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2014 brought exciting and rare bird sightings to Charlotte

In January I set a goal for myself to see 200 species of birds in Mecklenburg County during this calendar year. I figured that number was both realistic and challenging.

It was a good year to take the challenge. Last winter was unprecedented in the numbers of unusual waterfowl that poured into the Piedmont from the frozen Great Lakes. White-winged scoters, red-necked grebes, common goldeneye, long-tailed duck, and greater scaup were some of those species that are really tough to find in a normal year. The fact that they were all present gave my list a great start. Throw in a calliope hummingbird, Iceland gull, and lesser-black-backed gull and I was on my way.

I got most of the spring migrant warblers, and some that I missed I picked up in the fall migration. Still, I missed Canada warbler; a species that was reported several times but one I couldn’t follow up on. I also missed Nashville warbler. I figured spending enough time in the fall field would eventually produce one for me. Wrong.

But I made up for those misses with a yellow-bellied flycatcher, Philadelphia vireo and Virginia rail, all birds that can be easily missed. A frantic chase in late spring secured a sandhill crane for my list, maybe the rarest local species on the year’s tally.

By the first of December I was sitting on 198 species. I found a lone horned lark shortly thereafter. Needing one species to attain my goal, I was pretty confident I would get the Eastern screech owl in Davidson during the Southern Lake Norman Christmas Bird Count. But on Dec. 13, I pulled into Richard Barry Park off Beatties Ford Road, spied a small puddle of water, and flushed a Wilson’s snipe out of it for the 200th species. The next day on the Christmas Count I added that Eastern screech owl and a bonus – American wigeon. I chased down what is likely the only loggerhead shrike left in Mecklenburg County on Dec. 26 for species number 203. That bird was just a few yards within the county limits out Eastfield Road in Huntersville. So I will exceed my goal and finish with 203 or 204 species, depending on whether I am successful getting a Northern pintail on New Year’s Eve. I’ll let you know.