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Piedmont region was a haven for birds escaping winter’s bite

After a cold and icy three months, I am officially declaring winter over. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are here, the Louisiana waterthrushes are singing along the creeks, and a tufted titmouse has stuffed its nest box with leaves and moss.

But the winter of 2013-14 will not soon be forgotten by birders at both the state and local levels. Two significant events brought birds into the Southeast in unprecedented numbers.

By late November and early December, it was clear that something was going on with snowy owls. These Arctic residents made a move into North Carolina that was nothing short of incredible. A snowy owl may normally be reported from the state every five to 10 years, yet in this winter alone more than 20 birds were found and photographed.

By February it was also clear that many unusual waterfowl were moving in to the area. The Great Lakes completed their massive freeze by late in the month, resulting in a mass exodus of water birds. Red-necked grebes and white-winged scoters poured into the Southeast. A few single sightings each winter are what we are used to here, but February offered flocks. Indeed, many never made it out of the Great Lakes; a massive die-off has been documented.

And finally, a record number of folks reported wintering hummingbirds at their homes. I heard of over three dozen Western hummingbirds staking out feeders in the area. I am sure there were more that went unreported. Most, if not all, were likely the rufous hummingbird.

Let’s hope the spring is as memorable as the winter.

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