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‘One-Day Wonders’ make birders rush for a glimpse of the rarity

Black-bellied whistling ducks are still rare in the Piedmont and were spotted in Mecklenburg County for the first time last week.
Black-bellied whistling ducks are still rare in the Piedmont and were spotted in Mecklenburg County for the first time last week.

Birders that are serious listers and chasers know well the term “One-Day Wonder.” It’s used to describe a rarity that shows up one day and is gone the next. It’s one of the pitfalls you deal with when chasing rarities; sometimes you must be available on a moment’s notice to go get a bird. Delay can mean you miss the bird altogether; believe me, I know from experience. All serious birders do.

Luckily things worked out for a handful of local birders last week when a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks appeared on the lake at McAlpine Creek Park. That park is a 20-minute drive from my house – 15 minutes if a rare bird is involved. I happened to be home when I got the word, and I immediately headed over to enjoy and add the beautiful tropical ducks to my Mecklenburg County List. Good thing too, because they had moved on by the next day.

Black-bellied whistling ducks are an increasing species in the southeastern United States. The native population in south Texas expanded to Florida, and birds from that population wander north in late spring and summer. Appearances in North Carolina are still rare but are becoming regular, reaching the mountains in 2013 and the Piedmont in 2014. There are a couple of recent records from Union County, but the McAlpine Park birds represent the first Mecklenburg County record, thus the parade of birders rushing out to tick them off their county lists.

The spring migration is winding down, but there are still some species yet to come through. By May 20 it will mostly be over. It has been a nice spring so far for some tough-to-find birds, but overall numbers seem down. It could be due to unusual weather patterns this year. I hope so anyway.

Birders enjoyed a locally rare cerulean warbler at Latta Park for a few days and a semipalmated plover off Westinghouse Boulevard. Most recently, a snowy egret showed up, again at McAlpine Park. That egret was another bird that was available to birders for only one day. I was able to tick it off my 2018 County Year List late in the afternoon after it was found early in the day. Snowy egret, not to be confused with the much larger and more common great egret, is a nice bird to see anytime in the area.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.

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