I was out the front door last Sunday morning by 8:15 am. The temperature was 15 degrees but I was prepared for colder.
The local ponds were freezing up, driving ducks that might normally be hidden in edge vegetation or recessed coves to the deeper and more open portions of the water, making them easier to see. I was also hoping for some newly arrived waterfowl coming in with the Arctic Express.
First stop was Guymanton Lake, easily visible from Albemarle Road. Over a dozen hooded mergansers dove for fish in the deeper water right by the road. Three ruddy ducks stayed further away, but four Northern shovelers flew in as I watched. Shovelers were a rare duck 15 years ago here but are rapidly increasing. A great blue heron looked miserable hunkered down on the far bank with the resident Canada geese and mallards.
Next up were a couple of ponds off Vernedale Drive in Hickory Grove. More mallards and geese but mixed in were a couple of dozen ring-necked ducks, more hooded mergansers, pied-billed grebes, and double-crested cormorants. My last pond to check was a secluded pond off Well road in Mint Hill.
There is a shallow cove that is hidden as one approaches. Sometimes a few ducks will seek refuge there but today I was greeted by a tremendous noise as 58 wild mallards jumped and starting quacking all at once. The whole flock circled for a few minutes and then started to drop in small groups back onto the water. With all the birds sitting in the middle of the lake I was able to leisurely pick out two ring-necked ducks, a ruddy duck, a female redhead, and a female American wigeon mixed in with the aforementioned mallards. The wigeon was especially nice; once fairly common in the county they have become very difficult in the last decade.
I took a break from ducking and stopped by a Mint Hill residence that had been hosting a likely rufous hummingbird apparently for a few weeks. Despite the 20-degree temperature I immediately spotted the tiny bird energetically gleaning tiny spiders and other invertebrates from the cracks and mortar joints of the brick foundation. I checked with the host after the next frigid night and learned the bird had made it through those even colder temperatures.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.