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Rare tropical brown booby sighting stuns Charlotte bird world

A brown booby has appeared at Lookout Shoals Lake on the Catawba County / Iredell County line, specifically at the Sharon Boat Access area. The species is considered a true rarity anywhere in the state, even along the coast or offshore.
A brown booby has appeared at Lookout Shoals Lake on the Catawba County / Iredell County line, specifically at the Sharon Boat Access area. The species is considered a true rarity anywhere in the state, even along the coast or offshore. The photo this week is of the brown booby by Lori Owenby

I have written about rarities that are attracted to large inland reservoirs, but I never thought I would be writing about this one: A brown booby has appeared at Lookout Shoals Lake on the Catawba County/Iredell County line, specifically at the Sharon Boat Access area.

I have seen the species only twice in North Carolina, both times at the coast. The species is considered a true rarity anywhere in the state, even along the coast or offshore.

Boobies are a family of large, mostly tropical, heavy-bodied plunge-divers. One northern species, the Northern gannet, is a familiar winter sight from our coastal beaches. The other species are found over tropical open oceans where they dive head-first for fish in the warm waters or along the warm Gulf Stream as it flows north. Occasionally an individual of one of several species will show up on a Southeastern beach, jetty or buoy marker.

The occurrence of this species between Charlotte and Hickory is absolutely astounding. This bird has taken up on a favorite perch on a rock outcrop where it has been seen by many birders over the last month. It seems content, and can be seen plunge-diving for fish, obviously successfully, in the wider portions of the lake.

Initially the bird was skittish when one of the numerous boats on the lake would pass near, but the booby remained through the very busy Memorial Day weekend.

Why this bird arrived in the North Carolina Piedmont is a mystery. Boobies are known to wander well north of the tropics, even occasionally inland, so the appearance of this bird in the Piedmont of North Carolina is not entirely unprecedented on a national scale.

Still, this is one of the most unusual species to ever occur in our area. Maybe this is just a wandering bird, or perhaps it was influenced by the tropical storm that came in near Charleston. The true answer will not be known. And it is unknown when this bird will decide to move on, which it inevitably will. For now though, it is clearly content where it is, able to get enough food, inclined to stay put.

I have placed directions to the Sharon Boat Access area in my blog at piedmontbirding@blogspot.com.

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

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