I joined seven other local birders on Jan. 25 for several hours of birding-by-boat at Lake Norman. Our primary goals were to look for a red-throated loon that had been seen recently and to check out the huge evening gull roost in Davidson Creek’s main channel.
It was cold out on the water in a moving boat. Temperatures on land were at 60 degrees at 2 p.m., but soon I needed the three layers of shirts and my heavy coat, toboggan and gloves.
Immediately we began seeing common loons, not a rare sight on the lake in winter. We checked every loon carefully, but no red-throated turned up. A few ring-billed gulls had already started to form some small flocks resting on the water. Meanwhile some Bonaparte’s gull flocks hovered over the water’s surface.
We also started seeing large numbers of horned grebes on the open water. Their habits are similar to loons but they are much smaller. Some years they can be more challenging to find, but this is apparently a good year for them here.
We boated around Nantz Cove and saw an adult bald eagle circling overhead. A few minutes later an immature bald eagle flew right by. By that time we noted increasing numbers of gulls heading for Davidson Creek, so we turned to that direction.
When we arrived at the roost site off Torrence Chapel Road there were already several thousand gulls clustered on the water. We carefully scanned the growing flock as more seemed to literally pour down from the sky. A few herring gulls started mixing in with the ring-billeds.
Herring gulls make a up tiny percentage of the total gull numbers, but when there are 10,000 gulls it is easy to find a few. It is also easy to pick them out because most are brown immature birds, which have quite a different look from the ring-billed gulls.
By 5:30 p.m. the fading light made viewing difficult, so we headed in without finding the target loon or any rare gulls. We’ll check the flock again in a month or so. There are just too many birds out there not to see something really good.