It has been a pretty good couple of months of county birding for me. I hope to add a new county bird to my Mecklenburg County list every year or two, but since August I have added two. You may remember my successfully chasing the swallow-tailed kite in Steele Creek; that was a personal thrill. Then just a couple of weeks ago, I added Wilson’s phalarope to my list.
Casual birders may not even have heard of phalaropes. When I got my first advanced field guide decades ago I had no idea they existed either. But they do, right there in the shorebird section. Three species is all that there are, and all three occur in North Carolina at some time of year.
Wilson’s phalarope is the most expected one to occur in Mecklenburg County. They nest in the middle of the United States and the species can be found in small numbers in spring and fall along the East Coast. Red-necked phalaropes occasionally occur inland, usually during unsettled weather; and red phalaropes are most often seen offshore. They are elegant little shorebirds, and always a treat to see. There is only one previous record for Mecklenburg County.
Phalaropes are unusual in the bird world in that the females are more brightly colored than the males.
It has been a good fall so far for finding some uncommon and rare local migrants. With weeks to go before migration really slows there is potential to add another species or two.
I have gotten a few comments already from concerned readers about the reduced numbers of birds at feeders. This is a common observation every year it seems. There is no long-term issue with local bird numbers. Remember there is a lot of natural food right now with insects, spiders, maturing seeds, and ripening berries. Some birds also move slightly south in fall, to be replaced by birds from northern areas. Keep the feeders stocked. They will be back. I promise. But it may be some weeks or even a couple of months. Depends on how the natural food crop holds out.
I experienced an obvious drop off of sugar water consumption at my hummingbird feeder two weeks ago. I still have hummingbirds but clearly there was a southward departure. The ruby-throated hummingbirds will stay through mid-October but numbers will continue to drop. Most of what remains now are female-plumaged birds. The males are probably gone by now.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.