I’ve been waiting for mid-August, a time when some unusual waterbirds start to show up at some of the larger area reservoirs. Some of the more locally rare gulls and terns often can be found at this time of the summer through the end of September. You might not associate those types of birds with inland locations. They are much more common at the coast, but some species do come through in fairly good numbers when conditions are favorable.
I was intrigued by reports of laughing gulls from Lake Hickory. Hoping that these birds might be part of a larger movement of gulls along the Catawba River system, I headed for Lake Norman late one evening. My goal was to scope out the lake from Torrence Chapel Road, a vantage point where lots of great birds have been seen over the years. Gulls congregate and roost here in the winter, and I was hoping the area would be attractive to them that evening.
I arrived with just a few minutes of daylight remaining. I was expecting to see some gulls or terns flying around or sitting on the water but was disappointed to see nothing initially. Then after the passing of a boat through the channel, the sky suddenly was filled with a flock of 16 terns that had been spooked off the water. As far as I could tell in the fading light, they were all black terns, a somewhat expected species but one that must be pursued in a relatively tight window of time in late summer if you want to see one in Mecklenburg County. There are three other species of terns that may occur here through September: Caspian, Forster’s and common.
If you are out sailing, boating or fishing on Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, or anywhere in between, keep an eye open for these graceful birds. They are often in small, loose flocks so they may attract your attention. Identification will likely be a challenge, but let me know if you see something. By the way, black tern was number 124 on my Mecklenburg County Year List. Thirty-one to go to reach my goal.