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Piedmont Birding: The early birder gets the worm-eating warbler

Marsh wren.
Marsh wren. by Jeff Lewis

I was out of bed at 4:15 a.m. Sunday to take part in the Charlotte Spring Bird Count. By 5:30 I was at Renaissance Golf Course ticking off the first species – American robins in full dawn chorus. It wasn’t long before things got more interesting, though.

A pair of barred owls started hootin’ it up at dawn and the neotropics began adding to the chorus. Newly arrived Eastern kingbirds, orchard orioles, indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks were all accounted for. Birders like to keep a separate list of how many warblers get tallied on spring outings, and as usual, the golf course delivered.

After three hours 18 species of warblers were tallied including Cape May, worm-eating, hooded, palm, American redstart, ovenbird, Northern parula, pine, black-throated blue, yellow, yellow-rumped, yellow-breasted chat, common yellowthroat, blackpoll, black and white, prairie, Northern waterthrush, and Louisiana waterthrush. That’s a healthy total anytime. Add scarlet and summer tanagers and a stunning male rose-breasted grosbeak and it made for a great morning.

A marsh wren sang lustily from a small wetland, the fourth straight year that this uncommon migrant has been in that same spot.

Next I checked out an interesting field right off Tyvola Road at the new City Park development. I was very surprised to hear the distinctive insect-like buzz of a grasshopper sparrow, and I was soon able to find the tiny sparrow perched at the top of a pine sapling.

Grasshopper sparrows are tough to find nowadays in Mecklenburg County due to disappearing habitat. I didn’t see a female, but I hope he will be successful in attracting one. A pair of killdeer went into a defensive display, obviously guarding an unseen nest somewhere in a gravelly patch of ground.

I checked some small ponds in close-by business parks and located up to five spotted sandpipers teetering along the shorelines. Those spotteds and the aforementioned killdeer were the only shorebirds seen that day, a little bit disappointing.

All the participants gathered for a tally-up supper at Winghaven at the end of the day. A total of 129 species were reported for the day, a very respectable number. It was a long day for sure, but there are birds that must be seen. There’ll be time to rest after migration slows down.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: Check out his blog at