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Heavy storms may bring ‘fallout’ birds

Caspian terns regularly visit larger reservoirs in spring and fall.
Caspian terns regularly visit larger reservoirs in spring and fall.

Last Sunday I dodged heavy downpours as I made a birding arc around the south shore of Lake Norman. I traveled from the public fishing access at Cowan’s Ford Dam around to Lake Davidson, just north and east of Exit 30 at I-77.

Unsettled weather with heavy storms and copious rainfall is a sure recipe for grounding migrants, many of which would otherwise pass right over without ever stopping. Sometimes a local rarity or two can be found among the fallout.

I did experience a bit of a fallout at the fishing access. A flock of six common loons obviously had put down due to the weather. They were in fine breeding plumage, much different from their more subdued winter garb. Not far from the shore, female lesser and greater scaup gave great side-by-side comparison views.

At Ramsey Creek Park, three Bonaparte’s gulls wheeled and dove several hundred yards out. At Lake Davidson, a rock outcrop in the middle of the water hosted four resting Caspian terns, four double-crested cormorants, one great blue heron and 18 ring-billed gulls.

The Caspian terns were nice to see; they are regular spring and fall migrants through the area but occur only on the larger reservoirs. It would have been nice for a Forster’s tern to choose those rocks for a rest stop, but I missed it if it was in the area. Dozens of tree swallows skimmed the water’s surface in the fading light.

In the Davidson Creek channel off Torrence Chapel Road, a loafing flock of 50 ring-billed gulls was joined by a single immature herring gull. Nine Bonaparte’s gulls soon joined them, almost all of them sporting the solid black hoods of breeding adults.

I was hoping for a much rarer gull with a black hood, a laughing gull, but none ever joined the roosting flock. A pair of osprey voiced their displeasure with me and my spotting scope lingering too long close to their nest. Four more common loons in breeding finery cruised by.

As it got darker and the rain began to fall again, I watched a large mixed flock of turkey and black vultures gather and wheel low into their nighttime roosts. It was time for me to go, too.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com