I received a report that a Western grebe might be hanging out off The Point development in Iredell County a couple of weekends ago. After contacting the reporter about the location of the bird I was able to drive down Brawley School Road to a cove near the Lake Norman Yacht Club.
Despite some pretty intense morning glare as I looked east, within a minute of scanning the cove and the open water of the main channel I was on the bird. A Western grebe is a bona fide rarity anywhere, anytime in North Carolina.
There are only a handful of records for the species from the Piedmont, and only one previous from Lake Norman. I was lucky enough to see that bird in 2006 near the Cowan’s Ford Dam. There are some more records from the coastal areas, but the species is still very rare on the ocean and sounds, too.
Western grebes are large, strikingly marked water birds, twice as large as the more familiar horned grebes that winter regularly on Lake Norman. Their range includes most of the Western United States, but clearly a very few individuals come east in the winter. This bird seems to be taking its time heading back west. Birders traveling from other areas of the state to see this bird were still being successful as of April 18.
The appearance and continued presence of a Western grebe at Lake Norman again illustrates the draw large inland bodies of water have on wandering migrating waterbirds. Spring and fall can be exciting times to get out and do some checking at key access points all around the reservoir. At any time of the year there could be a rarity lurking out there that many, many birders would like to see.
Since the bird is in Iredell County, I won’t be able to add it to my state or Mecklenburg lists. As I mentioned before, I saw the previous Western grebe from the Cowan’s Ford Dam fishing area. If I kept an Iredell County list I could put it on that one. Maybe I should start one. Western grebe would be a pretty fancy bird to begin a list with.
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