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Union County dickcissel colony gives birders a treat

In the birder’s year, June is a relatively quiet time. Spring migration is over, so the chance of finding some local rarities is diminished. The weather tends to be hot, and birds respond by becoming less active by midmorning. Some birders respond the same way by becoming less active until the first cool fronts of late August or September.

Local birders have had an unexpected treat the last week or so, however. Up to three pairs of dickcissels were found down Highway 218 just into Union County, and they have been very cooperative for the searching birder.

Dickcissels are handsome, finch-like birds of farm country. They are much smaller than Eastern meadowlarks, but are superficially similar to them. The identifying marks are a yellow chest with a V-shaped mark in the center. They are also one of the most unpredictable and enigmatic nesters in our area.

Dickcissels tend to suddenly appear in small colonies of a few pairs one year, and then inexplicably never return in subsequent years. There are a few dependable sites for this species in rural areas of some nearby counties, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

A few years ago I found a rather large colony in Cabarrus County that persisted for just one year. A pair or two nested in Pineville a few years ago but were never seen again.

It remains to be seen if the latest Union County site is a permanent nesting location or just another temporary outpost.

I suspect if someone wanted to drive miles of rural roads through open country looking for dickcissals, they would likely eventually be successful. The birds are out there. The density is low, however, and a birder is just as likely to stumble upon them as find them through a purposeful search.

So the Union County birds have provided a bit of excitement in an otherwise slow birding period. In another month or so, birds will start to move again, providing more opportunities for the birder willing to venture out into the heat and humidity.