2020 Was a Great Year... For Birds!

Without a doubt, 2020 was the most memorable year from a birding perspective ever! In this year alone, no less than eight species were added to the Mecklenburg County Bird List. In a good year, I would expect one, maybe two, species to be added. From a personal perspective, I added nine species to my personal list of species seen in Mecklenburg County. Again, I usually add a species every two years or so. The rarities just kept coming throughout the whole twelve months. My personal Mecklenburg list is up to 294 species. I am starting to think 300 is within reach, a goal I never would have considered attainable just a year ago. 

 Arctic Tern
Photo by Jeff Lemons

I think several factors were in play to cause all these rarities to be found. First and foremost, the Stay-at-Home order brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The order provided for outside activity like walking, so many folks took to the greenways, parks, and nature preserves. Along the way, many people discovered nature during the lockdown, and local birding benefitted from that newfound awareness. Second, a series of weather events both subtle and obvious brought birds into the county; and third, a sophisticated networking system within the local birding community got the word out instantly when a rarity was discovered. 

Let me run down the extraordinary county records established this year:

Yellow Rail
Photo by Martina Nordstrand

 April: a yellow rail, perhaps the best find for the entire year, was flushed from a marshy field in Waverly. Yellow rails are extremely secretive and furtive; they may be the most difficult land bird to get a look at in the United States. The fact that this bird was photographed while in flight is even more amazing. Of course, a county first record for me and everybody. Just a preview of things to come.

 Reddish Egret
Photo by Martina Nordstrand

 June: And… we’re off! A pontoon boat at Lake Norman became accessible to the local birding community. An early-morning trip out onto the lake in mid-June produced a first-county record Arctic tern, and just a week later a first-county record brown booby showed up in the same area on the lake. Meanwhile, another first-county record reddish egret was found at McAlpine Park. I was not on the tern trip but was able to see the other two first records.

Black-throated Gray Warbler
 Photo by Patty Masten

September: A black-throated gray warbler, a super rarity from the western United States is at Cowan’s Ford Refuge. Only a handful of records for the entire state for this species. I have a local reputation for being out of town when super birds show up. That held true on this one. I got back in town a day late to see it. 

American White Pelican
 Photo by Dennis Kent

November: Another boat trip on Lake Norman provided photographs of American white pelicans. I was not on the boat but networking gets me the info to see the birds from land at the North Harbor Club.   

Great Cormorant 
 Photo by Patty Masten

December: I miss a first county record great cormorant from a Lake Norman boat trip when my schedule won’t let me get on the boat. An Allen’s hummingbird appears at a feeder and is subsequently banded, providing one of just four or five records for the entire state.