.m. last Sunday, you might have seen it, too.

I really lucked out in seeing that duck when I did. About an hour later it apparently decided to move on, as it was seen by some other birders on the lake as it winged by their boat, coming from the direction where I had just seen it.

So an unsuccessful chase turned into a successful one. Chases don’t always end up so well, but perseverance does pay off sometimes.

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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