Last Saturday I started my birding at 6:15 a.m. as a participant in the Gastonia Christmas Bird Count. That means I was set up and waiting for some night birds to vocalize in my assigned area, not the time I rolled out of bed. It was plenty cold too, 26 degrees. A killdeer called sometime around 6:35, hardly a night bird. At 6:53 two American woodcocks lifted off close by, identified by the characteristic whistling sound from their wings. That was the extent of the pre-dawn birding for that day.
It was a very enjoyable day, though, albeit very cold until late morning. Early on a blue-gray gnatcatcher was located moving along a tree line with a feeding flock of kinglets and another nice bird, an orange-crowned warbler. The gnatcatcher is an abundant species in spring and summer in the southern Piedmont, but a rare lingerer into early winter. They are noteworthy on any Piedmont Christmas Count. My group tallied 61 species for the day, a nice daily total for a Piedmont count.
The next morning, I was out and waiting even earlier at 5:45 a.m. at Davidson College to kick off the Southern Lake Norman Christmas Count. Again, the goal was to get night birds, but an hour and 15 minutes later my group had tallied zero. To illustrate that owls do have a sense of humor, a great horned owl hooted about 10 a.m. and two Eastern screech-owls showed themselves mid-morning as well.
The birds were not as active as earlier in the week either. We had to work hard to find one of our target species, a blue-headed vireo; but we ultimately succeeded. We ended that day with an identical count of 61 species from the day before.
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Ten groups were counting for the Southern Lake Norman count, so predictably some very nice birds were found: a count first great egret, a marsh wren, two merlins, an osprey, redheads and canvasback (ducks), and a total surprise in the form of a barn owl. Normally that many rarities would result in an above-average to very high species count, but things have a way of evening out on bird counts. Some species we normally expect to pick up just didn’t show that day. The result was an average species count of 96 species, dead on our 25-year average. Next up, the Charlotte Count Saturday.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.