In the Carolinas, if it’s waterfowl you’re looking for, winter is usually your best bet. Places like Pea Island and Mattamuskeet national wildlife refuges and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina and Santee, Cape Romain and Savannah NWRs and Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina provide birders with great opportunities to view over-wintering waterfowl. Local birders can get a taste of waterfowling at Lake Junaluska, Lake Julian and Beaver Lake in Asheville plus Lake Osceola and Four Seasons Marsh in Hendersonville.
Winter in the Carolinas always produces a number of vagrants and rarities. Wayward hummingbirds are being reported more and more frequently across the Carolinas and the Southeast as people become more observant and leave feeders out longer. Rufous hummingbirds have been reported the last two winters in Haywood County. This year a black-chinned hummer was banded in Manteo and a broad-billed hummer has been reported from Rockville, S.C.
In Decemer 2007, a banded ring-billed gull was observed on Lake Julian. When the band was recorded and tracked down, it revealed that the gull had been banded in May on Lake Michigan in Chicago.
Even European visitors show up occasionally. A Eurasian wigeon was recently recorded at Mattamuskeet. Back in 1998 a brambling (a small European finch) spotted at a feeder in Brevard became a first-ever North Carolina record.
This winter has also provided a new state record for North Carolina. A Scott’s oriole has been photographed at a feeder in Conover. As of Feb. 3, the bird was still coming to the feeder on a daily basis. The Scott’s is a western oriole breeding from southern California to Utah, Nevada, western Colorado, New Mexico to west Texas. It normally winters from southern California to southern Mexico.
Becky Duggan of Conover is graciously allowing visitors to view her wayward guest but asks that interested birders contact Catawba County Park Ranger Dwayne Martin at 828.312.1064 for information and updates.
A couple of roaming flycatchers have recently been reported from South Carolina. A western kingbird was reported from Brookgreen Gardens, near Huntington Beach State Park and a vermillion flycatcher was reported in Charleston County.
Some other winter rarities being reported from the Carolinas include a MacGillivray’s warbler from Mattamuskeet, observed in January; a red-throated loon at Lake Murray in Lexington County, S.C.; a white-tailed kite in Richland County, S.C.; and a black guillemot from Huntington Beach State Park in S.C.
A good way to keep up with who’s seeing what birds, where and when is to visit http://www.birdingonthe.net/birdmail.html. The site lists a collection of birding listservs from around the country with the latest postings.
Perhaps the most well-traveled visitor to the Southeast this winter, regrettably, will not be logging any more miles. A duck hunter in Mississippi bagged a banded pintail. When the banding number was reported, it showed that the eight-year old drake had been banded on Feb. 16, 2000, near Niigata, Japan.
These winged creatures are truly beautiful, amazing bio-engineered marvels and citizens of the world. Let’s hope the world treats them well.